In 1992, six Jewish people from Los Angeles decided to go to the Republican National Convention in Houston. It was the first such convention for all of us thus we were novices about the whole affair. We went to see the speeches, but these events are more about the parties. One of the gang got a flyer about a group called the National Jewish Coalition (now the Republican Jewish Coalition) which we felt was right up our alley. We went to the event and our story begins.
I met the person hosting the event and we became instant friends. I have been to Houston many times since -- for the World Series, Baseball All-Star Game, weddings and Passover amongst other events – and have made many friends. One of those friends, Gary, called me in 2004 and told me his son, Jonathan, had just graduated Indiana U. and was moving to Los Angeles to get in the entertainment business. Gary asked if we could look after the son. We of course did so, inviting him to family events, holiday dinners and baseball games. He became a surrogate family member.
Our adopted son went to a wedding in Chicago and met a young lady. As their relationship blossomed, she then moved to Los Angeles. I eventually learned she is a Cleveland native (where I also grew up), but we never really discussed that matter in full. They then let us know they were engaged to be married. The wedding was to be in Cleveland the weekend after the Presidential election. Deciding to go was an easy decision, especially since we were to be in Ohio working on the election.
Flash forward to the beginning of this past October. In planning to go to Ohio, I was asked to put together a debate between Dennis Prager and a notable Democrat in Cleveland. As I was working all my Cleveland contacts, a childhood friend suggested I contact another grade school friend named Stuart who might be able to help. We were unable to get the event done, but Stuart and I struck up a nice relationship and I told him I would be in Cleveland for the wedding. He told me that he would be at the wedding also and that the mother and father of the bride were in our junior high class (I left Shaker Heights after the ninth grade). I pulled out my ninth grade annual and sent the photos of the bride’s parents to both my friend and the future groom…
You now have the picture. I was attending the wedding of my Houston friend’s son who lived in Los Angeles with a young lady whose parents I grew up with in Cleveland. This is just the beginning.
While in Ohio, I was on the Dennis Prager show talking about what was going on from the ground in Ohio the day before the election. A couple hours later I received an email from a gentleman named Bob Barnes saying he had heard me on the show and he was my cousin – third cousin that is. We exchanged some emails where I learned he has been working on a family tree. We made plans to get together for lunch on the following Saturday – the wedding day. I connected him with another family member who had done some family history work as well.
We met that Saturday at Geraci’s, a Cleveland institution with some mighty fine pizza. Bob had traced our family back to two small towns in Lithuania in 1812. He had met with my cousin Jack who filled in the Bialosky family part of the tree for Bob. Bob told me the entire story of how he got into tracing the family and some great stories about family members. He told me of notable family members such as Milton Shap, a two-term governor of Pennsylvania, and that well-known actor James Franco was a third cousin. We spent two hours hearing story after story and he gave us blueprint size-sheets of the family tree which we immediately took to a UPS store for safe shipping home.
Back to the wedding: At the reception I tracked down Stuart. I asked if any other childhood friends were there. He takes me over and introduces me to Kathy. When he introduced me she almost fell off her chair. For four years, from kindergarten through third grade her family had lived downstairs from my family in a duplex. We talked about the old days on Normandy Road and how we played on the street and how Old Man Monard took our balls when they went on his lawn.
She then introduced me to her husband, a Rabbi in New York City. His synagogue hired the assistant executive director from mine in Los Angeles to become their executive director. Another of our clergy became one of their Rabbis. Kathy then told me she comes to Los Angeles regularly to visit her very close friends, spouses of our Cantor and Head Rabbi, both of whom had performed all our family events.
Once again the world got smaller. This was such a special day that encapsulated my history back from the shtetl in Lithuania through my childhood to where I was today with friends and family in my current life.
So what makes this the best holiday story ever? The holiday season is not about gifts and trees and special music -- as wonderful as they may be. Holidays are about family and friends and all those special experiences that made you what you are and what you will be. By sharing my special story of family and friends, I hope I have focused you on those special things and helped to make your holidays this year the best ever.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.