Imagine That! Cousins in Curaçao

Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and Morris Seibald, (center), pose with their children and grandchildren in a recent family photo. (Provided)
Sheila Delvalle-Seibald and Morris Seibald, (center), pose with their children and grandchildren in a recent family photo. (Provided)

A gentleman in South Africa, who I interviewed earlier this year, said to me when I thanked him for his time, “Kol yisrael chaverim. Do you know what this means? All of Israel are friends.”

Given recent events, I think the phrase kol yisrael mishpachah, all of Israel is family, might be even more apt.

When my editor asked me if I would like to take a press trip to Curaçao, I immediately responded, “Yes! Where’s that?” (This despite having visited Aruba two years before.) Then I called my husband, Avi Bardack, to tell him that I’d be traveling to the Caribbean without him.

We’re quite close to our families, both emotionally and geographically, so naturally Avi told his parents the news, who in turn told his grandparents, who in turn told other members of the extended family.

Not two days later I received a call from my father-in-law, Paul, telling me that his cousins, Maxine and James Perlmutter — who have known me most of my life independent of Avi — had traveled to Curaçao before and met cousins there.

Cousins in Curaçao?

Of course, I had to investigate.

Sure enough, when my tour group arrived at Mikve Israel-Emanuel on the last full day of the trip, there on the synagogue bulletin board was a birth announcement for a Seibald baby girl. Avi’s paternal grandmother, Charlotte Bardack, was Charlotte Sebold before marriage. Despite the difference in spelling, this must be the common link.

Avi managed to get contact information for the Curaçao Seibalds from the Perlmutters, and, taking a shot in the dark, I sent an email to Sheila Seibald-Delvalle and her husband, Morris Seibald. I would only be in Willemstad for a few hours on Friday morning, but could we meet up?

Immediately, Sheila sent me a note back, welcoming me to Curaçao and inviting me to stop by their shop before my flight the following afternoon.

The next morning, my gracious host from the tourism board, gave me a ride to Aventura, the lingerie shop owned by Sheila and Morris.

I was nervous at first; yes, this was family but distant family that I had never met. Sheila set me at ease right away. We chatted for two hours in the backroom office of their shop, with Morris dodging in and out between customers. Our conversation would have gone on longer were it not for my flight.

Sheila shared stories with me about growing up Jewish on the island, photos of her grandchildren and three children — two of whom live stateside — and her time studying in my neck of the woods, first at Goucher College and then at The George Washington University. Morris likewise attended GW. He further told me about weekly family Shabbat dinners and how his grandfather tutored him privately to keep alive cherished Orthodox Ashkenazi traditions.

The common link, my father-in-law discovered and Sheila confirmed, is through Morris’ grandfather, Selig Seibald. Another relative who is tracing the Seibald/Sebold family tree will be in touch soon.

Not only do I now have family in the Caribbean, but meeting Sheila and Morris has opened up the option to meet new relatives on the East Coast, in the Netherlands and in other parts of South America.

The Jewish people may be tiny in numbers, but we are big on family.

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