Thursday, June 29, 2017

My Grandsons and Genealogy

Minna is a cousin of my son-in-law's mother. Her husband is a major rabbi at a very large Jerusalem yeshiva. There is no reason we should know each other, much less be friends. Even at my daughter Merav's social occasions we wouldn't normally see each other because men and women sit separately. But Minna and I would always cross the barrier to speak to each other,

Beginning nearly sixteen years ago, Merav had a medical situation which required a series of surgeries and hospitalizations. In addition to providing transportation, I sat through all those surgeries and other procedures, sometimes with her, sometimes in the waiting room. Minna sat through all of them as well, in the role of surrogate mother. So we became friends.

Minna died this week after several years of suffering. She was not quite fifty-eight. Merav and her husband went to the funeral, with some of their children. Yesterday I went to the house for shiva, to pay a condolence call to her husband and children. I wasn't sure whom I would see and who would even know who I am - in their circles the men and women generally sit in separate rooms. I figured I would introduce myself as Merav's father and that would be enough. I'd sit quietly for a few minutes and go.

Nine forty-five in the morning seemed like a good time but the apartment door was closed. In a traditional shiva house the door is always open. I knocked. They said that they were eating breakfast, but I was ushered in. I had the status of being Merav's father and I didn't have to introduce myself. They all knew who I was and were pleased I had come. (I think there are seven children, all married.)

It is a small, austere apartment where they raised their children, full of books. I had actually been there once before.

The rabbi, Minna's husband, spoke of my grandchildren almost as his own, by name. His children, both the sons and daughters, concurred.

As we sat and talked, one of the sons said to the father "He is the one who does family history." Then continued "and uses DNA." And they mentioned the study that Rachel Unkefer is doing that takes the Pikholz Y-line back to Spain and Jeff Paull's work touching on my possible ancestor Rabbi Nathan Neta Spira (b. Krakow 1585), author of Megalleh Amukkot.

Merav's children, last winter
Many genealogists live with the frustration that our children are simply not interested. My youngest is kind of interested, my marine biologist son likes the DNA and the others humor me sometimes.The grandsons are more interested - some of that is genuine and some because I force-feed them. But some of them actually pay attention, both those here and those in Chicago.

Minna's adult children knew of my work - not only that I am a genetic genealogist but some of the details - from Merav's kids, particularly Moishie who is turning eighteen and studies in a yeshiva in Benei Berak. He listens to me and finds it interesting enough to pass it on to Minna's family. Knowing this made my day. That and talking genealogy anecdotes with Minna's husband and children.

And paying my respects to a friend.

Housekeeping notes
Speaking of grandchildren, my son in Chicago is making his next bar mitzvah the first Sunday in May. If any program directors are looking for something around then, please drop me a note.

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