TRUE STO­RIES: THE RE­UNION

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

More4, Tues­day, May 20

AS TOL­STOY might well have writ­ten, had he thought of it, fam­i­lies ev­ery­where are all very dif­fer­ent — but fam­ily re­unions are all pretty much the same.

Some­how, if your ex­tended fam­ily is large enough, you will al­ways run into peo­ple whose names you ought to recog­nise but don’t; there will be the cousin you lost touch with years ago for good rea­son, who is now very keen to start email­ing again; there will be the great-aunt who gets you mixed up with an­other great-nephew who looks noth­ing like you; and there is the fact that you al­ways seem to be the only one who has no idea who prac­ti­cally any of the other peo­ple are.

Th­ese images and more came flood­ing back to me as I watched The Re­union, Mon­ica Mag­yarosy’s af­fec­tion­ate doc­u­men­tary about the Katz-Jedlicki clan, who as­sem­bled for the first time in years at the Buf­falo Mar­riot Ni­a­gara Ho­tel.

If you go back a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions in any Jewish fam­ily you will find tragedy, and this one was no dif­fer­ent. Ger­man-born David Katz lost his par­ents and the rest of his fam­ily in the Holo­caust and spent the war in hid­ing. When the Nazis were de­feated, he was adopted by his fam­ily in the USA.

He, and one of his sis­ters, Re­nee, had tracked down fam­ily mem­bers from all over the US and be­yond, in­clud­ing sev­eral who had been born in Europe and later fled across the At­lantic.

There was Bella, who had sur­vived by adopt­ing the iden­tity of a Pol­ish Catholic. Be­cause she did not have any doc­u­ments in­clud­ing her real name, she con­tin­ued to live as a Catholic af­ter the Sec­ond World War and even en­rolled in a nun­nery. Later, when her mother, who had also sur­vived the war, saw a photo of Bella in her nun’s habit, she ap­par­ently passed out on the spot.

There were other fam­ily leg­ends. Un­cle Julio had run away from his own bar­mitz­vah; an­other fam­ily mem­ber had mar­ried his own first cousin.

At times it was hard for the viewer to know who was re­lated to who, but then nei­ther could some of the fam­ily mem­bers. Ev­ery­one was try­ing to work out whether their aunt’s first cousin’s sec­ond wife’s nephew was ac­tu­ally mar­ried to their sis­ter’s brother-in­law, Howard, or per­haps that was Mor­rie from Wis­con­sin?

As is the case with any fam­ily group of Amer­i­can Jews in­ter­act­ing on­screen, there was al­ways the sense that at any mo­ment Larry David would ap­pear and say some­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Re­gret­tably this did not hap­pen, al­though Re­nee, who seemed to be the driv­ing force be­hind the project, was happy to tell ev­ery­one that she could not bend over to pick up her ear­ring be­cause “my pants are too tight”.

Com­edy and poignancy were del­i­cately bal­anced. Tear­ful re­unions were mixed with those de­li­ciously awk­ward mo­ments where peo­ple were ob­vi­ously at­tempt­ing to work out who they were talk­ing to, and in­deed why.

Claude, who had trav­elled from Barcelona, last had con­tact with the fam­ily when he was 10 years old. He said his over­rid­ing feel­ing was re­gret that he had missed out on a life­time of con­tact with his fam­ily. Ev­ery­one sought some sig­nif­i­cance from the dis­cov­ery of where they ac­tu­ally fit­ted in to the fam­ily’s his­tory, in­clud­ing one wo­man who con­fessed she had never seen the point of look­ing back un­til he at­tended the re­union.

Clearly the ex­pe­ri­ence had been a pro­found and up­lift­ing one for David and Re­nee, as well as for the man who sat wist­fully in the lobby of the ho­tel at the end of the event.

“Looks like we ran out of peo­ple to say good­bye to,” he said.

Long-lost rel­a­tives: the Katz-Jedlicki re­union

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