The Hidden History of a Family
From Where I SitOpinion

The Hidden History of a Family

As Dave and Audrey celebrate their ‘double chai,’ they are finding treasures in boxes and drawers not opened for many years, but one item remains missing.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

When Audrey and I toured our future home as prospective buyers, I peeked into the basement storage room.

There was so much stuff crammed into that space that the floor was impassable and the walls barely visible. No way I would allow that to happen, was my thought.

Now, after 28 years in that house, I refer to that same storage room as “the genizah.”

My family history includes a more than passing acquaintance with the Cairo genizah, a repository of religious and secular paperwork that provides an intimate look at the lives of Jews in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean region from roughly 900 to 1,200 C.E.

Indeed, the pose I strike in the photograph that accompanies this column mimics one of my great-grandfather, circa 1898, surrounded by wooden crates, pouring over some 130,000 pages and scraps that he brought to Cambridge University after months spent sifting through the dry, dust-filled genizah of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in the section of old Cairo known as Fustat.

In our genizah, a dehumidifier helps preserve the contents of the cardboard and plastic boxes stacked from floor to ceiling. Traversing this space requires negotiating a miscellany of chairs and other furnishings, along with a drum set, a dollhouse, artwork and a pile of luggage.

I recently made a cursory examination of boxes marked with my name. There were baseball cards and memorabilia from political campaigns, the earliest of both dating to the mid-1960s; a few envelopes containing articles written for school and college newspapers, and many more from my first full-time job at a Midwest daily; videotapes and documents saved over 28-plus years at an Atlanta-based news network; keepsakes from my parents and grandparents; and quite a few items prompted the question: Why did I keep this?

A couple of weekends ago, in advance of our 36th anniversary, we spent a couple of days in and around Columbus, Ga. We hiked around the rim of the “Little Grand Canyon” in Providence Canyon State Park, and toured Pasaquan, a you-must-see-it-to-believe-it art installation in a field near Buena Vista. We drove home Sunday night and, after dinner, made a sentimental visit to the storage room.

Opening the door and turning on the light, I was reminded of the last scene in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” as the crate containing the Ark of the Covenant is nailed shut, padlocked, and wheeled toward the back of a cavernous warehouse for safekeeping.

In the middle drawer of a small three-drawer cabinet, itself almost hidden behind boxes in a corner of the storage room, we found a treasure — a cassette recording of our 1985 wedding.

In the early 1980s, we worked at a television station in Kansas City, Mo., where we were members of a Reform congregation. One of our colleagues offered to videotape our wedding, but we declined, apparently thinking that presence of a television camera would be intrusive. More than once in the years since, we’ve shaken our heads at that decision.

That night we sat in our kitchen and listened to the recording — for the first time.
We fast-forwarded through the seemingly endless piano music before the ceremony.

We heard the rabbi talk about us to the assemblage and lead us through our vows.
We heard our younger voices answer his questions and take turns addressing personal thoughts to each other and the congregation.

We heard the rabbi reference our plans to live in Israel for a time.

We heard the rabbi whisper “together” and then the crunch as we stepped on the napkin that held a glass, followed by applause.

As we listened, we remembered those who were in attendance but are no longer with us. We looked at each other, reflecting on the arc of our life together.
And wondered what happened to our ketubah.

Before our Israeli adventure, we stored our possessions in a warehouse in my bride’s hometown. When we returned two years later, the ketubah was missing. It never turned up. Eventually, we made the signing of a second ketubah part of the Shabbat service the evening before our first-born’s bat mitzvah.

As it was when I first opened that door, the basement storage room is filled, now with the history of one family, our family, a history that began beneath the chuppah of a Kansas City synagogue and in Atlanta has marked its “double chai” anniversary.

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