My friend is in the midst of returning a 1920s German family scrapbook, discovered in her mother’s belongings after her death, to the descendants.
Before she packed and sent the album, we paged through the vacation photographs captioned with pen and ink remarks, hand-drawn sketches of nature scenes, ticket stubs from concerts and notes from visiting friends. We talked about how so few people hang on to anything in paper anymore. How rare it will be for future generations to get this close to handwritten thank-you notes and black and white vacation photographs. Here was evidence of fully lived lives, a few generations back.
I had this in mind as I read the Torah portions for last week and the one to come. How easy it is to stay unconscious about our descendants unless we have evidence - or as we see in the parashas - a list.
If my reading of the Beth Emet Torah Portion chart is correct (and please, someone, let me know if I am not!), last week’s parasha, (Genesis 5:1-24) includes the naming of the every male descendant connecting Adam to Noah. We aren’t given any more than that they lived and how long. But that they lived is important enough to be included in our Torah.
…when Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, he begot in his likeness and his image and he named him Seth…. Seth lived one hundred and five years and begot Enosh …Enosh lived ninety years and begot Kenan.
The generations between Noah and Abraham are also laid out in this week’s (October 9) portion (Genesis 11:1- 32).
Shem was one hundred years old when he begot Arpachshad, two years after the Flood. And Shem lived five hundred years after begetting Arphachshad and he begot sons and daughters. Arpachshad had lived thirty-five years when he got Shelah…
A confession: These are parts of Torah that I usually skip. Who cares about who begets whom?
But I noticed that in both of these portions, the distance between generation is ten. Ten generations of fully, very fully, lived lives. Can you imagine combing through artifacts of blood relatives going back that far?
Our children’s children and those beyond may not get that chance. Hence the value of The List.
Could there be other reasons that ten generations are listed, name by name?
How far back can you go in naming your descendants?
Counting generations goes in both directions. I can only count back to my grandparents, but counting forward, I had 24 first cousins, of whom 16 are still alive. I haven't seen or talked to most of them for 30 years or more, Can't begin to guess how many first cousins once removed there are, although there are only four I would recognize if I bumped into them on the street. (One reason for this is that I moved away from home after college; my brother has a lot more contact with the family than I do.)
Interestingly, one of those four I met through Google. He is named for his grandfather, my uncle, whom I had mentioned in a blog post. Young Sid apparently Googled himself, found his late grandfather, and thus found his way to me.
Although I've gone on line to some of the geneology websites, I'm not confident that I could find much trace of the families in Bershtivke, a suburb of Kiev, or in Kobrin, which was apparently larger than a shtetl, in Belarus. But maybe this emphasis on generations will motivate me to make my List of the more or less contemporary family!
Larry: Perhaps what we have lost in the way of a paper trail to find our lost relatives we have gained in the potency of electronic connection - a fast and efficient way to rediscover former generation.
Would the guidance of a good geneologist be a worthwhie part of our adult education offerings? If nothing else, it might be a lot of fun.
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