I knew we had family in Argentina.
I knew that one of my maternal grandfather's younger brothers, Simon, had immigrated from Eastern Europe to South America in the early 1900s.
I knew, or thought I knew, that someone from his family – removed or not, I never know, had visited my parents and first cousins a time or two in Florida in the ’80s and ’90s. But until recently, neither my brother Richard nor myself had ever met any of these distant – double entendre-intended – relations. Well, that ended on Wednesday, June 27, in Union Station at 5:55 p.m.
There outside Gate "G" my wife, Dina and I stood holding a sign with my cousin's name on it: Eduardo Blacher (my middle name is Blacker). He had flown into New York City from Buenos Aires earlier that morning and then boarded a south-bound Amtrak train to visit us in Washington, D.C.
My first cousin, Ronnie (formerly of Florida, now of Massachusetts) with whom Eduardo has corresponded and visited over the years, had emailed us a selfie Eduardo had taken so we had a pretty good idea of his general appearance. Along with our handwritten sign, we were pretty confident the familial connection would be made.
And so it happened a bit after 6 p.m. as he walked through the gate into the station looking around for someone he'd never seen. We cautiously saw one another and then immediately hugged and kissed and said: "Great to meet you!"
Eduardo's English was pretty good, so we were able to coordinate our exit from the station, where, once outside, we met my brother, Richard, who had been sitting in his car waiting for our appearance. As soon as he saw us, he got out of his car and quickly walked over to Eduardo and likewise gave him a hug and kiss: mishpocheh (Yiddish for family).
When my widowed mother died in 2008, Richard and I felt orphaned, so to speak. Our parents, as in most families, were the keepers of the family faith. Having both been born 10 years before "The Great Depression," they knew the family history dating back to before the turn of the century. When they died (in 2006 and 2008, respectively), their knowledge and memories died with them. It was a palpable loss that Richard and I still feel.
We are lucky though; my cousin Ronnie (my mother's niece) has lots of family information and has become our go-to resource for all things Blacher/Blacker. She facilitated this much-anticipated visit (Eduardo is seeing her next).
To try and put Eduardo's visit in some context; in the 10 years since my mother's passing, given the ages of the surviving family members in the United States with whom we're in touch, we've not really gained any family members, let alone connected with an entire line of cousins going back to before World War I.
Eduardo has three children, four grandchildren, a sister in Israel and parents, both of whom are their mid-80s still alive and well. In familial fact, his father is my grandfather's nephew and knows lots more about my grandfather than I ever did, and has knowledge of the Blacher/Blacker family going back over 125 years as well in and out of our respective countries.
Given the pogroms and the Holocaust, for many Jewish people my age, a treasure trove of family history/knowledge like this was thought to be lost forever. Now, I have found some of it. Talk about filling a void. In facts and feelings, it has – and is about to, fill everything.
For three days, until Eduardo's departure Sunday morning, we rarely left one another's side. In addition to touring Washington, D.C., we shared photos, exchanged email addresses, talked nearly non-stop about everything, downloaded WhatsApp which we'll enable us to message each other in the future, and together on Friday night lit the Shabbos candles and together prayed in Hebrew.
I can't really express how I feel other than to say I've been crying while I've been writing this column. And it's the best cry I've had in years.