This year, as every year, our annual Chanukah party was a humongous affair. Dozens of grandchildren of all ages, together with their parents, somehow managed to squeeze themselves into our tiny apartment (reminiscent of how, in the early 60s, college students would try to see how many teens could fit into a telephone booth). They filled every nook and cranny, leaving a thick trail of sufganiyot crumbs and sticky jelly- covered fingerprints.
Ah, the beauty of family. Thirty-three years ago, when my husband and I started our lives together, it was just the two of us, (plus the six small children we were bringing into this new marriage), and no extended family . My children felt disadvantaged. ll their friends were members of large, cohesive clans that got together regularly for cousins’ bar mitzvah celebrations, family melaveh malkah, weddings, and, of course, Chanukah parties and Purim seudos. At school, discussion in the school yard often centered on the details of these gatherings, and since most of the children were somehow related, there were lots of private family jokes and reminiscing.
Today, when my children talk about those years, there is an undercurrent of bitterness at having been different. Yes, of course, they understand that no one was at fault — one can’t create instant family — yet they lack those wonderful, sweet memories of cousins getting together.
This is why I try so hard to keep the family together, to find reasons to celebrate, to make sure that my einekelach have a strong attachment to our personal link in the golden chain of mesorah leading back to Har Sinai.
It’s not always easy. Our family certainly doesn’t fit into any niche. We’re a pretty eclectic bunch. Chassidim, Misnagdim, Kena’im, Chabadnikim; we have representatives in every camp. On Pesach, some of us won’t touch gebrochts or machine matzos, while for others, that’s their main staple. As for head gear, to each his own hat or shtreimel or sheitel or turban or whatever. To tell you the truth, to me, those externals are really not important, as long as it’s al pi halachah.
Then, of course, my children are extremely busy raising beautiful, large families, (MY einekelach, bli ayin hora), while at the same time working full time, making bar mitzvahs, weddings, taking kids to dentists and somehow even finding time to purchase new shoes. So scheduling a time that everyone – or at least all those “everyones” living within a two-hour drive of my house – can get together is a major challenge.
But I do it. I make the effort because I see how important it is for my grandchildren’s sense of identity. I watch the cousins huddle in a corner, whispering together, sharing secrets, and then producing plays and choirs for the adults, and I realize that I am giving them the greatest gift – the gift of belonging to a large, cohesive family unit, feeling the tangible achdus of Klal Yisrael, of being part of something much greater than themselves.
In addition to our grand family gatherings, I arrange times for just the siblings and their spouses, to get together for a melaveh malkah or just plain middle of the week, no special occasion meal. No special reason, that is, except that family is family. And family is important.
Once or twice a year, I make a “mothers’ retreat” for my daughters and daughters-in- law, plus any nursing babies. Basically, it’s a slumber party, where no one sleeps and the “girls” end up giggling half the night! Last year, we sat in a deserted park until three in the morning, drinking ice coffees and having a blast. When we returned home, I collapsed into my bed and within minutes was sound asleep. But although “the girls” were officially safely ensconced in their blankets, the talking, and occasional shrieks of laughter or outbursts of song continued until the morning.
And then there’s the cousin camps, where girls of the same general age group come to Bubby’s house for a couple of days of fun. We close all the lights, place candles on the living room floor and have a kumsitz; we wake up in the predawn hours to catch the bus to kever Rachel; we visit chashuve Rebbetzins and gain from their insights. I let the girls prepare an entire Shabbos together, and then, when they all leave, I collapse! My husband tells me that I should stop exerting myself like this, but I explain to him that although I’m totally exhausted and feeling horrific, it is completely worth it. That’s because watching my family be together is one of my biggest sources of nachas.
And I’m a bubby, and bubbies are supposed to have nachas!