-sharing reflections on what I've heard and am hearing, learned and am learning,
from voices in the Holy Land, the USA, and Rwanda-

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"rejoice with your family...

...in the beautiful land of life!"  -Albert Einstein

For the first 18 years of my life, my family gathered for a reunion in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. This was my favorite weekend of the year hands down. My brothers and I would get off from school every Friday before Memorial Day to drive the six hours into the mountains, spending the weekend with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins at Woodloch Pines. Each time I was there I would dread our impending Memorial Day smorgasbord, knowing that a few hours after we stuffed the last bites of Mud Pie into our mouths, it would be back to Maryland and away from my extended family and the fun I’d had with them.

After a few years away from the tradition of our Memorial Day Weekend reunion, my Grandpa decided to bring the family together again this year. Despite the fact that I knew I would not be able to join, I was ecstatic for my family to come together in this place once more—especially with the addition of a few family members who had yet to experience the intersection of the Neubauer clan and Woodloch at its finest. Yet, little did I know when I set off on my YAGM year that my Memorial Day Weekend would likewise be chock-full of special family gatherings.

The weekend kicked off with a concert. A student from my school invited me to the opening concert and album release for the band in which he played—the Momken Band. (Momken means “Possible” in Arabic.) Little did I know that the band was composed of 9 people including his sister and her husband, and a pair of brothers from another family. As the musicians took the stage, a little boy in the front row shouted out, “Mama!” to the main vocalist (the student from my school’s sister) to the amusement of the audience. Every once in a while throughout the concert she would catch a glimpse of her number #1 fan in the crowd and give a wide-eyed wink to him; at the performance’s end he trotted up on stage to present her with a huge bouquet of flowers in return. Seeing all of these family members interact on and off stage, I could easily sense of the love and appreciation they have for one another—a family bond that was confirmed again the following evening.

On Saturday, the Tawjihi students (12th grade class) graduated from the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour; it was an event to be seen! Most schools don’t hold anything like a prom for their graduating students, so graduation itself is the big event and it includes the families of each student and the teachers from the school. Every student was dressed in their finest. All the girls arrived in brand new dresses with their hair intricately styled, and all the boys looked sharp in their suits. The families likewise came dressed for a party, and party they did! I have never seen a dance so packed; the Tawjihi students were hoisted up on shoulders and in chairs to dance above the crowded floor.

Yet, after these initial introductory dances, students were casually whisked into their family circles. Each family surrounded their student and took turns dancing traditional Palestinian Dabkeh with them (including the student and the members of his family I had just watched in concert the day before). This shift to the family click happened very subtly, yet it was such a profound public family celebration—the way each student stood and danced amongst family members as their friends did the same. In that room, on that night, I witnessed families stop, focus on each other, and celebrate their lives together as much as they were celebrating their accomplished student. With around 30 students and their accompanying families on the dance floor, you can only imagine the sense of “family” that was present.

On Sunday, the family celebrations continued. My roommate and I were invited to cook alongside our landlady and friend to prepare for a buffet meal to be served that evening. Why was there to be a buffet? Around 6:30pm, the most immediate relatives of two families would gather to formally inquire and agree on the relationship and soon-to-be engagement of her son and her son’s now official girlfriend. Afterwards, her and her husband were hosting the most immediate of family members from each family at their home—my roommate and I were invited to both of these events and all of the preparations involved.

The entire morning, as we cooked, our landlord kept repeating, “Inshallah, we will cook this food for you at your wedding!” As I rolled stuffed grape leaves my landlady continued repeating that when I come back to visit, I will stay with them because we are family! As we cleaned the kitchen, I was in charge of rinsing, drying and putting things away; having long ago become part of their family, I’ve learned where every specific item is to be placed. Finishing the food for the buffet, we proceeded to get dolled up for the festivities. If spending a day being immersed in one family isn’t enough, than joining in the celebrations of two families merging together does the trick. After joining the family motorcade to the hall where the meeting would take place and witnessing the families celebrate the relationship together, we returned to the house and enjoyed each-others’ company into the late evening hours.

Throughout this weekend I saw the same bonds I recognize within my family in the everyday lives of my friends here. Though I missed having that connection with the Neubauer troupe in Pennsylvania this year, I cannot say I wallowed this weekend away pitying myself for missing out on my favorite weekend family event. Even as my family members back state-side enjoyed each-others’ company, I was rejoicing in the company of those here whom I consider family; rejoicing for a weekend I will not soon forget. 

What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life—to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories. ~George Eliot

A very quick public "thanks" to the Neubauer fam

Thank you Gramsey and Pop-Pop for making sure we recognized the value of taking the time to get together as a family over the many years of annual family reunions.  All my love.

A shout-out to my siblings and their children, and my cousins--
love you and look forward to keeping up family reunion tradition!
Mom and Dad--How can I thank you? 
You're the best parents I could've asked for--love, love, love you.
Aunts and Uncles, I love you and thank you for all you've done for us over the years.

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