by Zahavit Shalev
This summer we spent a week with my cousin and her family. Like me, Avital works as a rabbi, and her children are much the same age as mine. But she lives in Israel, so our time together is rare and precious, usually amounting to just a weekend or so each year.
Avital and I fantasised that we’d study daily together. We planned to learn Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). Its opening line: “Utter futility!” said Kohelet. “Utter futility! All is futile!” could easily be a commentary on our pathetically hubristic plan to contemplate the meaning of life in the company of seven children aged five to 11.
On the penultimate day of the holiday, we made a last ditch attempt to salvage the dream, taking our printouts to the beach, and managing to read and discuss the first four verses of the book before one of the children needed something and our project sputtered out entirely. We got as far as: “One generation goes, another comes / But the earth remains the same forever.”
I have always loved this line. It gives me comfort to know that the world will carry on turning with or without me, and a sense of perspective about what I can realistically accomplish in my lifetime. But I gained a new insight on the beach in France, and can see now that mine and Avital’s learning – brief as it was – was nevertheless fruitful.
We are the fourth generation of our family to share holidays. Our grandparents – refugees all, from Europe during the Holocaust – were very close, despite living in Belgium and London.
With their children – including mine and Avital’s mothers – they celebrated Pesach alternately in London and Antwerp, and summer holidays in Knokke.
As a child, I recall holidays with Avital’s parents and sister – at their home in Jerusalem and ours in London. And now, our own children – third cousins living in different countries – have their own tradition of holidaying together.
We are all on a bigger journey than we realise – one spanning backwards and forwards much further than we can imagine. “One generation goes, another comes / But the earth remains the same forever.”
• Zahavit Shalev is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College