By Malkie Gordon Hirsch

F is for friends and family. Or fleishig. Or Faigie.

She called me as I stood in front of the poultry display at Gourmet Glatt. I didn’t recognize the number because it belonged to someone who clearly wasn’t in my phonebook with a European phone number.

I’m not sure what compelled me to answer a call from an unknown number but I did and as she started out speaking slowly, I heard hesitation in her voice as she asked a favor of me, someone who she hadn’t seen in 16 years.

She’s my first cousin Faigie and I’ve got many.

Our supersized extended family was a great source of pride in my youth. I’d have friends who could count the number of cousins on one hand, and I’d need several hands and feet to count mine. Our major familial issue was purely geographical, as my mother’s 4 brothers lived in different states and countries and we mostly knew our cousins from the occasional family simcha or through pictures we’d see at our grandparents’ house.

I’d delight in counting yet another new arrival in Faigie’s family picture, as she’s the middle of 9 children and I’d love to scan the photos on my grandmother’s nightstand, starting with older pictures, making my way to the complete family of 11 that they eventually had.

I recall the last time I saw Faigie at my wedding 16 years ago and before that, I recall trading some clothes with her at 15 when we went to Baltimore to attend a wedding of her sibling.

Besides for those 2 events, I don’t remember any conversation we might’ve had.

She stood out in her family because of her quick wit and solid storytelling skills. She had curly red hair and an endless number of freckles and the image of the person I remember her looking like popped into my mind as she explained the reason for her call.

She had come in for her daughter’s emergency surgical procedure two weeks prior and due to her daughter’s roommate’s last minute illness, they were unable to stay where they had originally intended for Shabbos.

When she expressed worry about where they’d go with such little notice, her sister mentioned my name, which led her to make the call.

As I stood in the grocery store, reassuring her that it was plenty of notice and I’ll just pick up some other things while I’m here already, I thought about this Shabbos finally being the quiet one, with my Hotel Hirsch getaways guests back in their respective homes.

I thought about what it would be like to have her and her daughter, whom I didn’t know at all, sit by my Shabbos table with my neighbors who were doing a potluck with us on Friday night.

But then I thought about how certain people resurface in life at certain times and sometimes it’s ok to not know the reason or deeper meaning behind it. I thought about the reason this stuff happens to me and maybe not others as often. Maybe it’s because I knew how great Shabbos could be before it even happened. So as I get home with way more food than an additional two people can consume, I receive a message from her, apologizing for asking to come to me prematurely. She hadn’t realized how far we were from the city and her daughter had a doctor’s appointment right before Shabbos that wouldn’t allow time to get to me.

I responded that I’ll just toss the food I bought into the freezer and wished her luck with the appointment, wondering what Shabbos would have been like if she could have made it happen.

Just then, I notice a small picture on her WhatsApp profile and click on it, hoping it’s a current family picture of her. But then what I see is way more surprising—it’s a picture of a cake that I had baked for the first issue of a local food publication, Fleishig magazine. I look at it for a few seconds more, wondering what and why on earth her profile picture is a cake of mine and then ask her the obvious question. “Uh, Faigie? How did you get a hold of a picture of a cake I baked a few years back?”

{IMG Malkie first letter cookie cake

{Caption Malkie’s first letter cookie cake

{Credit Fleishig magazine 

And right there and then was a noticeable shift on everything. It provided a topic completely unexpected but something we suddenly shared in common.

She explained that a friend of hers who subscribed to the magazine had loved the cake so much (which was in the shape of the letter “F”) had commissioned for a local British baker to make the same design as the one featured in the magazine.

Her friend had no idea that we were first cousins. Faigie didn’t know I even baked, as she’s not on social media.

Yet as we talked about the outlandish chances of that happening, other things were also let go: the stress and worry that there would be awkwardness having family that’s pretty much a stranger spend Shabbos in my home.

The fear that I wouldn’t have food that her vegetarian daughter would want to eat.

To me, that picture was a clear sign that she was meant to call me, meant to make it on time from Manhattan to Woodmere, meant to stay up with me till 2:30 a.m., reminiscing about the few memories we shared as cousins, laughing until we cried, talking and going on constant tangents, and occasionally taking turns shaking our heads at one another, in awe at how these things happen.

How my cousin who’s lived in London for 12 years would find herself at my table, talking, laughing, storytelling, and appreciating the way G-d puts people together at the most unexpected of times. Instead of the small talk among friends who see each other frequently, we drank in huge amounts of catch-up information about family happenings, kids and their goings on, and what we’ve kept busy with in the past 25 or so years since we’d last spoken.

At times, it seemed dreamlike and surreal but also fun and exciting to get an opportunity like this. When she called, she was virtually a stranger who was technically a cousin; she kept referring to me as her “relative.”

But now, at the end of the special weekend we shared together, thanks in large part to a picture of a cake, we’re a lot more like the family we were meant to be. People often talk about friends getting so close that they feel like family, which is a beautiful thing. In this case, the sequence was flipped—family had the chance to get close and become friends—and that’s pretty wonderful too. 

Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.

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