The Cousin connection…across continents.
One of the biggest concerns about making Aliyah, is that your children won’t be surrounded by the scores of cousins they are used to sharing birthdays, smachot and holidays with, each year. Our children were blessed growing up in South Africa to have close relatives in all major cities, so every milestone occasion or getaway involved spending time with mishpochah. These days, young people keep in touch with Instagram, FaceTime and other newer social media modes of communication, but it’s obviously not the same as being in the same country. We are lucky enough to have cousins in Israel too, and a range of friends who feel a lot like family, but watching the evolution of these long distance cousin connections has been fascinating and at times inspiring to see.
It’s a nine hour overnight flight between South Africa and Israel, and luckily we’ve had several smachot in our first two years as olim. Our children have returned to Durban twice for family celebrations and birthdays – their cousin’s Bat Mitzvah and their grandfather’s 80th birthday. Both celebrations were also obviously a mini-reunion for our children, who were again reunited with their cousins, aunt, uncles and grandparents. Having sporty cousins in Cape Town is also a perk! They have visited Israel as part of the popular Maccabi Games, student programmes and have also been blessed to come to visit for their own smachot. So the contact our children have had with their cousins has luckily been even more frequent than we had thought. But still, the
question remained. How will these relationships develop as time marches on?
That question was beautifully – and overwhelmingly – answered at a recent double simcha in the same city in South Africa, where my husband and I both grew up. We decided to return to Durban to celebrate our son’s Bar Mitzvah and our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah together with our parents and extended family. The same Rabbi – Pinhas Zekry – who officiated at our wedding, other family celebrations and was the Mohel at our son’s Bris, would be conducting this special double ceremony. It would be much easier for older relatives to come to the Umhlanga Jewish Centre at Izinga on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast, than to fly to Israel. Smachot are about family – the more family, the more meaningful.
The image of two grandfather’s standing on the Bimah during our son’s Bar Mitzvah, as he sang in front of the Durban community, will be etched in our minds forever. So many people commented that it was such a pity we couldn’t film that moment, given that it was during the Sabbath. We won’t need a camera to remember seeing both grandfathers – who are themselves life-long friends – opening the Ark, before our daughter read the Shema and delivered a D’var Torah, as part of her Bat Mitzvah ceremony in that packed shul. Those memories will last a lifetime for all of us.
It’s difficult to describe what it was like watching the younger generation in those moments. Beyond joyful. The pride in the faces of our children’s older cousins – cousins our son and daughter have looked up to for years. The way they hugged, joked and laughed with each other throughout the weekend celebrations. The games, teasing and re-enacted fun photographs
continued just as they had the last time they were all together. One wouldn’t have thought it had been months since they were last all in the same room. It left us overwhelmingly happy in the knowledge that cousin connections can survive different continents and much time apart. The bonds are real. Those bonds will last.
Smile of the week.
Buying a take-away coffee in Durban. Saying “thank you” in Hebrew, out of habit. Then laughing out loud when the South African barrister smiled and said: “Shalom to you too”!