Unlike those brave CNN anchors, Wolf Blitzer and Fareed Zakaria, I am afraid to have a DNA test from Ancestry.com. I might discover my husband and I are too close for comfort – Sorry kids! Let me explain.
Everyone who has read our book, Jewish Luck, knows of my serendipitous meeting with Vera in Leningrad, but I had another serendipitous meeting - - with my future husband, Harry Adler. The agent of this meeting was the unlikely Therese, Hennepin County Medical Center psychodynamic psychology intern, a nice Catholic girl from the Minnesota Iron Range with dreams of marrying a Jewish doctor.
On October 14, six weeks after our introduction at the posh downtown apartment building in which Harry and Therese resided, Harry’s friend and self-appointed life coach, Rob Schilit (z”l), called to ask Harry “how serious?” Harry called to ask me the same question, which I refused to discuss over the phone and without ingesting an appropriate amount of vodka and chocolate. It was a negotiation that I thought might take place every Sunday for the next year. But my toughest point – “I was not meant to be a stay-at-home Mom” was an easy sell. “I did not cook a lot.” That was okay. Harry loved to cook. “I’m kind of a free spirit.” No problem. I don’t think Harry brought up any issues or maybe I forgot to ask. So the deal was sealed.
Time to call our parents a few states away.
- “Mom, I’m engaged.”
She answered, “to whom?” Fair question. If you’ve read our book, you know why. My parents had a trip planned already to Norfolk, my Dad's childhood home, to see his cousins and they took the opportunity to scout out Harry’s parents for me before I had the chance to meet them.
-My father with Baubie and his family lived next door to Harry’s first cousins when he was growing up. In fact, his first unrequited love, the beautiful Ruthanne, was in that family. So our grandparents and our great grandmothers were friends.
-Before we met, Harry’s mother had been enlisted by General Electric to show a new executive around the Tidewater area to ensure a smooth transfer to Portsmouth. This turned out to be my brother, Chuck.
-Harry had coached my second cousin at Norfolk Academy in football and there is debate as to whether he is responsible for Edward's broken arm.
-Suffice it to say that although we met independently in Minneapolis, many of our relatives already knew each other.
-My paternal grandfather was Irving Isidore, originally a tailor and later a shop manager. Harry’s paternal grandfather, originally a tailor and eventually a furrier, was Irwin and the name Isidore also sneaks into the records. Harry had established these facts by the first date when he brought along a book of Jewish baby names. So, our son is Isaac, though Aunt Gertie wanted him to have a good American name like Irwin or Irving.
It was Fall of ‘84 when I became convinced that my Grandma Rae had arranged this match at her card game in heaven.
October 14 is also the birthday of my mother-in-law, and my dear friend Natasha (z”l), for whom the book is dedicated. (and the birthday of Micah Pepper and the famous BaubieLu.) This year on the eve of our thirtieth anniversary, my cousin Helene Rosenfeld invited me to speak at Beth El in Norfolk for their Sisterhood Sukkah Party. Meryll already had a speaking engagement so I was representing Jewish Luck solo.Harry suggested the topic “Ushpizin.” Of course!
On Sukkot, the harvest holiday, there is a tradition of inviting ushpizin, honored guests from history into the Sukkah (the temporary dwelling open to the stars and elements). There were a lot of ushpizin to invite. Both Harry’s father and my father had their bar-mitzvahs at that shul. We were lucky to have Harry’s parents with us in reality. But surely my Dad was also there along with his parents and all the Thomashefsky sisters including my Grandma Rae and Baubie as this was their shul too. Baubie was the original relative who cracked the whip and told Mr. Baubie, as Helene calls our great grandfather, to get the hell out of the Ukraine. And we’re glad she did.
But that night I realized that all these ushpizin are part of me, part of my DNA, part of my children’s DNA. All of my ancestors and all of their experiences are coded inside of me (See Epigenetics in Wikipedia) like a Russian nesting doll. And as I mentioned in my blog “Rockin’ Aunt Leah,” it makes me smile and gives my life more purpose as I carry all of them with me every day.
Note: z”l means zikhrono/a/ l’vrakha “may his/her memory be a blessing.” And I can assure you it is. It belongs after far too many names here and I didn’t use it after each one.