Toward the end of every calendar year, my wife’s two sisters and their families have a rendezvous at my in-laws’ home in Scottsdale, Arizona, and this year Sarah and I were able to join them. We had a wonderful time being with family and even hiked for a few days in the incredible Red Rock land of Sedona. As often happens in America, however, this was a “big” visit for all concerned. My sister-in-law, Jenny, lives in Pittsburgh, and my other sister-in-law, Charlotte, lives in Boston. They each see their parents about four times a year, and so even for them every visit is a “big” visit.
Perhaps I can best explain what a big visit is in comparison to a little visit. A little visit is when you drop in on someone’s life for something relatively small. You go out with your Mom for coffee, you go to the movies with your sister or you spend Shabbat at your brother’s house. You are part of their regular life, and they are part of yours. There are no big hellos, nor are there big goodbyes. You see each other too often for that.
Frequency of visits is crucial. The more often you see someone, the less “big” each visit (yes, yes, I know: we want to value each and every minute we share with anyone and everyone, but you get the idea). Potentiality is important but has its limits. If I live 90 minutes from my brother, there’s some comfort and satisfaction in the fact that I can get into my car at any moment and an hour-and-a-half later be with my brother. However, we all have friends and family who live an hour away whom we only see once or twice a year. Nothing takes the place of frequency. Indeed, our synagogue in Givat Ze’ev split two years ago, with the new synagogue a 15-minute walk from the original one. And wouldn’t you know it? Close friends whom we had gotten used to seeing on a weekly basis, we now see only rarely — to the extent that we cannot call them close friends any more.
Big visits are especially endemic in the US between siblings. While conscientious parents with far-flung children may trade off traveling to or hosting those children on a quarterly basis, visits between distant siblings are even rarer and thus much bigger. The next time Sarah and her sisters will be together is for the Bar Mitzvah of Charlotte’s oldest child. “See you in November at Noah’s Bar Mitzvah,” my niece, Rosalie, said in December to her cousin, Sylvia.
When we made aliyah in 1997, my in-laws were upset with us for moving so far away, for making visits even more rare, even bigger. But Sarah and I wanted something different with our own children and grandchildren. We want to see them much more than on a quarterly basis. We even have the intention of seeing at least a portion of them on a daily basis. And we want our children not just to have grown up together but to be able to grow together throughout their lives. We want them to always share their birthdays and their kids’ birthdays. When you see your first cousin just once or twice a year, those are mighty big visits, and it will be difficult to develop a close relationship.
Yes, that’s what it’s about: close human relationships, and this comes with a lot of seeing (and also hopefully with a lot of hugging). Of course, an extended family could all commit to living within a certain geographic radius of each other anywhere in the world. Because we are Jewish and have a strong Jewish consciousness, Israel was Sarah’s and my choice. And the good news for us is that because we picked the State of Israel for a homestead rather than, say, New York or Arizona, our children will be less tempted to settle in a neighboring state.