by Neta Reich Nelson

Srezcko Felix Fortunato Asher Stanley Reich:

His name includes nearly one for each of the 6 languages my father speaks, and describes his history, beginning in Koprivnica Yugoslavia, speaking Croatian, Yiddish, and German. He survived concentration camp [Loborgrad], but lost his father and brothers. After escaping to Italy, German proved useful in obtaining food from the occupying army, to bring to his mother hidden in a convent while he was hidden in a nearby monastery; however Italian was essential for meeting girls in Rome. He then fulfilled the dream of aliyah, fought in Israel’s independence war and again in the Sinai Campaign. My mother is from Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary; she survived the war in a Budapest orphanage and sailed the Exodus in 1947 attempting to reach Palestine. They met on a kibbutz, and in 1958 we immigrated to the US. My sister’s arrival completed our tiny UN of 4 nations in one household. My grandmother believed that my parents were fated to meet, yet it took the holocaust and upheaval of Europe, with its mixing and leveling of Jewish socio-economic layers, to bring them together in Israel. Their story is neither typically holocaust nor immigrant, but uniquely American where anything is possible.

I learned from them that one can lose everything and still go on. Home is where you make it; if it doesn’t work out in one place, you can start and restart again somewhere else. Dad also taught me love of music, travel, boats, hiking, climbing, and soccer. He kindly scheduled his bar mitzvah around the World Cup, so that we can watch games together on the weekend.

My father has had a full life with a very loving family. Clearly, Dad became a man a long time ago, although we wonder if he ever really grew up. Yet perhaps something was missing if he persevered, in his 76th year, to become a bar mitzvah. Dad thought about this a long time, but while raising two daughters, running a business, and moving around, he didn’t get to it until now. So will he become a man today and finally grow up? He’s already that and as grown up as he’ll ever be. We think of a milestone as occurring at a specific time in life; that one’s achievements should follow in some expected order. But a milestone can happen anytime to have meaning and importance. It’s an achievement or event that helps to complete the whole, especially if it provides something that’s missing. Nothing can restore what is irretrievably lost. But I hope that today, becoming a bar mitzvah or son of the commandments, will bring to my father fulfillment of an interrupted upbringing. It will also join the spiritual portion of Judaism, exemplified by the tallit that his Ima gave him on his 40th birthday, with the Israeli nationalism that Dad embodies already. Dad, congratulations. I’m very proud of you.