My Bubbe was a wise sage, Russian born, orphaned by the time she was nine months old, separated from three of her four siblings while she and a sister were raised by their wealthy/rabbi/merchant maternal zayde and bubbe.
She would tell me that she never brushed her own hair as the maids did after they drew her bath. She was one of the few girls in the 1910 era who was educated at the yeshiva.
Till the day she died in 1984, she could quote classical Russian literature, answer any current political question and do a Borsht Belt routine all while preparing the best gefilte fish, knishes and schdruddle you ever tasted! Oh yes, and in between, she became a U.S. citizen. This was her life while raising me and two younger brothers after our parents were killed in a car accident in 1962, and she had already lost a child on the boat coming over, and then another son in 1960 to heart disease. Oy vay!
But my Bubbe had a burning question her entire life:
WHY did G-d not allow Moses to get to the Promised Land?
Bubbe had great faith in G-d, our Jewish heritage and traditions, and, in unsaid words, we lived our lives by our Jewish teachings. For instance, you did not bring butter to the table to spread on your challah or matzah at a holiday dinner—on non-holidays, it was ok—you never dated non-Jews, you never let the goyim know your tsuris (troubles/problems). AND, you did not play sports on Shabbos or Hebrew School days!!!
My two jock brothers were natural athletes who played baseball, basketball and football and knew in their hearts, because we were huge Dodger fans, they wanted to play ball more than go to Saturday morning services. But having a Russian-born Bubbe who could barely pronounce baaaasssssebaaaal didn’t exactly get you to practice on time! And then there was the slight issue of growing up living across the street from the rabbi and rebbetzin, who after our parents died, took it upon themselves to play an important role in our lives, and never let an opportunity go by to say, “It’s Shabbos, G-d wants you to rest, not play baseball!” Like that goes far with a seven and fourteen year old!”
Being the oldest sibling and a girl, I’m the only one who remembers the loud Yiddish rants between Bubbe and the boys and since they barely understood what she was saying, they did go to practice and games on Hebrew School days and Shabbos! No one, not even Bubbe—who please note, that all of us would have done anything in the world for—or a shanda for the neighborhood (embarrassment) was going to keep them from the thrill of victory. One brother related that during his Bar Mitzvah service, when the congregation joined him in responsive reading, it threw him off and he lost his place—because he had not attended enough Saturday mornings to see the sequence of the Bar Mitzvah service, and didn’t know there was communal chanting! “Thank goodness for the little man davening on the pulpit who showed me my place!”
But Divine intervention, through the voice of G-d, loudly vibrated among our congregation with the agony of defeat, and taught us all a lesson, when the rabbi’s oldest son, who had begged his father for two years to be allowed to play high school football, was finally granted his dad’s permission. During the first Friday night game, while we were all in shul, his son was rushed to the hospital with a broken collar bone! Be assured all the boys in the congregation didn’t question G-d’s existence that Shabbos and the rabbi’s son spent his remaining high school years on the bench/pew!
And so as we pass the Torah from generation to generation during the Bar Mitzvah service, I now struggle watching my very jock grandson begin to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah next year, and realize There is Nothing New Under the Sun! His non-Jewish dad, who is gracious to allow the children to be Jews, does not get the Hebrew School vs sports dilemma. The team, the win, all come before just another day at religious school for there are other days to be Jewish.
As for me, the next generation of Bubbe, and being a Baby Boomer Bubbe, this is my burning question: How does this dilemma of understanding that sports will always be there and religious school is only for a short time, get settled while feeling there is a lesson here to be learned?
But as G-d responded to Moses about my Bubbe’s question:
“Let it suffice thee; do not continue to speak to me any more on this matter”……
I guess there are some questions that will forever go unanswered. And to the words of the wise sage of the 60s, John Lennon, “Let it be, let it be.”
Oy vay! What’s a Baby Boomer Bubbe to do?