A s soon as they crossed the threshold, the cousins from Israel handed me their cameras. I thought their focus on memory preservation to be unnecessarily premature, but in hindsight, they were correct; record-keeping is always forgotten if postponed. When the blinding flashes ceased, the two sisters leisurely observed the mob of still-unknown family packed in the living room. Strangers we were, then.

But Yudit’s face seemed so familiar. Where do I know that face from? The thought crossed my mind, and the answer looked down at me from the silver-framed photo perched on the seforim shrank. Yudit is Babi Yehudis — Zeidy’s mother, and her own namesake — reincarnated.

After the war, his wife and children dead, Zoli Bácsi (“Uncle”) had remarried and headed straight for the Holy Land. His brother, my grandfather, returned to the childhood home. A decade later, when the Communists overran Hungary, Zeidy asked his scattered siblings for advice: Where should he go?

“You have small children,” Zoli wrote. “Life is too hard here.”

While his response was intended to spare his already-anxious brother distress or discomfort, Zoli always regretted sending that letter. It meant that the surviving clan settled in Brooklyn, and he was officially alone in Israel.

I first met Zoli Bácsi as a child, when he flew in for a rare visit. He and Zeidy sat side by side, little in common in terms of physical features. One would not initially conclude that they were brothers. In personality, however....

Zeidy personified the renowned Spitzer Silence. Babi would joke that when all the Spitzers were in the same room, conversation went as follows: “Mm-hm?” Back and forth, intermittently. Indeed, Zoli and Zeidy, the long-lost siblings, obviously ecstatic to see each other again, could only summon an intermittent “Mm-hm?” as they happily gazed at each other.

Zeidy was a man of strong opinions, and he would actually share them, too. But he thought — and I mean thought — before allowing any of his sentiments to meet others’ ears. Perhaps Zoli was the same.

On our trips to Israel, we used to pop in to Zoli and his lovely wife in their impossible-to-find old-age home in Yerushalayim. Ma chattered away in Hungarian to the voluble Sashi Néni (“Aunt”), while Zoli remained mute. Both have since passed away. I did not meet their daughters, Yudit and Rutie, until they made the journey to America and were our guests for Shabbos.

Rutie was a copy of her mother: short, round-faced, bright-eyed. She had an American husband, and was comfortable speaking English. She tackled the conversational ball, briskly asking questions and firmly stating opinions. Yudit seemed relieved that the burden of dialogue was not her responsibility; her default was quiet, content containment. Yudit and Rutie do not even look related — Yudit is taller, slender, darker, her face is longer. So like her murdered namesake who watched from above.

The few times Yudit did speak, her words were carefully measured, her voice soft, almost inaudible. She murmured in Hebrew that she had gone to school to become an interior decorator, but never practiced. You have to be pushy, she apologetically confessed, and she cannot be pushy.

“You’re a Spitzer!” I said with a laugh. “You’re one of us!”

Puzzlement creased the corners of her eyes. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 573)