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Updated Esthers

8 May

A while ago I wrote two blogs:  “Too Many Esthers” and “Your Heart Just Gets Larger” (links below).  I realized that they  needed to be a bit condensed and combined.  The following is a new blog combining these two.  I read it last week at the Cloud Burst program at Congregation Beth Torah in Kansas, and felt I had to share this new version here.

 

My Grandma Esther had a problem with her name.  She did not mind that she was named after her grandmother, Esther (Etka) Lew Wolf(f).  She enjoyed being named after the heroine of the Purim story.  She just hated that she had four first cousins all named Esther and all named for the same grandmother.

This caused her years of anguish….really.  She even told me about it when I sat down with her in the 1970s to get her family history.   She was already 80 when we spoke.  But it still bothered her that there were so many Esthers.

Why?  Because each of the Esthers, except for the oldest, was given a family nick name to designate which Esther people were talking about.  There was Pepi Esther; Meshuganah Esther, Curly Esther, Little Esther, and of course, Esther (the oldest who could just be that).

When you look at the family tree, it is confusing, so many Esthers and some with the exact same first and last names! Part of the genealogist nightmare. They were all born in the late 1890s, when census taking was not as organized as now. But my Grandmother’s memory was fantastic.  So I have an accurate listing of all her aunts and uncles and cousins, including the many Esthers.

My Grandma was Curly Esther, because she had very curly hair.  Thank goodness she was not called Meshuganah Esther, she told me, that would have made her so mad. But then she said,  Meshuganah Esther was really crazy.  So there you go.  But I think, did the name depict her, or did she conform to the nick name she was given?  We will never know.

Grandma told me NEVER EVER to give my child the same name as another first cousin.   It is too confusing.  That is why, when my Dad was born, although he was given the Hebrew name David, his English name just started with a D.   He already had a first cousin named, David, and Grandma was not taking any chances!!. Her children would not have nicknames!

The Esther story followed me to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband and I spent two years there when he was studying.  Grandma said, you have cousins there.  You should go for Passover.  He is the son of Pepi Esther, Joel.  So of course, my husband and I had seder with my second cousin once removed and his family.

When we were ready to leave, I told him to say hi to his Mom, Pepi Esther.  He had NO idea what I was talking about.  Pepi Esther did not suffer the same trauma as my grandmother.   My cousin called me later that week to tell me he spoke to his Mom and found out about the Esthers.  He was laughing as he told me about his conversation with her:  “All my cousins call me Pepi,” she said.  “We just never used it at home.”

Later, when I had my first child, I received a sweater in the mail.  Knitted and sent with love, from ‘Pepi’ Esther.

Needless to say, I was careful about how I named my children.  Since my daughter was the first grandchild on one side, and only the second girl on the other side, I was safe.  She was the only one named after her grandmother who had passed away a year before she was born.  And, although I used her Hebrew name, my daughter’s English name was different.

My son also was the only one named for my grandfather and my husband’s uncle. So no duplicate names there either.  However, the fact that we adopted our son, made it possible for me to learn more about the story of Meshuganna Esther.

My dad was nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react to our adopting a child. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92 and living in New York.  She called because was so happy about my son and told me more about the story of her cousin, Meshuganah Esther.  She told me in the old days, late 1890s/early 1900s, people, who had no children, often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died, usually the father.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  When Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshuganna Esther.

One of my cousins recently discover a photo of a grandmother and her granddaughter.  The photo is touching. It actually shows Chamka holding Meshuganna Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.

Tante Chamky and Lenore.  Lenore was Meshuganna Esther’s daughter. Esther was raised by Tante Sarah but was really Champka’s daughter.

My cousin wanted to know if I knew the story.  Of course I did.  And I told her.

In my mind, I wondered, is this why they called her Meshuganna Esther?  Because she was raised by her aunt as her mother and it confused her siblings and her cousins?  I am not sure.

But I do know that Meshuganna Esther named her daughter after someone named, Leah and named her daughter Lenore.  My Grandma Esther names her daughter after the same person and named her Leona.  The two of them had learned their naming lesson.

And I also know, I would never call anyone Curly or Meshuganna. I know my Grandma would disapprove.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/11/16/too-many-esthers/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/01/26/your-heart-just-gets-larger/

 

Your Heart Just Gets Larger

26 Jan

Recently my cousin uncovered a photo, I had never seen before. When my Grandma Esther died, my Dad and his siblings divided up the family photos.  My cousin is now investigating the ones in her Dad and Mom’s album. This photo actually had something written on the back of it.  And I am the one with the story, because of my story.


When I married, I never expected infertility. I was in love, we were healthy, there were no problems. So when decided to get pregnant, I was devastated when we seemed unable to have children.

After the first year , I was sent on to a specialist and started on years of tests, surgeries and medical treatments.  Throughout this all, I had one major supporter, my Grandma Esther.  In her late 80s, Grandma was not one to let me give up. During a time when long distance phone calls cost extra before 11 pm, Grandma became my late night phone call.

I lived in Kansas, so when my phone rang after 10 pm, I knew it was an East Coast call. If it was not my parents, it was Grandma Esther with advise!  Her first calls were to tell me that she also had problems when she first tried to have children. She told me to stop stressing and go to the ocean. She and grandpa went to the ocean and she got pregnant with my uncle.

Well, I could not go to the ocean from Kansas. But I felt the love. Over the next few years Grandma’s phone calls came with more involved medical advise. I could see in my mind’s eye, multitudes of grandmas sitting around and coming up with cures.

Eventually I did have a healthy baby girl. My Grandma was so excited. At age 88, she flew to Kansas to be here for my daughter’s naming. Grandma’s advise did not end. Having nursed three infants, she was an expert. She announced one day that I was doing it all wrong. “If you are going to nurse, you need to do it the right way,” she said. With in minutes she had placed cushions and a footstool around me, and nursing became so much easier.

I wish I could say that was the end of my struggles, but it was not. I was unable to have another pregnancy. But I was not done with motherhood. My husband and I turned to adoption.

It was not easy. We had two strikes against us. One, we already had one child. Two, we were Jewish. Agencies in Kansas were basically religion based. We were told we could register, but when a better qualified (Christian) family came, we would be put to the back of the line.  We tried private adoption. But two weeks before the baby was born, the mom changed her mind. Again difficult.

Finally we found the Adam’s Center, a local agency that helped Jewish families.  No longer in existence, it helped about three dozen families adopt babies. Not all were Jewish.  We were one of the fortunate ones, and our son arrived.

My Dad was a bit nervous about this. On his way home from a business trip in California, he stopped in Kansas to meet his newest grandson. My sister called in advance, “Dad is nervous that he won’t love him the same.”

No worries. Dad arrived. I put the baby in his arms. My Dad looked up and said, “how could you not love that punim, that face.”  And then he told me, “With each child and grandchild, you do not split the love you have. No your heart just gets bigger and bigger.”  My parents had big hearts.

Dad was still nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92.  She did not fly out, but she called. She was so happy and told me the story of her cousin, Messuganah Esther.  She told me  in the old days, early 1900s, people, who had no children,  often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  So when Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshugganah Esther. (See previous blog, Too Many Esthers.)

The photo is touching. It shows Chamka (Champy) holding Meshugganah Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.


Needless to say, when I brought my son back East for the first time, my Grandma Esther showered him with the same love she gave every great grandchild. She had a handmade afghan waiting for him as she did for all 18 of her great grandchildren. Because in my family, with every child, grandchild and great grandchild, you do not divide your love, your heart only gets larger and able to hold more love.