Tag Archives: pearls

My Grandma’s Favorite Photo

7 Jul

Grandma's Favorite photo

This is my Grandma’s favorite photo of herself.  She loved it so much that she took another photo taken the same day and cut her head out to put on an membership card. It caused a major fuss that summer in the Catskills! A fuss that lasted several days!

We (my Mom, sister and I) asked why she had cut up that photo of her at 17 or 18, when she was already in her 60s when she used it.  Her answer:  It was her favorite photo and she wanted to use it!

Grandma Thelma

Here it is!  You can even see the staple holes in the photo where she stapled it on to the membership card!  I am not sure what the card was for.  It was not an official government ID.  It must have been for some local group.  I honestly do not remember. (My sister reminded me that the card was for a local senior center.)

I do remember that my Mom was so angry when she saw that Grandma had used this photo and destroyed the original!   I believe it was also my Mom’s favorite photo of her mother as a young woman.  My Mom and Grandma actually got into a major discussion, read that as argument, over this.  But it was too late, the photo was already destroyed. Grandma had thrown away the pieces.

My Mom never knew, because I guess Grandma never told her, that there were several other photos from the same day upstairs in an album the attic.  Unfortunately they both had died before we found the album that had these photos taken of my Grandma and her first cousin, Katie.

If you look at it carefully, you can see in the image we have, Grandma is not wearing the pearls. I assume that the pearls belong to my Aunt Gussie, Katie’s mom.  In the photo that Grandma truly loved, she is wearing the pearls.  A telling gesture. As an adult, pearls played an important role in my Grandma’s life.  Eventually she had many strands of real pearls!

Grandma favorite photo

I think my Mom would have been much happier if she knew that other photos existed.

I understand why Grandma used this photo.  I do not think she ever felt pretty.  She told me many times that growing up they called her Luchen, or noodle or string bean, because her arms and legs were too long for her body. She hated being called that nick name.

My Grandfather, on an audio tape we have from November 1981, a few months after Grandma died, even said that Grandma was not pretty, but she had something special about her.  And so he fell in love with her.

Grandma was bright, intelligent, spoke, read and wrote in several languages.  I thought she was lovely.

Now as a woman in my 60s, I think I understand why she used this photo.  When I look in the mirror, I do not always see someone my age.  I expect to see a much younger person. Sometimes I am surprised.  Recently I said something about it to my husband.  And his response made me think of this photo, as he said,  “You will never look 25 again.”  Sigh.  That was the age I was when we married.

This photo of Grandma was taken a year or two before she married my Grandfather. Perhaps she felt as I, and was remembering the young Thelma. That is how she saw herself, and so that is the photo she used.

(I am thinking about Grandma now, as her birthday was in July.  We will soon mark what would be her 112 birthday.  Although she is gone, her memory continues as a blessing.)

The Necklace I Never Wear

2 Apr

In a box in my closet is a small scrimshaw necklace that I never wear. I will never give it away. I will never sell it. I hope one day one of my children will take it.

The necklace I purchased with the money from Zeisel.

The necklace I purchased with the money from Zeisel.

It is not that old. I bought it when I was 20, when I spent my sophomore year of college in Israel, 1974 to 1975.

Many holocaust survivors were still alive. Some of them related to me through my maternal grandparents who were both from Europe. My grandparents came to the USA in the 1920s. But most of their family remained behind. Many perished, others survived and moved to Israel.

My grandmother went to Europe in 1931 with my Mom and uncle. I have written about this before. She stayed on the farm owned by her in-laws. While she was there her mother-in-law, my great grandmother Chava, gave her some family items. Two pieces of jewelry, a pearl necklace and an opal ring; and several embroidered and handmade pieces that Chava had made.   I own all but the pearl necklace. They were all given to me as the one named for Chava.

The pearl necklace disappeared in 1931. My grandmother went to use the shower at her inlaws. She took off the necklace to bathe and forgot to put it back on. When she realized it was gone, she went back to the bathroom. It was missing.

But she knew who took it. Zeisel. He was the only one who had been in the bathroom. But he denied taking it. And that was the end of the matter for 43 years, until I went to Israel for a year of college.

A month after I arrived in Israel, I received a letter from my grandmother telling me the story of the pearls. I had never heard it before. In the letter she wrote that the ‘goniff,’ Zeisel Feuer, my grandfather’s cousin, was going to give me some money to pay her back for the necklace he stole in 1931. I was to take the money and give my great uncle, her brother, half the money. The other half was to buy myself a necklace because I should have the pearls.

What? Was my grandmother insane?   I did not really want to do this.

I wrote her back saying that I thought 43 years meant the statute of limitations on a theft were over. And that she needed to let it go. And I did not need to have the necklace. But a few weeks later I received another letter instructing me how to find Zeisel in Tel Aviv. He worked at bakery on a specific street and I was to go there and speak to him. She said I had no choice. I had to do this. It was important to both of them to end this. And I would be the one to fix it. What?

Grandma ordered, so I obeyed. The next time I was in Tel Aviv, I went to the bakery. There was a man who looked so much like my grandfather, except smaller and bent. I knew it had to Zeisel. I introduced my self. He held for minute and had me sit at a table. He brought tea and a pastry. I waited while he finished working. Then we walked back to his apartment.

There he gave me Israeli lire, which in US would be worth about $100. And he told this story.

He was married with two children. He had a wonderful life. But he wanted more for his family. So when my grandmother left the pearls in the bathroom, he thought, “She lives in America. She is rich and has money. She does not need this necklace.” And he took it. And he lied.

In return the Nazis came. They killed his wife. They killed his children. They tortured him. He could no longer have any children.

And he knew that taking the necklace had brought all this pain to him and his family. And before he died he had to make amends. So he gave me the money. I was to do with the money whatever my grandmother said.  He had made peace.

I was stunned. I was 19. I did not know what to say but to cry.   When I left him, I took the money back to my dorm in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. A few weeks later I took half the money to my Uncle Isaac. The other money I kept in my room.

Each time I went to Tel Aviv after that, I always went to the bakery to see Zeisel. He always gave me tea and a pastry.   There were not many phones in Israel at the time. So I could not call in advance. I would just show up, or send him a letter telling him when I thought I would come. When my parents came to Israel that December of 1974, I took them to meet Zeisel and speak to him. It was a meeting my parents never forget as well.

In January I turned 20. I finally spent the $50 on a necklace for me. A necklace that carried so much pain. I could not wear it even though I knew my grandmother wanted me to have this jewelry from my great grandmother. So I keep it in a box in my closet. I know it is there. I know it is safe. It will not be lost. But I cannot wear it. When I see it, I always think of Zeisel and how much he lost.

It was not the pearl necklace that doomed his family. It was the rise of hatred. But he did steal it.  So for him giving me the money was closure. He had repented; he had done his “tashuvah.”  But for me it was the beginning of truly understanding the past.

I have written about the Zeisel and the pearl necklace before. It is a story that stays in my heart and my soul. But I have never talk about what I bought with the money. In my mind it is just not enough. It does not make up for the suffering surrounding one pearl necklace.  Zeisel was also the person who let my grandfather know that his entire family had perished in the Shoah.  He is forever bound in our family history.

Zeisel, my grandparents and my parents have all passed away. I am the only one who can remember this story. And so I tell it again.








A Strand of Pearls is Not Just Jewelry, It is a Circle of Love

6 Jul


To me wearing my pearls infuses them with love.

To me wearing my pearls infuses them with love.

I wear two strands of pearls to every family wedding. One strand, the longer one, belonged to my mother-in-law, Lee. She died when she was only 59, but I know that she would want to be at every wedding of her grandchildren and family members. The other strand, is slightly shorter, but has a lovely clasp. It belonged to my Mom, Fran. She also loved weddings and would want to be at every family wedding! Amazingly both strands of pearls have the same size pearls. And they look so good together.

Last night I wore the pearls to the latest family wedding, our niece. The pearls came up in conversation, and I told my brother-in-law, and another nephew and niece, why I wore two strands. My brother-in-law said, “I know they are here.” And my nephew and niece, who knew my Mom but not his own Grandma, said, “Your Mom would have loved the weddings.” And it is true.

It makes me feel as if these two wonderful women were there with us when I wear these necklaces. Pearls are so warm. And to me their glow sends off the warmth of love.

Pearls have much meaning in my family. My grandmother had opera length pearls. And my mother had them made into three necklaces, once for each of her granddaughters. As they turned 18, each girl was presented with the pearl necklace from my mother.

Unfortunately she passed away a few months before the youngest turned 18.   My Dad had us present the pearls to my niece in the hospital where my mother was soon to die. I know it was a difficult time for my niece. But I hope as time has passed she realizes how much her grandparents loved her and how important it was for my Dad, her Grandpa, that she get the pearls while Grandma was still alive.

My Great grandmother, for whom I am named, gave my Grandma a strand of pearls in Europe in 1932. They would have been mine. But another relative stole the pearls while she was in Europe. She always suspected who had taken them.

Over 40 years later he wrote her a letter. He had survived the Shoah, but his entire family had been killed, his wife and his children. He blamed himself. He believed that if he had not stolen the pearls, they would have lived.

I know this because I met him. I was living in Israel at the time. My Grandma Thelma wrote to me to meet up with “the goniff.” He was going to give me 400 lira…about $100 at the time. I was to take some of the money and buy myself something and give the rest of the money to my great uncle.

I met Zissel and he told me his story. He was a sad, sad man. He told me how his family had died and the horrible things that occurred to him. He told me how he had stolen the pearls.

“Your grandmother went into the bathroom to bath. When she came out the pearls were on the sink. I thought, she lives in America; she is rich. I can use these pearls more than she can. And I took them. Now everyone is dead, and it is my fault.” Zissel and I both cried as he told me the story. I was only 19 years old. The pain of that day lives with me. He believed if he paid my Grandma back, it would take away some of the guilt. I hope it did.

I began to visit him whenever I was in Tel Aviv. He worked in a bakery across from the giant shuk. I would meet him there, get a pastry and tea and talk to him Sometimes I would go back to his apartment.

When my parents came to visit me in Israel, I took them to see Zissel as well. His Yiddish was much better than his Hebrew. So when my parents came, he spoke mainly to them in Yiddish. He told more stories. And my mother and I cried along with him. I hope that his sad soul found peace.

The pearls were a bond between Zissel and me.

And so for me pearls, any pearls, have a story to tell. My mother-in-law’s
pearls and my mother’s pearls will be filled with joy as they experience only happy events. Every wedding will bring happiness to these pearls. And the sadness of the pearls that Zissel took will be wiped away.

The pearls my daughter and nieces have are also filled with love. And when I see them wearing my mother’s/grandmother’s pearls, their great-grandma, I know that the love of these two women are surrounding them.

A strand of pearls is not just a piece of jewelry, it is a circle of love.