How many of you have ever been to a family reunion? What was it for? Was it someone’s 50th anniversary, or 80th birthday, or a regular event - every few years or so, to keep in touch? One of the things I really love about living here is how close together the families are. For most of you, even if you’re not related, you’ve known each other forever. And part of the reason I value that is that the only family reunion I’ve ever been to wasn’t mine. That is, it wasn’t my family that was re-uning. It was my first year here, I think, and the first time my god children - actually, the only time all of them were here - came to visit, and we drove down to the Blue Ridge mountains and back up through Jamestown and Yorktown and
wound up at the Hayward-Walker-Winter family reunion in Silver Spring Md. I think they have been getting together every 5 years or so for two or three hundred years or thereabouts. But you know what? From what I gathered from listening to the conversations, the reunions get smaller and smaller every year, as the patriarchs and matriarchs moved on to a better world, families moved apart, and the connections between great-aunts and third cousins twice removed got less and less important. The hold the past has on us gets looser and looser as the years go by and new family ties pull in different directions. Someday perhaps the old family home there in Silver Spring will be sold, and people will gather around another family home and another tradition will begin.
Have any of you seen that happening in your own families, with children and grandchildren moving farther and farther away, and family get-togethers taking place less often and perhaps more sparsely attended?
That’s because they’re connected to the past. And the desire to be connected competes with the desire to move forward, to make progress, to build.
One way people have managed to deal with this need to be connected is to get very involved with their ancestry, with their culture or ethnicity - whether or not their immediate blood relatives are involved or not. I’m part Scottish, and in addition to the fact that one of my ancestors was a patron of John Knox who founded Scotch Presbyterianism, I also get a feeling of connectedness through the worldwide Scottish clan network. It gets held together partly because of pride of history, and partly because the clan tartans and the pipe music and so on are colorful and fun. But I think of all the ethnicities in the world who have managed to
retain that sense of group identity, the Jews have got all the rest of us beat by a country mile.
Stop and think about it for a minute. They’ve been a distinct people, with a common language and heritage and beliefs and identity for something in the neighborhood of 4000 years. And it’s not as though they’ve had it easy, either. They’ve been wanderers from Abraham on. Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees -
remember, Chaldea became Babylon, which is between Baghdad and Basra, and went to Canaan, which was God told him was supposed to belong to his descendants forever. But first they got sidetracked by a famine and wound up enslaved in Egypt for 400 years or so, and then a few centuries after they had actually managed to put together a country, they got conquered and then taken off into exile - first by Assyria and then by Babylon. Well, they came back and rebuilt the country - and the temple, and their religious institutions, but then Rome destroyed the temple in 70 AD and sent the surviving Jews to the far ends of the empire where they were, no doubt, expected to quietly blend into the local