Karen Galatz
Journalist, Columnist, Blogger

An unexpected email brings joy. I’ve got mishpucha

Ida and Mischelem Kirschen, the author's grandparents

It’s been a tough couple of months. Politics and pandemic have taken their toll on me. Like many people, I have lost loved ones this year. And almost a year of sheltering-at-home has made me feel that my once larger-than-life life has shrunk to minuscule proportions.

Stuck at home, I have been nursing a deep case of the blues, feeling sorry for the state of the world; feeling sorry for myself, stuck in an unaccustomed and unattractive state of ennui and self-pity.

The other day, unable to concentrate on work, casting about for something to do, I started reading emails. I opened a message from someone I didn’t know. The email caused instant delight. It turned out the author of the email was an unknown, but not-so-distant relative!

Yes, thanks to the Internet and America’s love affair with genealogy, I am now connected with Ben, my new-found cousin, third I think (I never quite get this stuff quite right) on my mother’s side.

My grandparents, Ida and Mischelem Kirschen, were Ben’s great-great-aunt and uncle. His paternal grandmother was Sarah, the daughter of Mischelem’s brother John. As a child, I remember my mother once mentioned John. So, it was so charming to have this name spring to life from a distant corner of my mind — the same mind that cannot remember what I ate for lunch yesterday!

Ben found me thanks to his genealogy research which, in turn, brought him to my published writing. And for that combination of resources, I’m so grateful — especially right now.

The first reason is probably obvious. With all this stuck-at-homeness, it’s life-affirming to have my world unexpectedly expand outward. Ben lives in Georgia. A relative in Georgia? How positively exotic!

The second reason I’m so happy to meet Ben? I just lost a loved one, a best friend who, after 41 years of laughter and shared history, was more sister than a friend. So, meeting Ben is that rare, golden, glowing opportunity to see my family grow, not shrink.

And there’s a third reason I’m celebrating the arrival of Cousin Ben into my somewhat gloomy life: the way he found me — through my writing. It is a validation of my work — that it stands for something larger than a momentary flickering on a computer screen or a glance at an article before it gets tossed into the trash or used to line the bottom of a birdcage.

So, my mishpucha is expanding. And I cannot overstate the joy it is bringing me.

As the much younger child — and sibling — of a once large family, I have felt the loss of family keenly. That sense of loss has fueled my own interest in genealogy, and it fuels my joy in this e-introduction to Cousin Ben.

This sense of familial loss and the related elation I feel is best captured in this quote by 20th Century French philosopher Simone Weil:

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important
and least recognized need of the human soul.”

So, now, even as I tick off the days until my second COVID-19 vaccination, I also look forward to my next email from my new-found cousin, new writing adventures, and, of course, the very thing we all desire — better days.

And in closing: About the spelling of mishpucha — As I worked on this story, I saw the word written three ways: mishpucha, which sounds the way my Grandma and parents said it, and also, mishpocheh and mishpokhe. What matter! It’s all in the family, nu?

Finally, here’s a charming ad Leo Rosten included in his beloved book, The Joy of Yiddish.

“‘The Chase Manhattan’s bank’s memorable advertising campaign is built around the slogan “You have a friend at Chase Manhattan.
‘Tis said that a sign in the window of the Bank of Israel reads:
‘— BUT HERE YOU HAVE MISPOCHEH!’”

About the Author
Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, which provides women (and men) of a certain age a light-hearted look at the perils and pleasures of growing older. An award-winning journalist, her national news credits include The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and the Nightly Business Report. Her fiction and non-fiction writing has been published across the U.S. More of Karen's writing can be read here: muddling.me A native of New York City and Las Vegas, Karen now lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband, two children, and one neurotic dog named Olga, rescued from Florida’s Hurricane Erma. It all makes for a lot of geography and a lot of humor.
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