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Jul 7 2014

Filling in the Gaps of My Grandparents’ Jewish Past

By at 10:43 am

Grandparents vintage photo

I remember my grandfather reading The Forward (in Yiddish) on the back porch. I remember my grandmother in the kitchen cooking all the wonderful Eastern European foods from her childhood for me and my brothers and sisters.

I loved my grandparents, but they were foreign to me. I knew they weren’t born in the U.S. and came from somewhere else. I knew they had to leave their childhood home suddenly and it had something to do with them being Jewish, but the details and the reasons were fuzzy to me. I had a vague sense of something heavy and intense, but couldn’t quite sort it all out. Nobody really talked about it much.

Even though I was just a little girl, I knew my father loved his parents, but also felt ashamed of them. He would avoid driving through the Bronx and Queens where he grew up. He hardly ever spoke about his parents at home with us and rarely said the word “Jewish.” I used to eat my grandmother’s chopped liver by the spoonful when I was younger–it was so delicious. My father, on the other hand, gravitated to more refined food. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 18 2014

We Took the Family Trip of a Lifetime & Then We Lost the Camera

By at 3:14 pm

yosemite-5

And on the seventh day of our trip to California, we lost our camera.

It was an expensive Canon SLR with zoom lens, battery, memory card, lens filter, and sun shade. On that memory card were some 1,500 photos and videos that we’d taken in one week. In an instant, we’d lost something eminently replaceable and something devastatingly irreplaceable.

On the trip, we had visited Yosemite National Park, celebrated my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Berkeley, and toured San Francisco, my husband Rob skillfully and happily composing and snapping both posed and candid photos along the way. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 12 2014

The Questions I Forgot To Ask My Dad

By at 3:53 pm

sarah-rudolph-dad

It’s ironic that most of my childhood memories of my father involve conversation, yet the big family joke is that he never really talked.

What we mean by the tease is that he was never one to open up and share his thoughts and feelings. If we wanted to know how his day of teaching went, or what he liked to do in his spare time, or how he felt when he lost his mother at the age of 14, or whether he believed in God, we would have to pry it out of him.

Yet, I was always talking with my father. A philosopher through and through, he challenged my thinking at every turn. Read the rest of this entry →

May 9 2014

Though I Left Hasidic Life, I Kept My Mother’s Rice Pudding & Stories

By at 2:14 pm

rice-pudding

For Mother’s Day, I do something unconventional. I make rice kugel for my small family of two: myself and my son. My mother, a Hasidic woman who raised more than a dozen children in the Village of Kiryas Joel, taught me a special rice pudding recipe. The recipe calls for a slice–and a story.

She made her kugel and told her story on Rosh Chodesh, the women’s holiday of my youth. In the Hasidic community we did not celebrate Mother’s Day, but Rosh Chodesh–the first day of the month of the Jewish calendar–was a minor holiday for women. We honored the women in biblical times who had been more pious than the men. According to tradition, Moses left for heaven and the men lost faith, made an idol. The women didn’t. They stayed strong and refused to throw their jewelry into the crafting fire for the idolatrous bull. To commemorate their strength and resolve, we always had something special to eat for dinner on Rosh Chodesh. Often, it was rice pudding and the story.

I have a warm image in my mind of my mother sitting at the dinner table in our kitchen on Satmar drive, her chair turned out to face the highchair. She began to tell and as she did, she fed pieces of chicken and potatoes to some baby–which of my siblings it was must have been of no consequence to me because I don’t remember. In that memory she puts the spoon in his mouth and tells the story in Yiddish: “There was a king that came to visit a town of not such smart people.” Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 14 2012

Sharing Family Stories–The Time is Now

By at 9:56 am

A few months ago I asked my grandparents to tell me some of their old stories. I can’t say exactly what made me think to ask, though knowing them has always been important to me. I’ve never seemed to have the time.

There was always some good reason not to call my grandmother or something more important than asking my grandfather what he remembered of his grandfather. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 17 2012

How Did My Great Grandmother Do It?

By at 9:58 am
rebecca and jacob bible

Rebecca and Jacob.

There is a poignant scene at the end of the Torah portion, Toldot. Rivka (Rebecca) has helped her son Yaakov (Jacob) steal the birthright from his older brother Esav by deceiving their blind father. Rivka sends her son to her family in a distant land, knowing that Esav will try to kill his brother.

I imagine Rivka kissing her beloved son and watching as he runs off in the distance. I wonder if she knew that she would never see him again. She must have wondered–how will it all work out?

In the Torah’s account, we never “see” Rebecca again–our last glimpse of her is as a bereft mother, watching her child escape a fate she orchestrated. Read the rest of this entry →

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