Tag Archives: grandma

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.

Jerusalem In My Heart

7 Dec

Yesterday I told my daughter not to go to Jerusalem. She and her husband live in Holon, about an hour from Jerusalem. I know that violence will explode as Hamas lashes out over the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It makes me ill.

Nothing has really changed.  But those who work toward hatred use it as a cry to kill and destroy.  And the way the media and the politicians across the world reacts adds to the mob mentality of hatred.  If you show people rabble rousing then they will turn into hate filled mobs.  Why not use some common sense.  And just relax.  The US Congress recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel decades ago. This is not news.

I love Jerusalem. It is in my heart. I spent my sophomore year of college in a Jerusalem attending Hebrew University, living in both Givat Ram and then Har Hasofim campuses. I traveled the roads and went throughout the area surrounding Jerusalem with ease. In 1974 and 1975 we could easily go anywhere in and about Jerusalem. There was no intifada. There were no walls and barricades. We all went where we wanted.

But still my family worried.  It was less than a year after the Yom Kippur War.  My Grandma Esther, who was born in the USA, would send me letters with newspaper clippings and write, “You could kill me in easier ways.”  My Grandma Thelma, who was born in Poland, would send me letters telling me to meet up with her family who had come to Israel after the Shoah.

My love of Jerusalem started before I even saw it,  when I was 11 years old.  The movie, “To Cast A Giant Shadow,” came out. I went to see it with my cousins and grandmas during the summer. I sat next to Grandma Rose, my cousins’ grandma. But we shared her. She had been a citizen of Jerusalem during the siege in 1948 when the Arab nations declared war on Israel after the UN declared the new country of Israel.  Jews in the Jewish Quarter of the old city were cut off without food or water as the siege started. They survived due to old hidden waters in the City.

Grandma Rose, Grandpa Asher and Uncle  Jack survived. But Grandma Rose told me she never forgot looking back to her city, to Jerusalem and wondering if she would ever see it again, when she was forced to leave. When all the Jews, families who had lived there for centuries, were taken out of the city by the Jordanian soldiers. She did not go back, but she never forgot. She died in the USA.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I was there when Uncle Jack returned for the first time, 26 years after he had been forced out as young man. My uncle and aunt came to Israel for their 25 wedding anniversary. And I got the benefit of being with them as my Uncle relived his childhood and told me about the siege and how they survived. He also never forget the last look back as he left his home.

I have been to Jerusalem many times. The heart of Israel. Where the Israeli government has its parliament, the Knesset; where the Israeli Supreme Court makes decisions that benefit those of all religions; where the holy sites of Jews, Christians and Moslems exist in close proximity.

It was in Jerusalem,  the city of peace, that I was taught to use an Uzi and an M-16 automatic rifle to survive.  It was soon after the Yom Kippur War and it was not always safe.  It was in Jerusalem that I became used to the bus drivers who would walk through the bus and ask about every package to find out who it belonged to , to make sure there were no bombs.  It was in Jerusalem that I felt the ground shake as the military detonated bombs it had found nearby in an empty field.  The terrorist groups have been attacking Jerusalem and Israel for decades.  Nothing seems to stop it.  There is always another reason they claim to try to kill or cause chaos. So this decision really changes nothing. The violence ebbs and flows like a tide.

I have been to the Temple Mount and visited the mosques; I have seen the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem; The tomb of Rachel on the road to Bethlehem; the tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Some of these places are difficult for Jews to access now.

Every time I go to Jerusalem now, I see signs of hatred rising. I love Jerusalem, like many others say they love it as well. But some times I wonder about their signs of love; they are are hard to decipher, to understand. Throwing stones, setting fires, stabbing, terrorists attacks. These are not signs of a people loving a city.  These are signs of destruction.

Recently I was at the Harry Truman Presidential Library.  I read about his recognizing the State of Israel and how so many American and international politicians were against this decision. But he did what he thought was right.  The world survived.

Instead of focusing on the one issue of Jerusalem, why is the world not focusing on the proxy war between the Shia and Sunni that is taking place in Syria?  Why not focus on the war occurring in Yemen?  Why not see the horrors that are happening in Turkey?  Why not Iran and Saudi Arabia?  Hundreds of thousands people have been killed.  Millions have been displaced.  Israel has nothing to do with any of it… so the Arab world stays silent.

Jerusalem is not the reason for all these conflicts.  There are much bigger conflicts within the Moslem Arab nations that is causing unrest in the Middle East.  I hope one day there will be a end of hostilities.  That both sides will decide to just live in peace.  That they will move forward and not ruminate on the past.  To be honest neither side can win, unless they let the past go free.

I Love Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

22 Nov

To me Thanksgiving always means staying in my pajamas and watching the Macy’s Day Parade. Yes the Macy’s Day Parade! That is what I called it as a child and that is what I still call it in my mind.

Growing up in the New York City metropolitan area meant that the Parade was an important part of our life. We lived close to Hoboken. And as ‘everyone’ knows the floats are built in Jersey, the giant balloons are stored in Jersey and the participants practice in Jersey.

As a child I remember my Dad driving us to Hoboken in order to drive up and down the streets of warehouses and peek in. You probably cannot do it anymore, but when I was a child it was possible.

I remember seeing the color guards and bands practicing in the street.

It was part of the annual build up to the great event itself! The parade.

I loved watching the parade on television. But most exciting was actually seeing the parade in person. My Grandma Esther was the executive secretary for shoe company’s whose headquarters were across the street from Macy’s!

The best year of my life was the time we all went into NYC to her office. We watched the parade in the warmth of her office through the giant windows overlooking the Avenue. It was tremendously exciting! I remember the balloons flying right past the windows. Wow. I had such joy. Did I say I love the giant ballooons. Many people make an annual trek just to see the balloons filled with helium!

I will admit getting there was a hassle and getting home was the worst. But seeing the parade in person was worth it. I still get a thrill just remembering.

Watching the parade on television November 23, 2017.

When my children were little, we would lie in bed together and watch the parade. To be honest, they were not excited as me. It did not matter. Thanksgiving morning the television stayed on the Parade channel.

Eventually my children moved out. But it does not matter to me. I need no excuses to watch the parade. When the Rockettes make their annual appearance I smile. When the bands play and the color guard twirl their flags I feel satisfaction. Each broadway show tune makes me want to see a play. And then their are my favorite floats like Sesamee Street!

When Thanksgiving morning arrives I will still stay in my pajamas. Get a mug of coffee. Cuddle with my cats. And spend three hours watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a Thursday morning!

What Happened To Karola?

27 Feb

I am still finding clues about my grandmother’s family in the old photo album we found hidden in the attic. Many of the photos might remain mysteries. As they have no caption or notations. But as I slowly go through them, I sometimes find a photo with a message on the back.

In February,  I was showing the album to a visiting cousin, when I flipped over the photo of a young woman. I was surprised to see it had a note on the back in Polish. I could understand a bit. It was to her cousin Thelma (my grandma). It had a date, June 6, 1946. And it had a place, Kielce.  I was glad that I had finally found a photo from after the war. I thought that finally I had found someone who survived. I had thought the book was hidden because it was filled with those who perished.

The back of the photo.

Karola in June 1946.

I posted the photo on the “Tracing the Tribe,” Facebook group to get a translation of the back. It was dedicated to my grandmother. “To my sincere/honest and devoted cousin Thelma from Karola. I knew they were related because Karola looks so much like my grandmother. I assume they are first cousins.

My Grandma Thelma summer 1942.

The rest of the inscription reads, “Kielce, June 6, 1946. “.  And that opened up a new issue. Someone wrote, “Do you realize that this is dated from Kielce less than ONE MONTH before the pogrom in which 42 Jews — pretty much all Holocaust survivors — were massacred in the local community center? Did your relative survive that horrible event.”

I Don’t know if she survived!

I started investigating Kielce.  On July 4, 1946, there was a pogrom against the approximately 200 Jewish survivors of the camps who had moved back to Kielce. They were a tiny percentage of what once was a thriving Jewish community.

Of those 200, 42 were killed and 40 were injured.  This event started when a young boy told his father he was late because Jews locked him in a basement. It was a lie. But started a blood libel event. Polish police and soldiers participated. On July 14 nine Poles were executed for their role in this horrible massacre. Because of this event,  Polish Jews who survived knew they had to leave Poland. It would never be a safe haven. And a mass exodus began.

But what about my cousin?  I tried finding her name on any lists. But I do not know her surname.  I do not remember ever meeting her in the US, although I met most of my grandparents’ relatives. There were so few.  I had not met her in Israel when I took my grandma there in 1976.  I met many relatives then. (See previous blog: Speaking Yiddish Always Brings Holocaust Memories).  I sent the photo to a cousin in Israel. Although we are just a month apart in age, she is a generation above me. My mothers first cousin. And her parents survived the war by fleeing to a Russia. She knew the family who survived and moved to Israel. She also has a picture of Karola, but knows nothing about her.  

So I am beginning to think she perished. Which breaks my heart. Did she send the photos to relatives in an effort to get out of Europe?  What was happening? Was she alone?  I need answers. 

I could not let my search end there. I have contacted a distant cousin who I met through Tracing the Tribe. He is a much more experienced researcher than I. I hope he will be able to bring me closure about cousin Karola.

In the meantime I also continue to search for her. But I also continue to learn about the political and social anti-Semitism that led to this horrendous event and its aftermath.

UPDATE:  Karola lived: From another cousin who read the blog I found out this information:  “Karola lived in Paris with her husband and beautiful daughter. They visited us for a few days when I was a teen. My mother kept in touch for many years, the daughter also came to NYC and stayed and then they seemed to lose contact.” Wrote my cousin. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kielce_pogrom

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

New York City Excitement With My Grandma

29 Nov

Whenever I watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, known in my mind as the Macy’s Day Parade, I always think of my Grandma Esther. The first time I went to Radio City Music Hall was with my siblings and my Grandma to see “That Darn Cat” and the Rockettes for the annual Christmas extravaganza. It did not matter that we were Jewish. What was important was seeing the show.

I remember that the line went around the block, but we had tickets. On the main floor! I still remember the first time I saw the Grand Staircase. I remember the thrill of sitting in those seats. I have never forgotten the movie that starred Hayley Mills, or the moment the Rockettes came on to the stage.

The parade brings back this wonderful memory, as well as others that Grandma arranged. I remember the year she arranged for us to watch the parade from her office. Grandma was the executive secretary for a shoe company that had their office opposite Macy’s! Yes right opposite the main store. One year we had the opportunity to watch the parade and all the shows from the company’s warm office and excellent viewing site. I still get chills thinking about how excited I was to be there. This was so much nicer than standing outside in the cold.

Grandma, worked until she was 77, treated me to special dates in the city . They must have been birthday celebrations. I loved going to Horn and Hardart. The Automat’s vast choices of cakes and foods were amazing. Grandma would let me get her food and my food. It was fun opening the doors and removing exactly what we wanted. Such joy!

My favorite date, to be honest, was to Schraftt’s Ice Cream Palour on Fifth Avenue. I remember wearing my dirndl dress and white gloves…to go eat ice cream!!! I had a chocolate sundae, of course. The gloves came off when it was time to eat. I still see the beauty of the restaurant. And I still can remember leaving with Grandma, and skipping as we left. I was so excited.

I know it was in the spring because after ice cream we went to the Barton’s store to purchase lots of candy and treats for Grandma’s annual Passover seder. I see, in my mind’s eye, the boxes of Barton’s Almond Kisses, chocolate covered matzah and other sweets.   I remember that we each had two shopping bags to carry.

Then it was back to her office. I would sit and wait for my Dad to come and get me after work. Grandma would give me some busy work to do while I waiting. And I did get to speak to the president, Mr. Pearlstein. But I knew I had to be quiet while Grandma was working.

It is not surprising that to this day I love watching the Macy’s Parade each Thanksgiving. Even though I now live in the Midwest, on Thanksgiving morning I get a cup of coffee and sit contently for three hours watching as the parade marches on and my memories linger.

The Mysterious Kalsbad Photos: Who Are They?

6 Jun

June 26, 1931. My Grandmother was in Europe with my Mother and my Uncle. She left them at the farm owned by my great grandparents in Poland while she went to Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Czechoslovia to take the waters and revive her health.

The doctors in the United States told her that she was going to die. She had been pregnant again in the USA. But doctors terminated the pregnancy through a very illegal abortion in an effort to save her life. But still she was sick. So she decided she would not burden my Grandfather with two young children, 5 and 2. She would take them to Europe to live with his parents and she would die there. He, then, would be free to continue his life.

I once asked my Grandfather, why he let her go. “She was a sick woman,” he told me. “I had to let her do what she thought was best.”

“Would you have left Mom and Uncle Stanley in Europe?” I asked. This was a very important question. His entire family perished. If he had left them, I would not be here.

He looked me in the eye, and said, “As soon as she died I was going to get on a boat and return with my children. I would never leave them there. “

His words made me feel a bit better. But if Grandma had died the world my Mom and Uncle lived in would have been very different. But at least I know my grandfather would not have abandoned them in Poland.

Luckily Grandma did get well. She stayed in Europe for six to eight months and then returned to the USA with my Mom and Uncle. She saw the rise of Hitler coming and now had a new purpose: get the family out. She could not save as many as she wanted. But she tried.

Grandma Thelam, Carlsbad

Grandma is sitting in the front. The date and place were added by my Mom. I think the two women are related. This is the photo we knew about.

We have several items from that trip to Europe. We have a ceramic vase that stays in her breakfront/curio cabinet in our Catskills’ home. We have stories about the trip.  We have a few photos. We knew of one. Grandma is with two other women. We have no ideal who they are. But I think they are related to her, one women sort of looks like her sister-in-law. We are not sure. There is no identifications on the back.

But I recently found another.

FullSizeRender (10)

Grandma is in back row on the left wearing a white hat.

It is a group photo. In the very back row, near the center is a woman in a white hat, that is my grandmother. She is 26 years old.

I do not know the other people. Are they family members who perished? Or are they just other people who are in Karlsbad? Sometimes I imagine that they are just other people at the resort who were pulled together for a group photo that the photographer would then sell to tourists.   Other times I imagine that people in the photo look like family, especially the man in the front on the left. But I honestly do not know.

This photo is different from the others we have from that trip. There is writing in Yiddish and English. The English is easy, her name and the address where she stayed in Karlsbad. Or is it a place she visited?

The Yiddish is more exciting to me. It is the only letter I have seen that she wrote to my Grandfather. (Thank you members of the Tracing the Tribe Facebook Group for translations!)

It says: “As a souvenir from your faithful wife, who hopes, to meet you again in good health.” Another translated it as “A souvenir from your devoted wife, who hopes to return to you in good health.”

Either makes sense. She was sick. She was away from my grandfather. She wanted to be reunited with her family and be healthy.

And that all happened. She returned to the US and lived an additional 50 years. And 80 years later, I keep finding treasures in her photo album!

 

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

Holding My Grandparent’s Naturalization Papers Overwhelms Me

23 May

 

imageI have a small leather case that is inscribed with the words Certificate of Citizenship.  Enclosed are my grandparents naturalization papers that change them from immigrants to citizens.

I hold the papers in my hands and I wonder what my grandparents were thinking. Here are the legal documents that made them naturalized citizens of the United States of America. They were no longer Polish citizens. They were free of the past, or were they?

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One paper is 84 years old.   My Grandmother became an American in 1932. She was 27 years old. I know she had just returned from a trip to Europe to regain her health and see her family and my grandfather’s family. She took her two small children, my mother and my uncle, with her for six months in Poland. And then she came home, a changed woman with a mission. Get as many family members out of Europe as possible.   Grandma was smart. She saw the coming tide of Hitler and his anti-Semitism. What would she think now with the new rise of hatred and xenophobia throughout the world?

The seal encompasses her photo. Her certificate has a small burn in it. The paper was folded when it happened. I can see my grandfather smoking a cigarette with an ash hanging off as it falls on the papers. I know my grandmother must have been furious. It looks like that type of burn to me. I am glad that my children have never seen a cigarette burn. When my father and grandfather smoked, papers often got singed.   But by the time my children were born, there were no more smokers in my family.

There on her paper is a space for Race. It says Hebrew. I wonder if she worried about that word on her papers? They were not yet putting yellow stars on Jews when she was in Europe. Even though she was worried, perhaps, being here made her feel safe enough. The good news is that 11 years later, when my grandfather became a citizen, there was no longer a space for Race. This item was removed from the naturalization papers. It makes me happy to see this change.

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I wonder why Grandpa waited so long? He came to the USA in 1920. Did he originally think he would go back one day? Maybe. But the war probably changed his mind. He became a citizen in the midst of World War II — the war that destroyed his family. The war that murdered his parents and his siblings, his nieces and his nephews, his aunts and uncles, his cousins and his friends. Almost all perished. He did not yet officially know this in 1943. But perhaps he knew, since all letters stopped coming and there was no more contact with his family. It was not till after the war that he knew they had all died.

On this paper I see my grandparents’ signatures. I usually did not see it. To me Grandma only signed all letters Love, Grandma Thelma. Grandpa never wrote letters. In his later years, he forgot how to write his name in English. He only remembered how to write it in Hebrew. But here I see his signature. It gives me a thrill to see these names on these certificates.

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On the back of Grandpa’s certificate of naturalization is an additional note. It was when he became an official citizen that he legally changed his name from Nisson to Nathan. He put away his Yiddish/Hebrew name and moved to an English name. This is the name I gave my son. Nissan, Nathan. He was born 11 months after Grandpa died. It seemed right that he should have his name.

By the time Grandpa became a citizen they had moved to the home they lived in for over 30 years. This was the location of their bakery in West New York, New Jersey. A home and a bakery where I spent many hours and enjoyed so much love. The same address where I spent the first three years of my life. Where my parents spent the first six years of their married life.

When I hold my grandparents’ citizenship papers I am overwhelmed. Because they moved here and left their homes when they were so young, 18 and 16, I am alive. Because they made a conscious choice my children have freedom. Because they were able to immigrate to the United States, we live in freedom.

I hope the United States will continue to be a beacon of light to immigrants throughout the world, as it was for my grandparents.

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/how-world-war-i-saved-my-family-or-my-grandpa-was-a-draft-dodger/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/i-believe-mystically-and-magically-great-grandma-chava-watches-over-me/

 

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/grandma-thelma-knows-what-she-knows/

 

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/