It has taken me weeks to write this…
I don’t know how to explain what is going on in my universe. The attack in Israel has been devastating to my knowing what to say or write. I will try and do my best. Never have I felt so close to my Jewish family. Simultaneously, I hate that it has taken a massacre to increase my feeling of Jewishness. It is difficult to explain this phenomenon, but I think it is of utmost importance to do so.
Many many years ago, I was born to a Jewish family in the Bronx (home of my hometown heroes the Yankees). We lived above a drycleaning store in a rather small apartment. My dad was the ultimate blue-collar worker who eventually became a part owner and boss. But that blue-collar attitude towards life never went away. Work was my dad’s religion and my brother, and I followed in his footsteps although more white-collar than blue. We went to Shul on the high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yum Kippur but that was about it when it came to religious observance. But in our heart, we knew we were Jewish. Both of us were duly Bar Mitzvahed. And then I ran away from religion altogether.
It was not until my later years that I found my inner Jew. I know that sounds strange and even as I write it feels equally strange. But that is what happened, and I cannot take it back. It isn’t that I felt more religious, what I felt was more Jewish, I felt myself wanting to live in Israel, I felt like I wanted to feel connected to that land and be part of it. I felt connected to my history to my ancestors, especially my great grandmother Pesche aka Pauline who traveled to America with six children, the youngest my grandfather at the ripe age of six years old. She went from Moscow to Bremen, Germany where she boarded a ship with her entire brood at the time of pogroms and what a brave woman she was.
I have yet to make it to Israel but the connection I always wanted feels somewhat complete. I met, thanks to technology, my cousins in Israel and I could not feel more blessed and yes more complete.
You see, I always knew I had relatives there, but I did not know how to reach them, and I guess to my own ignorance or blinders I never tried to reach them. For some reason, several months ago (prior to the massacre) I decided I wanted to reach them, and I don’t know what I expected. I just wanted to do it. I had this inkling that I really must do this. I must find them.
I contacted my cousin in NY who was grandson to my late great Aunt Martha who was the last known contact with them. He told me that the number he had was not working and gave me the name of one cousin—Yoche. I felt frustrated but decided I would somehow find her or them. Months went by without any action on my part. I half-heartedly looked to post something on Facebook, but that did not amount to much. Then 7 October hit and I was mortified. I could not believe that in 2023 there was such a level of antisemitism. I was beyond anger.
I knew I had to find this long lost (to me) family. I contacted a friend of mine that lives in Florida and is from Tel Aviv. I asked if she could help me find them. While we were chatting, I said what the heck and decided to message the number I had. OMG within10 minutes of my clicking on send I get a call from Israel. It was my cousin Aviv son of Yoche! It was one of those moments when you truly find what you are looking for. There was instant bonding as I introduced them to my kids and wife. We are so excited to find them. Yoche, had met my mother many years ago so she was familiar with her American cousins.
I feel doubly blessed today despite current events and pray for the safe return of the hostages. But I have found my family and am oh so happy about it. Much love to Aviv and his family Smadar, bigger child Shaily, Roni and Itay. And of course, Yoche and Haim, sisters Sigalit and Ilanit!
I leave you with this message and with the decision to keep writing and creating hope!
Why is Shalom said twice?
It is used as a greeting to say hello or goodbye. What I love though is when you say it twice—Shalom Shalom—it means more than peace, it means perfect peace. It indicates wholeness, nothing lacking, nothing wanting!