My father was one of six children. Among the six children there were my 13 cousins. The family also included members of my father’s family from his uncle’s side, (his father’s brother’s children) numbering 5 more cousins.
With the passing of many years, most of my family has also passed. Of cousins of my age, there are only 3 immediate survivors, including me.
Only a few years ago, or so it seemed to me, I had 13 immediate blood cousins of my generation. Now we are 3 and of the surviving 3 of us, only 2 (me and one other cousin of my age) are in constant touch with each other.
I miss the bonds of family love. I miss the Pesach sedarim when 20- 25 of us sat at the Pesach table. Now we are 2 with children and grandchildren of our own.
I miss the trips to visit one another and to share long loving hours together, usually once a week, depending upon weather and health conditions of all of us.
I miss the strong hugs and moist kisses on both cheeks… coming and going. I miss the stories of their childhood experiences in a Russian shtetl. I miss the cooked European food dishes. I miss the songs we sang (even if I did not always understand the Yiddish words).
But the one magic word I remember and treasure is “mishpocho” in Yiddish (“mishpacha” in Hebrew).
I hear it. I see it. I feel it. I smell it. I taste it. Every one of my olfactory senses revolves around that one small but very great word.
Some of the “mishpocho” were professionals… doctors, lawyers, teachers and rabbis… but there was never a whiff of jealousy between the financially fortunate and the financially less-fortunate.
We were like characters from the Three Musketeers… one –for- all and all- for- one. My children and grandchildren have not experienced “mishpocho” to the same degree and manner as I did. And I miss it terribly.
There is only one surviving cousin of my father’s family who shares my feelings. My cousin Binyamin in Ramat HaSharon is my closest and most beloved family member. He is six months younger than I am. And we are like brothers.
His grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. They shared the same family name.
But as is the custom, or rather the fashion, in our generations, we have all changed our European family names into modern Hebrew names. Anyone who wanted to search for us, using the original name, would never find us.
I do not understand why my children and grandchildren who are devoted to me and to one another are not able to comprehend the meaning… the real warm meaning… of family to the same degree as I do. Probably because they never had to endure the hardships and losses of my generation.
My cousin Binyamin has three children and, if I am correct, eight grandchildren. The joy of their hugs and kisses brings me back to the days of my shtetl father and his siblings. The one-for-all and all-for-one “mishpocho”.
Some blame the changes in family ties to distances. Once upon a time members of one family lived very close to one another… walking distance or a short ride by horse and carriage, years later by automobiles.
Happily my son and one daughter live walking distance from me. My oldest daughter lives at a distance of four hours drive away from us. But we speak on the telephone every single day.
But, as you know, it is not possible to exchange hugs and kisses on a telephone. Nothing can replace the genuine thing.
And for me, personally, always and forever, there is nothing I cherish and love more than my loving “mishpocho”.
Ooops….. I forgot ! My loving “mishpacha”. My survivors.