I've just finished unpacking my simcha suitcase. Due to the prodigious size of my husband's family, we're often en route to cities like New York, Minneapolis or San Francisco to attend yet another wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah. We have it down to a science: Nice outfits are hung in a garment bag, and everything else is divided into carry-ons. The gifts are cushioned between layers of clothing.
This is not something I grew up with. My Jewish identity came from my afternoon Yiddish school and from the fact that there was not one non-Jewish child in my Bronx neighborhood. We were culturally Jewish, though, not religious. It's possible that some of the boys in my neighborhood had Bar Mitzvahs, but I wasn't friendly enough with them to be invited.
And if I had, it would have been a simple one-day affair. Not so in the family I married into.
This seems to be the pattern: Expect nothing less than a traditional Friday night dinner, a lovely meal at the Saturday event (and a party later, if applicable), and a Sunday brunch. In your hotel room, you'll find a carbohydrate-laden "goodie bag." If you've schlepped from out of town for this event, God forbid that, at anytime during the weekend, you should go hungry!
The Chicago Bar Mitzvah we just attended was no exception. The food was plentiful, but that's just a happy side benefit. The real underpinning to these events -- besides, of course, being there to witness the actual rite of passage -- has to do with family connections.
It wasn't that many generations back that people grew up surrounded by family. Frequent get-togethers were the norm.
The Benefits of Family Unity
In this mobile society, one must carve out a block of time to keep strong the bond of extended family. A large simcha provides a good excuse to make that happen.
My husband, who can be irritatingly frugal in certain instances, will happily pay for my daughters, who are now coming from other cities so they can partake in the familial and celebratory doings. I agree with him that a sense of belonging to -- and feeling cherished by -- a large group is worth any price.
And there's something else in it for me.
In the day-to-day contact with our local friends, the changes we experience in each other and in their children are typically subtle and gradual. With a two-year- or-so gap between family events, the changes we observe, particularly in the younger cousins, are particularly dramatic. Because of their leaps ahead, my place in the order of things keeps being redefined. I see my role changing, but still vital, in the vast web of family interconnections.
I had my time when everyone cooed over my daughters. Now a new generation of little girls runs up to hug me. Their sweet embrace reminds me that it's my turn to coo and kvell over the next wave of progeny.
The older aunts and uncles give me direction. I watch what they wear, how they dance, and how they morph into the roles their parents once occupied. That "great wheel" turns, whether we're cognizant of it or not. I, for one, am grateful for some role modeling before moving on to the next spoke.
For now, our suitcases are back in the basement. The next Bar or Bat Mitzvah is two years away, so, unless someone decides to marry on fairly short notice, we shall stay put for a while. But I'm always primed for the next event.
I hope I'll have a reason and the means to go off to these boisterous family gatherings. The new crop of little girls who hugged me will eventually transition into their own rites of passage. That will mean I'm pushed even farther in the direction of the family elders, but I might as well go there in the company of family, warm support and -- in case I go hungry -- lots of treats in my "goodie bag."
Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I. Comments? E-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .