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The Bella Family Circle – from 67 to 120


By Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO–For the past two years I have enjoyed writing a series of articles about the Bella Family Circle which was comprised of the descendants of the family matriarch, Bella, and the people who married them.  The original Founding Members were Bella’s children:  Sam, Israel, Ralph, Al, Willie and Sarah (my grandmother).

When I was a child I assumed that all families were organized and met once a month.  I thought it was the norm to have a Seder for 70-75 family members and to rehearse for months in advance under the tutelage of our Patriarch Uncles.  Didn’t all families give out copies with the words to dozens of Passover songs?  (I still have my copy – 1954 – which is very faded now.)

 Nor did I realize that most families don’t go on a picnic with dozens of relatives in a flat bed truck, with heaps of food, bringing their own musical instruments.  I also thought that picnics always ended in the evening with singing, holding hands and line dancing around the tables. 

I didn’t know that other families don’t have door prizes at meetings, elect officers, take minutes, collect dues, read a treasurer’s report, send out monthly bulletins and pay attention to the rulings of a parliamentarian. Nor do most families have available an emergency fund or buy shares in their own private corporation to act as a lending entity. 

As I wrote I remembered the natural dignity of each of the Founding Uncles and Aunts and the respect we accorded them, the brief Revolt of the First Cousins, a Halloween Party which morphed into a Jewish Biblical costume party and a short lived attempt to limit the enormous amount of food set out for each meeting. 

I recalled the endearing qualities and foibles of the First Cousins. The cousin who couldn’t park her car and the willingness of other cousins to do it for her without a quibble.  Another cousin who loved to knit but couldn’t figure out whether to knit to the left or right.  The Aunt Parliamentarian who knew when to “call for the question” at the critical point in a group discussion and kept us from procedural chaos.  The Annual Parade of the Grandparents showing off the beauties of the bevy of grandchildren during “intermission” at the family Seder. 

I can still hear First Cousin Annie’s beautiful voice singing Glee Shtaindeleh at the Seder and I smile inwardly at the cousin who never bought a raffle ticket because she never won.  Then there was the bus we had chartered filled with sleepy people after a day at the Atlantic City sea shore, except for the Uncles playing pinochle in the back with the aid of flashlights. And, of course, my grandfather, Morris Vernick, who broke through all tension with a song and a smile.  While writing about these memories, there has often been a CD with Klezmer playing in the background– my grandfather would have approved of that.

Despite the usual contretemps that all families experience, they managed to overcome or work around the problems and kept in mind the higher goal of remaining intact as a group.  It was more important to maintain cohesion; love and respect trumped temporary differences.  This was exemplified by the situation in which Aunt Bessia – the first of the Aunts to attain the presidency (after each Uncle had served several times) was without any hesitation allowed to also remain the Parliamentarian.  She was thus able to rule on the validity of her own decisions.  She never overplayed her hand, and we never thought she would.  And then there was the time when she made a purchase at the BFC White Elephant Sale.  The package (rolls of toilet paper) she bought was within the rules set forth for the sale but below the belt (literally) of acceptability.  The solution was to buy a tree in Israel to rectify the affront to her dignity. 

As the series of articles progressed, I’ve heard from a number of my cousins and they have told me of their enjoyment in reading about the BFC.  All the Founding Members – the Aunts and Uncles – are gone now – blessings on their memories.  Some of their children (the First Cousins) are still alive and their grandchildren – the Second Cousins (my generation) – are now grandparents.  The BFC still continues meeting – planning events – and is still deciding what comes under “new business” versus “old business.”  (The mazel tov for a new car comes under “new business” – the mazel tov for a used car comes under “old business.”) 

I hope as the latest batch of children attends the meetings they absorb and appreciate – even as they run about chattering and playing – the unique gift as I did.  And that some day, one of them will look back and write about the BFC – with a smile.

The Bella Family Circle is now 67 years old – may it live to 120. 

Orysiek is a freelance writer based in San Diego

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