Last night I hauled down to Jerusalem for a wedding. The bride was related to my grandmother by some labyrinthine branching of the family tree, though no one could really remember how; moments after my grandmother detailed the genealogy, no one could repeat it. It was as if the logic of relatedness had collapsed. Someone had ended up as his own nephew or something.
The parents of the bride and groom were secular, though both halves of the merry couple had been born-again as orthodox Jews. Before seeing the light, the bride had apparently tasted of the wild life, and as a result, the wedding was populated by a colorful mix of Jews at all ends of the religious and cultural spectrums. Never before had I seen grave, archaic scholars adjusting their kaftans alongside drug addled Gen-X party girls and lanky, tie-died earth-muffins with Nepalese man-purses. The ceremony was intimate and well-catered, with copious live clezmer and rings of bouncy dancing hasidim that seemed to coalesce like oil beads of their own accord. Man and wife were joined, God was thanked, praised, obeyed and hallowed en mass, and bored looking highschoolers in uniforms sliced an endless litany of roast beef. The whole affair overlooked the distant ramparts and domes of the golden old-city.
My four-year-old cousin, Goni, was somewhat confused by the unfamiliar breed of two-tone tribesmen, some bearded and some unbearded, some wearing the knitted yarmulkes of the conservatives and some wearing stiff black fedoras, or hair-wraps and ankle-length skirts. Her mother explained in one of the most elegant descriptions I have ever heard: “See Goni, these are religious people [“Datee-im”], and they love God very very very much.” Goni seemed satisfied—or mystified.
After the groom smashed his glass, my grandmother pulled me away from the chupa and introduced me to another relative, Shlomo, whose exact relation to our family could no longer be recalled by any living person. As it happened, Shlomo is the son of a man distantly related to my great-grandfather, and who immigrated to Israel after the Second World War. Shlomo’s father had lost his entire family in the Shoa, and my grandmother and her family were his only living relatives. In the timeless Jewish tradition, Shlomo’s family was adopted and held close to the hearts of my grandmother, her parents and sister. Amazing that in a culture where basically everyone shares some modicum of common blood, the bonds of even distant relatives are invested with such immense strength.