Accepting a 73-Year-Old Invitation


By Steve North

Published October 31, 2007, issue of November 02, 2007.
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On one side of the faded but well-preserved invitation it is written that the groom’s parents “tienen el agrado de invitar a Usted”; on the other side the bride’s parents “hobn dem koved aykh ayntsulaydn” to the wedding of their children, Chanale and Baruch. The date of the nuptials: “el 1 de Diciembre de 1934, a las 20 horas.”

The ceremony took place on Calle Malabia in Buenos Aires as scheduled, at 8 p.m. on December 1, 1934, accompanied by formal announcements in one of the two Yiddish newspapers in existence in the city at the time. But my grandfather Moishe, to whom the invitation was addressed, did not attend the wedding of his sister Golda’s daughter Chanale that day. Nor was he present at the subsequent weddings of Golda’s five other children, or at the bar mitzvahs or weddings of any of her 15 grandchildren. The concept of traveling from New York to Argentina in those years was about as realistic as a long weekend on the far side of the moon, and no one from the American branch of the family, including my late father, ever celebrated a simcha with his or her cousins way down south.

Nearly 73 years after that first invitation, Golda’s great-grandson Ezequiel asked if I would consider coming to his wedding in October, and I figured it was about time someone from the “Norteamericano” part of the mishpacha RSVP’d “yes.”

And so I found myself seated in Templo Max Nordau, a few pews away from where great-aunt Golda used to daven until her death at age 92, watching Ezequiel and his delightful bride Julieta stand under the chuppah in a moving and elegant, yet heymishe, ceremony conducted in Hebrew and Spanish.

The story actually begins in 1910, when my grandfather was about to be inducted into the Russian army. He fled his Polish hometown of Skierniwiece, making his way to New York, from where he often sent small sums of money to his mother and siblings back home. In 1924, he made a vigorous but unsuccessful attempt to obtain American visas for Golda, her husband and their young children; documents for Argentina, however, came through, and the family settled in Buenos Aires.

Moishe and Golda’s two older sisters remained in Poland and were murdered in the Holocaust, along with their husbands and nine of their 11 children. It was, perhaps, their kin’s catastrophe that deepened the already profoundly close relationship between my grandfather and his surviving sister. Heartfelt, news-filled, lengthy letters in Yiddish were exchanged for decades on a regular basis, accompanied by countless sepia or black-and-white photos with descriptions on the back: “Dos iz di bar mitsve fun mayn eynikl Horacio,” (“This is the Bar Mitzvah of my grandson Horacio”) or, “Der foto iz mayn zun Shloime mit froy Amelia un kind Silvia.” (“This photo is my son Shloime with wife Amelia and child Silvia.”)

In 1968, pictures of Silvia’s wedding arrived — and then, this year, via e-mail, the wedding invite from Silvia’s son Ezequiel. We’d met on one of my three earlier trips to Argentina, during which I got to know most of Golda’s descendants.

We shared an interest in our family history, and in Israel as well; Ezequiel worked in Buenos Aires for the Jewish Agency (where he met Julieta, a colleague and, it turned out, his “bashert”), facilitating the aliyah of Argentine Jews.

It was an easy decision to attend the wedding of Eze and July, a warm and outgoing couple. As I sat there, surrounded by Golda’s long-widowed 87-year-old daughter-in-law Amelia, several of Golda’s grandchildren and her great-grandson, the groom, I recalled the transcendent relationship my grandfather had with his younger sister. Although he did not see her for the last 64 years of his life, she was in his thoughts until, literally, the very end. The day before he died, from his hospital bed, he asked me to send Golda money for Passover the next week; I still have the receipt for the sum, dated the day after his funeral.

I remembered all that as I listened to the chazan chanting, and to a trio singing Naomi Shemer’s “Hurshat HaEucalyptus” and, also in Hebrew, Edith Piaf’s “Hymn to Love.” I watched Eze and July beam at each other and recite the ancient vows, “k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.” I thought of how happy my beloved Grandpa Moishe would be to know I was here today, and of this gift he had given me: the everlasting ties to his family.

And then I recalled one other thing that had not occurred to me until that moment: It was October 15; it was my grandfather’s birthday.

Steve North is a broadcast journalist for CNBC.

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