A photograph in time

Almost fifty years of family history distilled

By Chandrea Serebro

This is the tale of a photograph taken in 1966. It’s seemingly an ordinary photograph, but it is in fact extraordinary. It is the catalyst for bringing a family spanning generations and continents back together over 50 years later, when almost 100 years of memory and moments will again become distilled in a moment in time, captured by newer technology, yet essentially the same.

Standing in this photograph, smiling back at you is a family all born from the five children of Manuel (Mendy) and Sophie Amdur, who immigrated to South Africa from England in 1947. It is an old photograph from yesteryear, depicting the Amdur family in all its glory. Left today are sisters Esther (92), Lily (89), and Rita (82). Their sister, Anne, and their brother, Albert, are sadly no longer alive, and with Albert, the family name Amdur died too – as he had three daughters and no sons. But, the Amdur legacy depicted in this original photo lives on despite name changes and oceans separating them, and they will reunite to catch up on each other’s lives at a family reunion, but one with a difference.

The idea for this reunion came from Brenda Mitchel, the daughter of Anne who lives in Australia, when she was visiting her cousin Steve Katznelson, Rita’s son, in the United States. They were looking at family photos, reminiscing about the ‘good old days’, when they came across a photograph of the entire family (bar one cousin, who had not yet been born). This photo was taken on a Sunday morning. The whole Amdur family had come together in 1966 from Canada, Rhodesia, and Johannesburg to take part in Lily Mark’s son Heath’s bar mitzvah (the brother of Sheena Wolovitz, who is the South African arm of the reunion).

They expressed the dream of everybody meeting – all the children and grandchildren of the Amdur family who had not been together since 1966, after which time they spread across the globe in search of their own destinies. A Whatsapp group was formed; the idea was put out there; excitement began to build; and the first family members began to get on board. But, then Steve came up with the idea of recreating the photo that inspired it all, and that was the spark that was to set the now decided Amdur family reunion alight. As another cousin, Nataly, said, “It was pretty simple – it started from the first photo! The idea was planted, the venue argued/discussed and then agreed upon over many weeks, plans were put into place, and voila – soon we were saying: ‘I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!’”

“I cannot talk for anyone else, but I was so excited from the time the idea of the reunion was first conceived and presented to me,” says Rita, who lives in Florida. “I feel that the Amdur family are amazing, especially considering our history and what we have grown and developed into. In spite of the distance and miles that have separated us, a strong emotional bond exists and always has. To actually consider reuniting was very exciting and something I never thought would happen.”

“Today, there are family members living in Australia, Israel, England, and America,” says Lily. “Our older nephews and nieces were either born here in South Africa or in Zimbabwe, in what was then called Rhodesia.” “The emigration of so many of our family members over the years has always saddened me. Because of distances, so many milestones are missed and so many shared experiences lost. Modern technology makes distance so much easier and more bearable. With the advent of email and Skype, and, more recently, the incredible Whatsapp, distance virtually melts away,” says Sheena. But, continual effort is required to keep up the relationships, and, even then, it isn’t always easy despite the easy access. Over the last 50 years, some of the cousins have never even met. “With Scott and me being the sole North Americans among the global scattered group, the interludes with those cousins I have met have been far too infrequent and brief. Still, I feel a tremendous family bond that ties us all together, likely due to the closeness that our Amdur parents shared throughout their lives,” says Steve.

Lily recalls how different it had been for them as children. “Our mother had two brothers in America, and she could only write to them using snail mail, letters written mainly in Yiddish that would take weeks to arrive. Because of the distance separating us, we never met their families.” Rita, however, because she lives in America, is now in touch with some of these American cousins, and Lily has had some contact via email.

“The reunion was important for so many reasons, mainly because family is important. There were some spouses and children present who had never met before. Some cousins had not seen each other for more than 50 years and have previously had very little contact with each other. And, everyone would have the chance to connect, and reconnect. There is an indisputable and unbreakable connection between family, no matter what happens over time and place. Family members are a support for each other and a means of sharing responsibilities. Family members share a heritage, a history, a culture, experiences, and often a similar humour. They should share in each other’s simchas, joy, as well as being supports for the difficult times in life,” says Sheena.

“For me, it will be wonderful to find out how we have all ended up becoming academics, all the while originating from Mendy, who was a poultry dealer selling chickens from a street stall because he could not afford a shop and his wife Sophie who worked with him,” says Lily of her parents. “If only our parents could be alive to be part of this very special occasion, because we are all descendants from them, this very special Amdur couple.”

“This reunion brings us back ‘home’ for such a long overdue special gathering; what a great opportunity to unite, share stories, introduce our nuclear families to the clan, and create new memories – it will remain in Amdur lore for generations to come,” says Steve. “Family is a value instilled in us all by our parents as they were very close, and I too have great memories of my cousins throughout the years. It’s a value I wish to pass on to my children,” says Brenda.

The Amdur family reunion will involve four events. The first to take place on the Thursday evening, when everyone has arrived, a relaxed meet and greet dinner at Sheena’s home in Glenhazel, followed by a traditional Friday night Shabbos dinner and a relaxed get-together on Saturday night. The fourth will be the raison de’être: a brunch at Sheena which would culminate with… THE FAMILY PHOTO. Everyone envisioned the day with excitement and energy, the joy of recognising and acknowledging a shared heritage, as well as commitments to closer contact and more communication in the future. It would be another footprint in time, spanning the decades between the Amdurs of the past, the ones in the original photo, the family members who made it to the reunion, and those who might recreate it again in a photo from the future, sometime down the line when the Amdur family meet again. Until then, it’s email and Whatsapp, with a face and a friend to put to a name, and a living memory of what has become the Amdur legacy to which these people all belong.

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