My mother had a friend, a very active, gracious woman who became a surrogate mom for me after my own mother passed away. This woman lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two. She remained beautiful, vibrant, full with the wisdom of years until the very end of her life. To listen to her was to enter the pages of mainstream contemporary Jewish history.
She and her husband both came to America at a very young age. They were from a large family (the same one – they were cousins), had a large family of their own, saw all their kids marry and raise their own broods. They merited a growing number of grandchildren and then great-grandchildren across two continents.
In addition to her wide swath of social and communal activities, this was a woman who knew and was connected to hundreds – perhaps thousands! – of people. And she remembered them all. Who they married and who their children married; how they were related to her or each other; what they did, how, where and when she met them or worked with them; and myriad other genealogical and social details. How could she remember all these connections? And I wondered, were they of any value? Did it make any difference? They left me feeling dizzy.
This woman was an anchor to the past and present; a tree, firmly rooted in a surrounding forest of family and friends, branches and leaves twined and intertwined to form a protective canopy, spread over all its members. It was a fortress of sorts. In a world which claims that the individual is the beginning and end of all obligations and aspirations, where each of us is expected to stand alone and do our own thing, we usually discover that we are standing vulnerable and exposed. My elderly friend’s world, knew no such thing as “alone”. Kol yisrael areivim zu ba’zu – all Jews are connected. Even the ones she didn’t – yet! – get to know.
At the time, I would sit there listening to her and feeling impoverished, like a lonely island unto myself. All I had was one single sibling, my own parents and in-laws had passed away, my own children were still small. My cousins lived far in the United Sates. Contact was limited and some had disappeared completely. I had good friends, of course, but we were spread out across Israel and we were all busy raising families and struggling to make ends meet. Our social meetings were limited to weddings, bar mitzvas and sometimes, unfortunately, a sad occasion. In addition, as olim to Israel, we couldn’t claim twelve or fifteen years of school friends and neighbors in the country. In a country as small as Israel, where just about everyone has grown up with and knows everyone else through shared schools, youth groups, the army, this was hard.
Today, my kids have grown up and my family and social connections have grown with them. I have the kids’ in-laws, our shared grandchildren, everyone’s extended families. Our grandchildren are now adding newcomers to the gene pool. I have neighbors I have now known for many years and I, too, can now sit and explain how so-and-so is related to us through so-and-so. Now I, too, often find family ties from two or three generations ago with many of these newly acquired relatives or old acquaintances. The “family” has grown vertically and horizontally to encompass generations and continents. It gives one a feeling of belonging, of stability, of being part of something larger than yourself.
I have also watched from close up the lives of large families – six, eight, ten children (and more!). The amount of work, worry and effort which goes into raising large families is mind boggling, yet the amount of joy and nachat that comes from them is beyond measure. Each family is an entire world, and when they grow to maturity and marry, producing new families of their own, one can truly join G-d as a partner in creation.
The point of all this being the significance and value of connections – people, family, community. When G-d told Adam it is not good for man to be alone, He didn’t present him with a virtual, or silent, or undemanding partner. He gave him a living, breathing, unique creation with her own needs, desires, and voice. Each of us needs others to love, to aid, to share with in order to function and reach our own potential. We need not only husbands and wives, but parents and children; aunts, uncles, cousins, friends; colleagues and fellow workers. The more we have, the richer, stronger, healthier, happier and more stable we are. Ken yirbu – may our connections multiply.
P.S. This proliferation of people does not apply to multiple husbands and wives, or a succession of them! Here, the preferred standard is one, single, loyal, loving, life-time mate. This may not always be an option or a possibility, but it’s definitely something to pray for, and to strive for.
Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including Sand and Stars – a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. Her latest book – “A Different Dimension” published by Hamodia Publishers – is an anthology of essays on contemporary Jewish life.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.