By Deb Silverthorn
Four generations of the family of Pearl and Edward Utay, who left Mogilev-Podolski (now Ukraine) in 1904, gathered Sunday, Dec. 4, for celebration and reconnecting. After nearly three years apart due to the pandemic, four branches of the family tree — ages 1 to 91 — reunited.
The family reunion, a tradition going back nearly 90 years, for decades has been at Bachman and White Rock lakes, Flagpole Hill and other arenas. In January 1958, an article was printed in the Texas Jewish Post of the official forming Dec. 22, 1957, of the “Utay Family Club” with a board of directors and all.
“Together with dozens of Utay cousins is the best. I remember these parties from when I was little and I’m thrilled that we’re still gathering, still appreciating and loving each other,” said Pearl Utay Friedman, the daughter of Hyman and Rachel and granddaughter and namesake of Pearl and her husband Edward.
Pearl and Edward arrived in the United States with their children: Myrtle (Joe Steinberg), Esther (Harry Finneburgh), Minnie (Joe Oxman), Joseph (Rena), Ruby (Henry Smith, then Chaim Richman and Morris Polishuk) and Moshe, who died onboard the ship Etruria. Also making the trip were Edward’s brothers Wolf (Annie) and Max (Sarah).
Once in Texas, Pearl and Edward expanded their family with the births of Lena, Max, Pacie (who died at age 3) and twins Hyman and Oscar.
“We started out living close, minutes from one another and in synagogue together and having Sunday brunches and weekday dinners. I remember picnics and food and games. With people all over the country it’s harder, but together again was great,” said Eddy Utay, Oscar and Dora’s son.
In 1988, during a visit to his Aunt Rachel “Rae,” Howard Freed — of the fourth generation after Pearl and Edward — saw a beautiful handcrafted family tree poster she’d made, truly a piece of art and history. On display at this month’s reunion was a 9-foot-tall printout of the generations’ names and dates, places of births and deaths, careers and more that Freed has digitally updated through the years.
“Some of the generations have people 20 years apart but the close-knit connections are real,” said Freed.
While the family held off on large gatherings because of the pandemic, this was the first chance for most to see one another. They don’t plan on letting too much time go by again.
“I remember being the little kid with my grandparents Lena and Aaron and now I’m the grandpa. It was fun watching us ‘big kids’ looking at old photos and figuring out who’s who,” said Freed, who was there on Sunday with his granddaughters Myka and Skylar and son-in-law David Welek.
“We’re talking about backyard get-togethers, bowling, lots of ideas for the inter-generations and all the generations to spend more time together and really get to know each other. Once a year is just not enough,” said Freed.
A generation younger, Kerry Assa, the grandson of Ruby and Henry Smith, attended with his wife, Yedida, and daughters, Hailey and Madison.
“Someone in our family is connected to almost anyone and any organization in this community. We’re everywhere and it’s cool to be part of something ‘big.’ This tradition is important and lets us continue to paint the picture of the Utay family in the Jewish landscape,” said Assa.
The Utay family were among the earliest members of Congregation Shearith Israel and were honored there in 2004 for 100 years of membership. Over the years they have had family members become legends at Temple Emanu-El as well.
This year’s party was held in Temple Emanu-El’s Pollman Hall. Attendees brought stories, menorahs and the favorite tastes of each home’s kitchen. There were briskets and challahs, lots of fried chicken, chopped liver and latkes, a dozen or more salads and desserts galore including rugelach, strudel and chocolate cake — “a must for we all love chocolate,” said Friedman with a smiling wink.
At 3 years old, a “big kid” compared to at least three younger cousins — two born just last month — Ella Jameson, on the sixth “Utay” branch and the great-great-granddaughter of Lena and Aaron, loved the party and had “so much fun. I like to be with my family because they are happy,” she said, “and also it was really yummy too!”
The most senior members of the family present were Minette Klein, the daughter of Max and Celia; and Eileen Freed and Malcolm Shwarts, the children of Lena (Utay), who married Aaron Shwarts.
Klein was thrilled to be back in person, to hug and hold so many and to see the culinary spread created by family members.
“My parents and their parents were from a town that was an arts center with opera, painters and more. It’s not so surprising that we’re all so creative, businesses of the arts, of cooking and of jewelry — of so many ways to be creative,” said Klein, who was formerly a professional caterer and still enjoys catering as a hobby.
“My parents died at 42 and 51. I feel very blessed to be a part of my family and, at 90, to still be healthy and well and sharing in all the joy,” added Klein. “Nachas — that word defines our family party and that all these years later we are still gathering and still loving one another so very much.”
There were once 27 first cousins of the children of Pearl and Edward Utay; now there are eight, but there are hundreds of offspring and their own families.
Not ready to hand over the organizer’s mantle, Friedman, who is creating a family newsletter, is proud and thankful for the many who helped coordinate, connect the family and cook.
“A room full of Utay cousins is my warm and fuzzy. There is nothing better,” Friedman said.