One question that I hear a lot is “Are you related to…?”
I’ve come to expect it when meeting new people, and I starting shaking my head and saying “no” even before they can finish their question. Jewish geography is great, but it doesn’t really work for me. My relatives who share the same last name as me aren’t religious so no one knows them, and the religious family that everyone is always asking about is not related to me. So, I have been content for most of my life to know that my family is the black sheep and I will never be a crucial connection in Jewish geography.
That is, until two day before I left for seminary something happened. Two days before I boarded a plane for the Holy Land happened to be my sister’s wedding. (And my mother’s birthday). In the midst of all the wedding flurry, my mother got a Facebook message from some lady claiming to be a relative. My mother explained what was going on and that we would get back to her. Mazel tov! My sister got married, I was home for one day of Sheva Brachos, and then bam, I was welcomed into my beautiful homeland.
I don’t really remember what happened that week (except for my first day… that was an adventure) but I somehow found out that I had a cousin (they WERE related to us!) and she was ALSO in seminary! Our first Shabbos was an in-Shabbos, but knowing where said cousin was in seminary, I embarked on the trek through the sweltering Jerusalem streets to find her. And find her I did! We had a reunion… or first meeting (?) in one of her seminary classrooms.
Now, to be honest, I’m not the “huggiest” person. (At least, not so much with strangers) But, how does one greet a long-lost cousin, a perfect stranger, but at the same time, a family member? Ok, we hugged. We gasped and giggled as girls are known to do and promised to keep in touch and spend Shabbos together during the year. Which we did. We went to my second cousins pretty frequently together and got to know each other a little bit better. And when her brother came to Israel, he also spent Shabbos with us.
Having had only one set of relatives who are frum (from the other side, so not that famous last name everyone asks about), it was very strange to suddenly have a new cousin to be obligated to. She didn’t have any family in Israel (my cousins there were the only ones I had) so I felt like I had to make sure she always had a place for Shabbos. Definitely strange.
Mazel tov again! My second sister got engaged during my year in seminary and her wedding was a few weeks after I came home. Our new cousins came, but sadly we didn’t really have time to bond and schmooze (Two weddings in nine months! Whoosh!).
We haven’t really kept in touch these past few months because of college, friends, life, etc., but in a way, had we not been cousins, we never would have been friends. We are two very different people with lots of different interests that don’t overlap. So while it’s great to have a new frum cousin, it also feels like an alternate reality, in which she just doesn’t really fit the picture.
I now have one new connection in my game of Jewish geography, but to be honest, it’s just weird.