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by Esther Cohen
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RIVKA WAS RAISED to think about her family. Family always came first. Over and over her parents repeated variations of this unalterable dictum. Family family family. That was their life and their world. Of course grandparents were included, all those uncles and all those aunts. Even relatives she never knew, dead for years, who lived in her family’s past. And cousins, more cousins than she could easily say.
She couldn’t recite their names just like that. A few of them were part of her: Sander and Moshe and her favorite cousin Boshie. Still she knew that when her father said family, he first meant those people who lived in their own house, in their very small house side by side. Those people, her parents and her siblings, were part of two people: they had noses that looked alike, high cheekbones, long thin dark dark eyes, a similar mouth, full and round. Both sides of her family could have been relatives themselves. Her father’s family a little shorter, as a group, her mother’s a little wider. Still they were a group, a big group of Twerskys and Sorocors and Rabinowitzes. People who worked hard just to get by. And now here she was, sitting in a room where no one was related to anyone else.
Random women close in age, women who looked different from one another in a little apartment in a crowded building on a very crowded street, where every single thing seemed unfamiliar, different. The women were strangers, strangers connected by Clara, and by their work, and by the streets of a place that none of them knew well. They were connected by time, and by the beginning of a new century, and by starting all over again, from Poland and Russia, from Ireland and from Italy, from a small town near the sea in Romania. They were women who spoke differently, who ate differently, who had different histories and different dreams. Some of them knew, they just knew, that they were all a different family now.
Esther Cohen is arts and events consultant for Jewish Currents and writes a daily poem at her website, esthercohen.com. Her novels include Book Doctor and No Charge for Looking.