Our daughter, Elana, got married on May 29 in Israel. My husband’s father, Louis Leichman, died on June 20 in Hackensack.
These two major lifecycle events, only three weeks apart, magnified the distance between us and our loved ones still in the United States. Many of those we invited to the wedding were not able to make the trip. And I had to be content with hearing the eulogies for my father-in-law via mobile phone.
There’s no point trying to trivialize the strains caused by distance. When people move far from their nucleus of friends and family, there will inevitably be missed occasions that would have been better shared. Skype can’t take the place of a hug, and an e-mail does not equal face time.
But though the world hasn’t yet shrunk to the point of instantaneous and affordable travel across continents, it has gotten small enough that relocating – whether it’s to Israel or Alaska – doesn’t have to torpedo existing relationships. We’ve gained a new community without entirely forfeiting the old one.
Through the miracles of modern communication and visits from abroad, we have maintained ties with the extraordinary neighborhood of greater Teaneck, where we lived for 20 years and raised our three children. At the same time, we have forged new ties with an extraordinary neighborhood in Ma’aleh Adumim, our home for nearly four years now.
A sizable contingent of Americans flew to Israel for the wedding, as Elana and her new husband, Zev Alpert, are former Teaneck residents. The Alpert parents arrived from New Jersey ahead of a group of their friends, who not only shared fully in the celebration but also sponsored a beautiful sheva brachot dinner the following evening at the Little Jerusalem restaurant at Anna Ticho House.
We discovered a surprise Teaneck connection there. Searching for the traditional “new face” (someone who had not been at the wedding) to offer one of the seven blessings to the newlyweds, our hosts came across Rabbi Macy Gordon, a leader of Cong. Bnai Yeshurun before his aliyah, at a party in another part of the restaurant. Small world!
To her great delight, as the wedding date grew closer Elana got word from one childhood friend after another that they had bought tickets to Israel for the occasion. This gesture involved considerable expense and no small measure of inconvenience – particularly for Erica, who was missing her college graduation, and for Allison and Michael, whose own wedding was just three weeks away. But that made the promise of their presence all the more precious.
And still I was surprised to answer a ringing doorbell on the Thursday night before the wedding, revealing a group of familiar faces standing there with a pizza, balloons, and a campy crown for the bride (probably bought at Amazing Savings on Cedar Lane). After showering her with gifts, they whisked her off to a neighborhood park for her bachelorette party.
Five of the girls stayed over for Shabbat, joined by my visiting mother-in-law and Elana’s newest pal from Chicago, who moved in up the block two years ago. Our daughter has made many dear and devoted friends in Israel, but nothing could have compared with the memories shared by those who grew up with her.
All told, nine of her buddies from the “old country” made it to the wedding – including her oldest friend in the world, Shlomit, who arrived from Teaneck along with her parents. A multigenerational mix of Israeli and American friends and relatives on both sides danced with the newlyweds and with each other in a melded whirl of joy. Some of the visitors attempted to follow the intricate steps of the unique “cousins dance” that our female Israeli relatives perform at each family wedding.
As I surveyed this happy scene – and 21 days later, when many old friends and co-workers came to comfort my husband after his father’s death in Hackensack – I realized the simple truth that we are all cousins, distant or close though we may be. Descended from common ancestors, our tribe finds ways to come together (in person or over the phone, if need be) when it most counts, at the best of times and the worst of times.