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Long Lost Relatives

 Because of the increased use of Zoom over the past months, people have been listening to my lectures who otherwise would have been deprived of that great benefit since they do not live in the Rechavia section of Jerusalem. Because of this, as well, I have discovered relatives that I never knew existed and with whom I have had no connection.

The discovery of long-lost relatives always comes as a shock, sometimes in a beneficial way, and sometimes even wondrous. As I have now discovered, I have relatives who live in Edinburgh, Scotland and who have been in the United Kingdom for over a century, families that I never knew existed. I have also discovered that I have relatives here in the United States that somehow disappeared from our family tree and that I never knew as well.
My daughter, who is interested in family genealogy, is creating a family tree for us, which is quite extensive. And now with all this new information, it turns out that we are a far larger family than I ever imagined. This is a wondrous discovery. And seeing what happened in our family, as to where everyone is and how they relate to the origins of our family, is very instructive, not only about my family, but about human nature and about the story of the Jewish people generally, over the past two centuries.
There was once a theory called six degrees of separation. This meant that all human beings were related one to another by no more than six degrees of separation, and if we were to go to the seventh degree, we'd find, so to speak, common ancestors and common family. I think that this is certainly true in the Ashkenazic Jewish world. We have a tradition that, for instance, the 16th century Rabbi from Padua, Italy - Rabbi Moshe Katzenellenbogen - is the ancestor of nearly 80% of Ashkenazic Jewry, who are somehow related to him in one way or another.
This is a fascinating idea, but it helps explain, at least to me, why there is such a strong bond of family that exists within the Jewish people and why its role in our lives is often primary. Jews to a great extent are fixated on family. We are a family religion and a family- built society. There is a great idea in Judaism regarding genealogy, that by knowing who we come from, it sets a course for us and enables us to see where we should be going. It challenges us, it raises us. All Jews see themselves as being aristocrats, as being descended from princes and kings, from priests and scholars, from Holy people and from people who have benefited, all of humankind over the long millennia of our story.
There is an attachment that we all have to members of our family. And the joy of discovering new people that belong to our family is really one of the great benefits that this current period of personal isolation has brought to me. Not only am I alone, but now I am alone with many people that I didn't even know I was alone with. And that is heartening in the extreme.
One of the new long-lost relatives told me that he is considering trying to make a family reunion in Jerusalem, when all of this is over. I made a quick calculation that if everybody from our family would come, now that I know of my extended part of our family, it would be a reunion of three to four thousand people. Now that is a real reunion.
I am reminded that the late Max Weil , who was a friend of mine and a member of our congregation, had organized such a reunion for his family and had thousands of people come to Israel to join in this reunion. He always remarked to me about the diversity in the people who came. They were all related, as they all came from the same place and yet they were all so different. That is a remarkable thing.
I would like to find more long-lost relatives and be able, somehow, to have at least a nodding acquaintance. My immediate family was small and suddenly because of the blessings of God, I have many, many grandchildren and great grandchildren who also have relatives, who are also now related to me. And if we play it out, we are talking about half the Jewish people being related to me. That is a wonder.
This all really explains to me that the survival of the Jewish people over the ages is because of families. With family, there is an indestructible element built into our lives, something that we can transfer to others, others that we can rely upon, a history and a purpose and a destiny that becomes clear to us.
So I am very happy to have found these long lost relatives and if there are any more of you hiding out somewhere, I certainly hope that you will contact me so that we can get to know one another. Every family has its own unique characters and I am certain that my family is no exception to that rule.
Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Berel Wein

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