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Dreaming of Anatevka

May 5, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

I don’t long for the days of pogroms and poverty. But I do miss not having all my kids and grandkids living nearby.

There’s an old joke that’s popular this time of year. It goes something like this. “What’s the definition of nachas? When the children and grandchildren come home for Passover. What’s the definition of mechaya (a Hebrew word that means total bliss, relief, pleasure)? When they leave!”

Now it’s true that there is certain relief to putting the house back together, sweeping out all the crumbs, packing up all the toys, making my way through the mounds of laundry and getting my grocery bill back down to semi-normal range. But I wouldn’t use the word “mechaya.” I would say it’s bittersweet.

It’s wonderful to say goodbye to those children who have made their own lives and their own homes and yet it’s hard to reconcile to seeing them and their family sporadically throughout the year. I’m happy that they are independent adults (well mostly independent anyway) but I wouldn’t mind if they lived a little closer. And so I find myself thinking longingly of the shtetl – of the small villages like Anatevka where parents and children lived close to each other and saw each other with frequently and in a more natural setting.

It’s true that nostalgia has to be tempered by reality. I don’t long for the days of pogroms, of poverty, the days before penicillin or C-sections, even the days before computers and iPhones. While there may be a lot to be concerned about in our modern world, there is a lot to be grateful for as well.

But I wouldn’t mind just a little taste of that shtetl life. I wouldn’t mind if my married kids lived down the street (okay, around the corner), if the grandkids could run in and out of the house (when I’m not working), if seeing my family didn’t require a plane trip and didn’t have to be an event.

Maybe in those sentimentalized towns of yesteryear, multi generations lived together in one home. I don’t think I long for that. Each generation and each moment in history has its advantages and disadvantages. I need my space and my privacy and yet I do know people in the Jewish community who have what I long for – their whole family living close by and walking over for a meal every Shabbos. It’s not impossible today, just rarer. Especially given life’s financial demands and our ease of mobility. I’m not jealous of someone’s larger home or fancier car but if they have this family situation, I’m practically green with envy.

I just said Dayeinu at my Seder and so, despite the olive tinge to my skin, I’m happy with what I have at this given moment. But as I put some of my children and grandchildren on a plane, the clean house and sense of order wasn’t enough to mask the pain of the distance. And I started dreaming of Anatveka again. (Did you know it’s a real city? My friend’s son is helping rebuild it for his Bar Mitzvah!)

So I don’t think it’s a mechaya when my family leaves although I can feel the bones of the house breathing. I acknowledge that I wouldn’t want them living in my home full time but if we could build a family compound somewhere…our own little modern-day Anatevka, it just might be the perfect solution.

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