Having submitted a sample to the genetic testing company 23andMe, I occasionally receive email notifications from them that I have a long lost relative I can contact. Frankly, I have no interest in finding out about some 6th cousin twice removed who lives in another continent. Why bother when I already have members of my extended family who live in the United States yet I rarely see in person?
You may be aware that I have lots of family here in California. I am indeed very grateful that after 26 years of living “chutz la-medina” (outside the state); I now live in relative proximity to my three brothers and their families. There are also other members of the Schulman mishpocha who reside in California. In addition to the Schulman clan, I am pleased that we now live near Eve’s family. Her parents are in San Francisco; and her brother and sister, along with their families, reside in California.
However, there is a whole other side of my extended family who live in a far-off place I grew-up calling “Back East.” My parents were both born in Altoona, Pennsylvania. They knew each other all their lives. Shortly after my parents married in 1949, they moved to Long Beach, where my dad had an uncle. In time, my dad’s siblings and my grandfather moved as well to Southern California.
However, my mom’s 4 siblings remained in Pennsylvania. I became aware over time of the special nature of my Berman mishpocha (my mom’s maiden name). There is a great dedication to higher learning. My mom and siblings were all college graduates (Mom graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Penn State). Furthermore, there is a passion for culture. Every Berman child and grandchild learned to play a musical instrument. A love of literature and theater have been inculcated and nurtured.
So too in the Berman clan there is an appreciation for humor. At every Berman simcha, one or more attendees could be counted on to deliver a clever poem or perform a popular song with the lyrics altered to fit the occasion.
The last time the Berman mishpocha was all together was nearly two decades ago at a family reunion held in the Poconos. Since then, I have seen one or more of my 14 Berman first cousins only on rare occasions.
As you read this column, I will be in Altoona, Pennsylvania. This past Sunday, my Aunt Emma died. She was my mother’s last surviving sibling. When I received the news via email, I felt a tug in my heart. It was not grief, for Emma lived a long and full life. But when I learned of my Aunt Emma’s passing, I felt a longing to return to my parents’ birthplace; to be with my Berman cousins; to experience a sense of connection that has lain dormant for a very long time. On Friday morning we will lay to rest the last of the five children born to Abe and Sylvia Berman.
Genetic samples and DNA matches hold little sway over me. Far deeper are the mysteries that take root within one’s own family; the dynamics that are nestled in the crib when you are born; the passages that unfold over the course of a lifetime.