The Beranbaum family
TORONTO – It’s sad, but not unusual, for distant cousins to pass each other on the street and never know they are related.
Zalman Beranbaum, the eldest of Miriam and Hersh’s six children, decided that family was too important to let this happen to his own. In January 1958, he called all 16 Beranbaum grandchildren together – the name means pear tree in Yiddish – for a meeting and said, “We know each other. Let’s stay close.” With that, the Beranbaum Cousins Club was formed.
Fast forward 50 years. It’s May 2008 and the cousins club members are holding their last monthly meeting of the season – the 398th since the group was formed – and making arrangements for their 50th anniversary celebration coming up in June.
Jokes fly across the room. “If you miss the last meeting of the year,” shouts one cousin, “you’re going to be on the board the next year!” finishes another.
It’s evident they are all good friends – which is the objective of this club. Their 1958 constitution declared their purpose was “to promote and bond together all participating members into a strong family unit.” They appear to be succeeding so far.
“It helps if you like each other,” says Gayle Green, the current club president. “We’ve tried forming a club with our other family branch,” she adds. “It didn’t work. Not enough people like each other or are willing to work at keeping it together.”
Other members nod in agreement and speak about how unique they feel their family is. They claim there are no rifts. Feel-good comments abound: “We really are friends… We actually like each other… well, we’re pretty tolerant of each other.” More laughter in the room. You can feel the camaraderie.
Three grandchildren of Miriam and Hersh attend this night. Others are the children, spouses and grandchildren of these original three. Since 1958, every month has seen strong turnout. Meetings include a historian’s report, where archived minutes and photos are presented, and then there’s time to catch up on each other’s lives. Who is travelling? Find out in the “cruise report.” Who’s engaged, ill or celebrating a birthday? The “sunshine report” tells all. And it’s not a successful meeting unless you take home a few good jokes, the members say. A discussion of where to donate money collected for their special account rounds out the meetings. In the past, the club has supported causes including Lupus and Cancer research, Sunnybrook Hospital, Zareinu Educational Centre and Baycrest Centre.
The highlight for members are the social events. Programs that draw all the members and their children include a Chanukah bowling party, a summer picnic and the annual closing dinner. Members-only events include Purim parties, car rallies, murder mystery evenings and an infamous Miss Poland drag fashion show.
After most meetings, out comes the club’s psychedelic, flowered, 1960s bingo case with the original slide bingo cards in it. Everyone looks forward to the monthly game.
“We make the big bucks,” says Laury Snow, a founding member. “If we’re lucky, we go home with an extra 20 cents!”
Out-of-towners from Hamilton, Waterdown and London attend events. Hamiltonian Al Burns is the most senior member at 92. The babies of the group are 40-something Chuck Rothman and his wife Janice in Thornhill.
“People make the effort, even on a snowy December night,” says Barry Green, another cousin. “They come because they know how important this family is and how much fun we have.”
Miriam and Hersh Beranbaum
Frimette Snow, a founding member and the original historian of the club, offers advice to those wishing to form a cousins club. “Most importantly, members must have a strong commitment to the continuity of the family,” she says. Strong organizers are paramount, as a club is nothing without its meetings and events.
Even this club, however, is concerned about its future. The next generation, who are in their 20s to 40s, are not as interested in joining as the previous generation. Members express their hope that the anniversary event may help motivate the next generation to attend and ultimately help the club live on.
They get to find out. At the club’s dinner and 50th anniversary celebration on June 25, four generations gather together at a Toronto restaurant. Young and old share stories and catch up on the latest family news.
Cheeks are pinched, bingo is played and history is made. Bubbie and Zayde Beranbaum, gone but definitely not forgotten, are most certainly kvelling with pride somewhere as their pear tree continued to flourish.
The founding members of the Beranbaum Cousins Club