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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

My father’s 22nd yahrzeit fell on the weekend of a bar mitzvah we attended in Charlotte, North Carolina. While out of town on the occasion, it meant a lot to me to be at services celebrating another religious event.

The stained-glass windows of Temple Israel in Charlotte would have appealed to my father.  While not shomer Shabbos, religion was important to him, and he was interested in mechanics, particularly in how things were made.

Being unable to distinguish colors, however, he may not have followed the themes of the Milstein Sanctuary stained-glass windows, such as the green for the grass on the third day of creation  on the right side of the glass and blood red for the fifth day of creation, also positioned on the right side, for the first animals and fish that were created. That was why a book published about the windows, handily in the book holders with the siddurim and Chumashes was so helpful.

As part of his speech, referencing the parsha, the bar mitzvah spoke about our God being forgiving, and he went on to thank his parents for always forgiving him. Standing to join in the mourner’s kaddish allowed me the opportunity to once again ask my father for forgiveness, knowing that he is watching from above with a parent’s love and approval.

How we came to be invited to Ian’s bar mitzvah in Charlotte is another story. His grandmother has been more than dabbling in genealogy for quite a few years, as have I. At some point, she sent a short story about her ancestry to a cousin on my husband’s paternal side, indicating that all Neidiches were from Pinsk and related to Golda Meir.

Acknowledging my interest and devotion to our ancestry, the cousin forwarded Linda’s packet to me. To make a long story short, my husband and I have been friends with the bar mitzvah boy’s grandparents for 25 years now, and we also met Ian; his sister, Alexa; and their parents on several occasions along the way.

This past June, Linda and her husband, Kenny, were in New Jersey for our daughter’s wedding. That weekend, Linda told me she had her DNA tested by Ancestry.com., and asked me to take a look at the results on her iPhone to see if any of our cousins were on the list.

We always thought that Linda and my husband, Arnee, were somehow related since his paternal grandmother was a Neidich from Pinsk and a second cousin to Golda Meir. I gasped when scrolling down the list of Linda’s genetically determined relatives. Suddenly, my niece’s name, my own brother’s daughter, appeared on the long list!

I ask you, what are the chances?

Upon sending these thoughts to our cousin Julie Neidich, a pediatrician and geneticist by training, and associate professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, she replied, “Interesting: I spoke to Linda more than 20 years ago, too, but lost touch. She is right. All Neidichs however spelled from Pinsk are related to Golda Meir. My grandmother Lena told me that when I was a college student. We sat in her apartment and talked about things whenever I was home. Golda’s mother was a Neidich, and my grandmother babysat [Golda] in Russia before any of them came here. We Jews are all 6th cousins, and Ashkenazi closer to 4th”

As another claim to fame, aside from being married to Golda’s second cousin twice removed, grand-aunt Lena Neidich, who babysat Golda in Pinsk, walked down the aisle at our 1975 wedding. It was all so serendipitous. We had a corsage made for Tante Lena and she walked in wearing a green gown to match with our mothers and nieces. Since my husband’s and my grandparents were not living when we married, I spontaneously asked our eldest family member in attendance for our nuptials if she would be our grandmother for the day. Our sweet Tante Lena gracefully led the processional. At the time, we didn’t know the history, the noted connections or the fact that someday I would delve into our family history in such depth that I would uncover all these important details.

We also could not have guessed that the cantor’s father, also a hazzan, whom we’ve met on a few occasions, received a kidney donated by our daughter-in-law’s paternal aunt from St. Louis, Missouri. That additional interesting fact came out when I mentioned to our daughter-in-law’s father in Cleveland, who likes to visit architecturally interesting shuls across the country, that he might be interested in seeing the windows at Temple Israel in Charlotte.

What are the chances?

By Sharon Mark Cohen