Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This Shrinking World

Z ast night, Dov and I attended our friend Alex's birthday party, an annual event hosted by Alex and Maralin in their Sukkah with much aplomb--great food, people, conversation, atmosphere--it's all there in spades.

Maralin served trays of cold cuts from a prize winning Swiss sausage-maker named Hess, the self-titled Sausage King who brought his skills with him to Israel when he made Aliyah some years ago. I had read descriptions of some of his creations and had yearned to try them for quite some time. I was not disappointed. Good bread, an assortment of mustards, slaw, potato salad, and pickles rounded out the offerings along with booze like Glenlivet Nadurra, Aberfeldy, some wines and liqueurs, the last, presumably for the ladies. I tried to be a good girl and pretended I didn't want to taste the single malts...

There were several conversations going on at table, all of them interesting, making it hard for me to choose my focus. One end of the table was discussing Evangelist Christian support for Israel and The Rapture, while my end of the table was focused on Israeli construction methods and practices in my neighborhood. At some point, Dov began to speak to the woman on my right, Ann Dansker, about delicatessens in their mutual hometown of Chicago, and then the talk drifted to Ann's late father, who used to be a regular sight as he took his daily constitutionals in our town of Efrat.

I recognized Ann's father's name and realized that Ann is cousin to one of our regular posters at the Jewishgen General Discussion Group, where I monitor the moderators' list and handle support mail. The talk turned to genealogy, one of my fave hobbies. When Ann realized how much I liked this topic, she began telling me what she knew about her family. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when she said, "My maternal grandmother was from Eishyshok."

I broke out in goosebumps and said, "We are landsmen!"

My maternal grandfather's family, the Kopelman and the Janofsky clans, came from Vasilishok, only 27 miles away from Eishyshok. Lots of Kopelmans settled in Eishyshok, too. Both towns belonged to the same Uezd (district) back in the days before Vashilishok became part of Belarus, Lida Uezd.

I realized that it was very possible that Ann and I might even be related. Not really a far-fetched notion I thought, as I scanned her face and saw features so similar to those of my maternal relatives that I cried out and brought the fact to Dov's attention. Ann pooh-poohed the idea, but Dov saw exactly what I meant.

To my great delight, we talked family trees the rest of the evening. Ann had some terrific stories about her family. In particular, I enjoyed hearing about her ancestor who stood in as the Cohen at the Pidyon HaBen, the redemption ceremony for a first born son, for the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu Kremer's son. Ann's relative was the only Cohen the Vilna Gaon trusted with this honor, because the Gaon was certain that Ann's great great grandfather's blood had not been sullied with Chassidus. The great irony is that two generations later, the surname of this line became "Chassid."

Is this stuff just random--Ann growing up in Chicago, and I in Pittsburgh, while our ancestral shtetlach were in such close proximity to each other? And now, both of us, at a dinner party in Israel, seated next to each other. How do these things just happen?

It isn't even that rare. Take Moshe Silverman, who runs Philly Pizza, a small pizzeria in Efrat, for instance. We lived on neighboring settlements, Maale Amos and Metzad, in the middle of nowhere, A/K/A the Judean Desert. Moshe and I rode the same bus line for 18 years. I became friends with Moshe's wife when we both had babies at the same hospital on the same day. Then I began to research my family tree and discovered that our great grandmothers, Moshe's and mine, were sisters. Whoa!

How did we end up in such close proximity to each other? Is there some kind of lesson here? Am I reading too much into these things?

All I know is, whenever this stuff happens, I get goosebumps.


  1. My grandmother and her brother also came from vashilishok to Leeds UK