My Cousin Ben’s Bar Mitzvah

I was privileged last weekend to experience something I never would have been able to share if I hadn’t started on this genealogy journey over four years ago.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or even just know its title), then you know that the first family I researched was that of my maternal grandmother, Gussie Brotman.  From my mother and my aunt, I knew some of the names of my grandmother’s siblings—Hymie, Tillie, Frieda, and Sam. And eventually I found three of her half-siblings as well—Abraham, David, and Max.

Gussie Brotman

Gussie Brotman, my grandmother

But my mother had long ago lost touch with her cousins, the children of her mother’s siblings, and had no idea in many cases of their names, let alone their whereabouts.  So I set out to find them, and as I’ve described elsewhere, the first two long lost cousins I located just about four years ago were my second cousin Judy, granddaughter of Max Brotman, and my second cousin Bruce, grandson of Hymie (Herman) Brotman. From Judy and Bruce, I learned so much about the family and also was able to find all my other Brotman second cousins.

Max Brotman

Max Brotman, my great-uncle

Hyman Brotman

Hyman Brotman, my great-uncle

A little over three years ago, some of the grandchildren of Hyman Brotman and some of my grandmother’s grandchildren met in New York City and had a wonderful reunion—or more accurately for some of us—a first meeting.  It remains one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences I’ve had since starting to research my family history.  And thanks to the miracle of email and Facebook, I’ve managed to stay in touch as best I can with many of these new second cousins.

Celebrating Ben's bar mitzvah---the Brotman cousins, all descendants of Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brod

Celebrating Ben’s bar mitzvah—some of the Brotman cousins, all descendants of Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brod, and their spouses

So I was thrilled and honored to be invited to the bar mitzvah of my cousin Benjamin—my second cousin, once removed.  As I sat in the sanctuary of his family’s friendly congregation, I marveled at the fact that I was sitting in this place with many of my second cousins, sharing in a Jewish tradition that dates back long before the time when our great-grandparents lived in Galicia.  What would our great-grandparents Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brod have thought about this whole thing?

Bessie Brotman

Bessie Brotman, Ben’s great-great-grandmother

As Ben led us through the prayer that includes the phrase L’dor v’dor, from one generation to another, I got goosebumps. I realized that our great-grandparents could have sat in that sanctuary and felt very comfortable, hearing prayers that would have been just as familiar to them as they are to me and as they are now to Ben.  Would our great-grandparents have ever expected that over 120 years after they came to the United States their great-great-grandchildren would still be learning these ancient prayers, reading from the Torah, and chanting the Haftorah?

Surely they would have been amazed to see that sharing in this experience in the synagogue that morning were not just other Jewish people, but people of all different  faiths and backgrounds, all learning from the wonderful rabbi about Jewish practices and values. Everyone was welcome, and everyone there wanted to be there.

Joseph and Bessie would likely smile to think that they had made the right decision coming to the US, despite all their travails, because today in 2016 not only do their ancient traditions survive, they also can be practiced openly in creative, inclusive ways without fear of persecution.

L’dor v’dor.  The family and the traditions continue.  Mazel tov, Ben!

(I just realized this is my 500th post on Brotmanblog—how appropriate!)


29 thoughts on “My Cousin Ben’s Bar Mitzvah

    • Thanks, Bonnie–it was so great to see you, and I hope we can do it again before too long. And so glad we share our great-grandmother’s name! xoxo


  1. Amy..Coffee in hand this morning, I really enjoyed this blog post and once again your in depth introspection on this post has sparked and inspired me to write about a similar experience, about 2 years ago, on my new baby budding blog 🙂 Sharon

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful! I sometimes think about the cousins I have met through my research and blogging and wonder how our shared ancestor would feel knowing he/she brought us all together. I know they would be moved to know how much their stories mean to us, how we love to share, and how we honor them. Mazel tov to Ben and the entire family!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Debi! I agree. I often think about them hovering over us, thinking, “Who’d ever have imagined they’d care, all these years later?”


  3. What fun being able to celebrate with extended family members. I have often had the sense that ancestors were there beside me when I’ve visited churches where they worshiped and homes where they lived. Congratulations, too, on your 500th post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy, very moving!
    As a non-Jewish non-believer, I also have experienced several very moving bar /bat mitzvot
    both in the US and here in Germany. Most recently we celebrated the bat mitzvah of Deborah (American Jewish mother and German non Jewish father) in the beautiful old synagogue
    in Mainz-Weisenau (which you will see next year!) with a lot of music.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congrats on your 500th post, a wonderful milestone. Congrats also on a wonderful story of family lost and found. Genealogy, I hope, is less about data (oh yes, those primary documents and evidence are important), and more about our family stories, how we connect, what we share with other people both past and present. I always enjoy what you share.


  6. Pingback: Recommended Reads | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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