When I was very young my parents went to regular “cousins club” meetings designed to help the extended chain of relatives to maintain ties and our Jewish connections.
I have no idea what was done at the club meetings but I assume they were largely social affairs with alcoholic beverages added to lubricate the evenings. I don’t know if there was a hierarchy, if only cousins were invited or how many people were involved. I never went to a meeting I don’t think they were a time for kids but rather a time for the adults to get together and schmooze for a few hours specifically without the kids.
My guess is that Jewish cousins clubs formed out of the ashes of the holocaust with the implanted notion that Jews had to find ways to stick together not only to preserve the culture and museum but for very real protection against a world that often seemed to be violently against the Jews.
I don’t know if there are similar cousins club traditions in other religions but I would doubt it because Jewish history is unique in our shared persecution through the ages and the need to offer physical and emotional protection and security to each other.
I do know that my parents enjoyed the club meetings which I believe were held monthly and alternated at various family hosts. It was a way for the relatives to keep in touch but then my father died when I was 10 and our connections to the cousins club unraveled, as I assume my mother didn’t want to attend as the only widow among all the other married cousins.
It was a time when the extended families stayed close. It meant something to maintain these connections with blood relatives. We regularly saw cousins in Ridgewood, aunts and uncles in West New York and New York City. My parents kept in touch with relatives on Long Island.
Back then we had a few relatives out of the area, some cousins in Texas and Chicago, an aunt in California, an uncle in Florida, but they were unusual for having moved so far away from their New York and New Jersey roots. They were the pioneers, the rebels in the minority among the other families who were represented in the cousins club. Most of the cousins lived in the area and stayed put for generations.
The cousins club offered stability and a place to preserve friendships and share mutual memories for the extended families who had relatives like my family, whose family ashes were scattered in the holocaust.
Now, it’s the other way around. The cousins club is a faded memory. My parents are long gone and among my nuclear family, my sister and niece and her family are in North Carolina, another nephew is in California, my brother and his wife are in Minnesota and his son, my nephew, has lived in Japan for many years.
Other than my brother and sister and their families, one cousin lives in Nutley but we haven’t been close for years as he was on my father’s side of the family and when my father died, so did most of the ties with his relatives. Another pair of twin cousins have lived in Alaska for many years, and another is in North Carolina and I haven’t seen any of them in decades as any family connections have long since frayed and torn. One of the cousins lived in Texas until he died a few years ago.
Other cousins are sprinkled across the country but my connections with them have long since evaporated and the distance makes it difficult even to maintain my relations with my sister and brother and their families.
My cousin is the most extreme example, having moved to Japan more than two decades ago. He had met a Japanese woman in the U.S. and they eventually married and relocated to Japan. I haven’t heard from him in many years and it is unlikely he will ever move back to the U.S. I recall him as a teenager with blond hair down to his waist and immersed in experimental, avant garde music. He has worked in information technology for many years.
And as soon as they could, my twin cousins wanted to move as far away as possible from their mother and home in Ridgewood. They did that, moving to Anchorage, Alaska, the furthest reaches of the country.
I have remained in the same general area for all of my life. My family moved to Bergen County when I was 4 and as I grew up, I moved a few times before settling in Morris County. I remember the first time I drove to Morristown from Bergen County, it felt like I had entered another country.
I enjoyed the closeness of the extended family as a child but never had the luxury as an adult and that is unfortunate. Family members are different than friends in that they often have a rich reservoir of shared memories that can offer a feeling of foundation. Without it, you can feel disconnected and that also is unfortunate.
But what is really fortunate is that I have avoided writing about Trump for the whole blog. I would feel remiss if I didn’t say anything about the mad king so let me just say that his library should be in the shape of a large polygraph and filled with copies of Archie and Jughead comics.