Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5760 - June 21, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Grandchildren Near and Far

by M. Steinberg

More than sixty years have passed since my father's family flew in fear from Germany as war approached. His sister made it to Zurich, a brother to Tel Aviv and another brother to far-off Melbourne. My father was already established in America when his parents finally came to live with us. For all the years of my childhood, my grandparents shared our home.

Letters used to arrive in those days in the form of a flimsy pale blue aerogram. My grandmother would begin crying at the sight of one of those envelopes. She would carefully open it, painstakingly unfolding and steaming the part under the glue, because sometimes there would be a word or two written there and she didn't want to miss a single precious one.

Her three far-away children married during those difficult years without her help or presence. They established homes and began their families. In addition to the aerogrammes, an occasional black and white photograph would arrive. These were of sufficient importance to call a family gathering of any cousins and friends from the old country to come and see.

And I, in my childish envy, would think, "What's the big deal? She doesn't go all ga-ga over every picture of me!"

And as she sat and read those pale blue letters over and over again with big tears rolling down her wrinkled cheeks, she would exclaim over and repeat all the adorable feats of those distant grandchildren as if they were the brightest, most accomplished youngsters on Earth.

Little me would think, "Am I not as adorable, talented and studious as they? Why doesn't she cry over my test papers and drawings?"


Today, I'm the Bubbie of the family, and my children and grandchildren are scattered around the country, with one, temporarily, I hope, in America. From those who live at some distance, I receive lovely photos of children all clean and polished and looking like they never hit a sister or dribble ice pops all over the floor. Some pictures are not posed, but impromptu snapshots of children wearing Abba's shoes or licking the chocolate cake bowl with glee. The tears spring into these eyes as soon as I spot an envelope with foreign stamps, especially a fat one that might have photos inside.

E-mail has replaced the fluttery blue air letters and a scanner recently sent me a photo of my children attending a dinner thousands of miles away. Imagine, a color picture flying to me in seconds, virtually instantly. My grandmother had to wait weeks for a boat to plow through the Indian, the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans and maybe the Suez Canal to get to see her grandchildren. One could do a whole geography lesson on the globe, tracing my grandmother's mail. But whether it's weeks or seconds, when a Bubbie gets contacted by her family, the waterworks get turned on.

Now my local children complain, as I did, that I'm more impressed with the goings on of the more distant grandchildren than with the ones close by. I know, now, that this is not the case. The closer they are, the more you feel that they are truly an extension of your own family, of you. You put up with their tempers and colic, their sniffles and fevers, their not-so-nice behavior (only on rare occasions) towards each other. You see their notebooks and art projects and make them birthday parties. Sometimes they show brilliant insight in their learning. They might even get lice. All this and more you would never know, feel, experience with a far- away grandchild.

I have started a wall of pictures in my bedroom, trying to give some sort of equal time to all the families. It's a hodge-podge of wedding pictures, formal family protraits and kids in Purim costumes. It is my attempt to show a physical manifestation of caring for all at the same level. Probably, it will not convince anyone of anything.

But at least, I now understand my grandmother and forgive her for her alleged favoritism. It wasn't that at all. The tears we shed are indeed tears of nachas, but they are mixed with the sad knowledge of all that we are missing.


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