We are back in the United States. From Jerusalem walks and bus rides, we now spend our time on Interstate 80 driving to Brooklyn, N.Y., or in the air flying to Portland, Ore.
Our grandsons and their parents will visit us in Cleveland for a week, and we’ll take Hebrew classes at Case Western Reserve University’s Siegal Lifelong Learning progam while trying to keep up with the political news in Israel. As we catch up with family and friends here in the U.S., we also continue our personal connections, through email and telephone, with those in Jerusalem who have become like “family” to us.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “family” as “1: a social group made up of parents and their children. 2: a group of people who come from the same ancestor…” We have made friends with other olim who come from New York/New Jersey, Minnesota, California, Canada, England, Australia and France. It often feels like we are long-lost reuniting family members.
Just before Pesach, we shared hametz leftovers with Cleveland “family” Rabbi Stan and Lifsa Schachter in their Beit Moses apartment, where we enjoyed the rabbi’s ever-present sense of humor and humility and Lifsa’s natural wisdom. We were guests at the joy-filled seder of a lovely immigrant couple from London whom we met at Kehillat Yedidya and had Pesach lunch with a neighboring family originally from the Midwest who have been in Israel for 40 years.
We’ve shared Shabbat meals with former Clevelanders Cheryl, Eric and Aliza Mack, as well as our newer friends from the States and Canada. The merchants on Derech Bet Lechem, Mordechai, the Machaneh Yehuda Pereg Spice merchant, the Machaneh Yehuda baker Udi who told me years ago that he makes the best challot and indeed he does, our Mehuhedet doctor who gave us her son’s WhatsApp info so we could keep in touch with her through him, David Castel at the hardware (kol bo) store to whom Irv goes for hardware, parts and advice – all are part of our extended Jerusalem “family.”
I am a third-generation American (now American-Israeli). Until 2016, the immigrant experience was quite distant for me. My mother’s mother or “Nanny,” belonged to the “Maledechzno Society,” a landsmanschaften from Maledechzno Gubernia in Lithuania/Russia/Belarus from which her parents had immigrated to the U.S. Years later, my parents, Walter and Jeanne Jaslow, were part of the wave of “immigration” to the Long Island suburbs from Brooklyn. There in Levittown, N.Y., together with other World War II veterans and emigres from the city, they founded a synagogue that became the center of their lives and their “family.”
Around the same time, Irv’s parents, Holocaust survivors from Poland, immigrated to Cleveland and found other Polish Jewish families with whom they formed a “family.” Having lost so many relatives – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers – it was natural to join together with similarly bereft families for holidays and simchas to share the same language, foods and memories.
Generations upon generations of Jews have been part of families and “families,” traveling with hanukkiyot and candlesticks, kiddush cups and tablecloths, photos, recipes and stories. I imagine my great-grandmother, Nanny, and her sister, Aunt Bessie, around my table in Jerusalem, having made aliyah virtually with me through the heirloom items they gave me. Photographs of our parents and our children smile at us from their positions on the wall. The older comes along as we encounter the newer in our ever-changing journey. Our genetic family has provided us with roots and encouragement from which we have grown. Our “family” of new friends and merchants provide us with branches of support and empathy to grow even further.