A (Facebook) Family Reunion


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Funny memes.

But for me Facebook brought me an incredible surprise recently when I received a message from a stranger.

“Hi Yotam, I am your distant relative. Your great grandfather and my great grandmother were brother and sister. I have been searching Facebook for possible relatives named Wolk and came across your name”. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, but don’t worry. The message did not continue by asking for my bank information for the huge inheritance I was receiving… This was real. She told me a fascinating story about her great-grandmother, who was my great-grandfather’s younger sister, back in the Ukraine.

My relative sent pictures from different times, with my late grandparents, and even my dad when he was young and so much better looking than I (forgive him for this horrendous choice of clothing, it’s the 70s’ fault) :   We spoke for 30 minutes, and in that brief time I got a quick peek into a life, so different than my own. And yet we share the same roots. A life made different by a decision to move to the U.S instead of Israel, a decision that set us on life paths so different that we would not know of each other’s existence. This sparked me to think about how we address and think about our “Jewish Family”.

Since the beginning of my Shlichut (which, granted, was not so long ago) I have been debating and asking myself various questions about the connection between Israeli Jews and our counterparts in North America. Often the language around this topic is one of “Ha’am Hayehudi”: The Jewish People. We are all one big family scattered all around the globe, a family that came from the same roots and is going in the same direction, together. However, I would respectfully disagree. To me, we are not one big community. We are not going in the same direction, we do not want the same things and we do not agree on everything. But we still share the same roots…

To me, we are different communities, each with our own needs and agendas, with our own differences. But to me, that is what makes us so unique. We should not automatically be aligned, because of shared lineage. We should always strive to challenge our counterparts, challenge ourselves, and most of all, it is time for us to truly embrace those differences. To understand that we will never agree on everything, nor should we. That we have room for many different opinions, many different world views and yes, our own baggage and criticism. Understanding that and really embracing that notion is key for a genuinely strong relationship between Israel and the Jewish communities here in North America.

My relative and I have never met, never spoke to each other, never even knew each other. We have completely different lives, experiences and outlooks on the world. Instead of trying to fit my relative into a mold of “this is reality as I know so it must be right”, should I not attempt to create a bridge? Learn more about her life? Discover new and fascinating points of view? And with that a completely new piece of my own personal history?

We concluded our conversation and as I told her that I currently live in New Haven, CT and working for Yale Hillel, she said: “Well how about that, we live 30 minutes away from each other!”

Funny how life takes us on such distant journeys only to bring us closer.

About the Author
Yotam was born & raised in Haifa, Israel. and is the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Yale University Hillel. served in the IDF for 3.5 years as a commander in the air-defense branch of the air force. Yotam holds a BA in International Relations and Communication Studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, as well as previously worked in the Jewish Agency for several years.
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