I will talk briefy about gazing at Virtual Panim, given my personal and family history of family dispersion since the 1930s, being born and raised in Brazil, and coming to the US in 1979 not as an immigrant, but as a professional expat.
Simple typology of family structures: (a) large extended families mostly living in urban areas, where kids fnd jobs and form families; Margot’s admiration for multigeneration families going out to restaurants for Sunday lunch in Mexico City (her home town) when domestic help has the day off; (b) a more extreme version: folks in Rappahannock County (VA), where we have our country place, where the iconic families (Dwyers; Atkins; Jenkins; etc.) hold annual reunions with hundreds of participants; (c) the US norm, where kids wander off to college and then settle away from their family of origin, so families get together at Passover, Thanksgiving,
Xmas, etc. and stay in touch by FaceTime; (d) my family history: having fed Germany relatively soon after the Nazis rose to power, the family dispersed to countless places, including Belgium, Brazil, Israel, Peru, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
For decades until my frst trip abroad in 1968 when I frst met these exotic relatives, my parents would ritually write each and every foreign relative on the High Holidays. (The South African branch mailed me a small gold plated tie clip for my Bar Mitzvah, which I found cool.) When I grew up, I picked up the mantle of cultivating these contacts with my diaspora family (unlike my siblings and Brazilian cousins, who seemed little interested) and have since visited them often in their home bases and offshoots (Croatia anyone?), participated in their offspring’s weddings in exotic locales, and assembled a quorum of visitors at Margot’s art show in Krakow.
As for my immediate family of origin, the pain of separation was real and barely mitigated by sporadic reunions in Brazil or Washington DC, our home of 40 years while I worked at a multilateral organization. When we frst came to DC in July 1979 for my job (bringing the 6-week old Eva along), the pain of saying goodbye to my parents the day before we departed brought me to the verge of tears. In the days before the Internet and WhatsApp calls, my parents would faithfully send me a weekly airmail aerogram (does anybody remember?) describing their day-to-day trivia (and the weather), to which I responded in kind. And sporadic printed photos. But I could only fantasize about their actual Panim between our intermittent reunions in Brazil or the US, typically every 18-24 months. More recently, I was pained that I could not personally attend my brother’s funeral last December, which the local synagogue in Rio unwittingly rushed so that I could not arrive
In the family constellation, I proudly assumed the mantle of nurturing contacts with friends and relatives, including emailing birthday greetings to erstwhile British neighbors in DC who resettled back in the UK decades ago, or an engaging American dentist and his German-born wife who resettled in Berlin and whom
I met only once (through mutual friends) when we visited their city a good 15 years ago.
My parting comments: cherish your friends and relatives however near or far they may live, and strive to meet them Panim al Panim whenver you have a chance. As I begin to garner a modicum of wisdom in my 70s, I have become keenly aware that the two pillars of happiness are good health and close contact with family and
friends—however far they may actually live.
Hatima Tova to our latest cohort of Ann Arbor Pardes Hannah friends, whom we have entusiastically embraced since we moved here to be close to our kids.