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A Family Reunion (for 500)

Goldie Hershkowitz

Do you know your second cousin once removed? Or your great-great-aunt? She might be your boss, your sheitelmacher, or your daughter’s teacher. At mega-family reunions people are meeting friends and acquaintances that they never knew were part of their mishpachah. What it takes to pull off such an event, plus tips on organizing one for your own family

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

illustration of familyWhen a barber inLakewoodrecently attended a mega-family reunion to meet distant relatives, he realized that he recognized quite a few faces. “I probably give haircuts to half the people here,” he remarked. Before they were customers, now they were cousins. “I hope they don’t all start asking for a family discount,” he joked.

Whether it’s a large-scale family reunion for 150 or 650, attendees have been surprised to meet people they never knew were part of their greater mishpachah. Teachers have bumped into students, employees have encountered bosses or coworkers, yungeleit have run into chavrusas. Some people have been introduced to a cousin or two (or three or four or more) with the exact same name. At the Schwimmer family affair, for instance, there were swarms of young Haddasahs and Esther Malkas, all named for their joint great-grandmother.

Despite the spread of generations at these events, family is family. “When everyone gets together,” says Fally Klein of the Schwimmer family, “there are certain characteristics that keep on cropping up. We all laugh at each other, ‘you’re such a Schwimmer.’ ”

If you’ve ever planned a reunion for just your immediate family, you know how difficult it can be. Finding a date that works for everyone can take weeks, even months. Where will the reunion take place? In what city? In whose home or in what kind of venue? What food should be served (taking into account allergies, doctor-prescribed diets, and different kashrus stringencies)? What special events should be scheduled? Where will everyone stay? How will everyone get there? How do you split the costs, especially when some relatives are better off than others?

Now imagine planning a reunion where you invite over 1,000 relatives. The complications and difficulties multiply exponentially. Though it takes a lot of people to pull together such a mammoth event, it usually starts with just one inspired individual.


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