My hero is my Bubbe. Rose Ruchel Zupnik/Anne Hinka Glebmen Glabman. She had many names because her life took her on a journey where she had to phase into new personas. The interesting fact is that I don’t think she realized the changes she was forced to make, she just did them and all for the sake of her family and loved ones.
How many times in your life could you deal with monumental change?”The only constant in life is change.”
It’s come to my attention that when we share stories of our family’s past we often don’t hear “what I learned from my experiences” from our parent’s or grandparent’s generation, it’s just the facts and the chronological series of events. We may sense not to push the envelope in getting them to go back in time, as it might be too upsetting. But I also think that if we take into account that several generations ago, psychology was not part of our daily dialogue, so people did not give much thought about “what did I learn”
Do you ever ask yourself, “What did I learn from this experience and what can I benefit from it?”
Life back then was cut and dry, factual, and much more about survival, dodging the bad guys who were forcing people from their homes and towns, finding safe shelter and enough food to feed their loved ones. Once to safety, it was a new kind of survival, shelter and work. So many people worked at jobs they hated but had mouths to feed, lives to support, so there wasn’t time to think, just get by day-to-day. Psychology was in its infancy and probably only understood by the intellects who weren’t in the same survival mode.
Have you worked in a profession for the sake of financial security, hating to get up every morning knowing you had to do that job?
I was fortunate to have many conversations with my Bubbe about her past and the stories that molded her but they were just the facts, for getting emotion from her during those storytelling times, even though she was a very expressive and emotional person, wasn’t easy, in spite of the fact that you always knew where she stood on a situation. She was beyond strong and wise, loving and giving, kind to a fault, smart as a whip and funny as hell! Nothing got passed her.
She taught me that all mothers have eyes in back of their heads. If you took one pickle out of the pickle jar, she knew, and from across the house she’d shray, “Vhat are you eating? It’s too close to dinner!” She wouldn’t let the butcher give her a day-old chicken—“I vant to hear the minyan still going on for this bird you call a chicken!”—nor let the vegetable man pawn week-old potatoes and onions on her—“Shmeggegge, you think I got off the boat yesterday!” Shopping on Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles, with Bubbe was not pretty. When she went into a shop, I waited out on the sidewalk.
Did your parents or grandparents ever embarrass you for just being who they were?
As I listened to Bubbe’s stories, I have to say that I realized much time had passed for her and I believe it’s possible that some events may have gotten lost in time. My Bubbe, who never drove a car and as a passenger awaiting her destination, had no sense of traveling time so time never figured into her concept in storytelling. When I’d ask how long a situation took, she looked at me with her hands flaying in the air, shaking her head, and shraying, “Vhat do I know how long it took or how many miles I valked! I didn’t have a vatch! I just went!”
Orphaned before she was nine months old, Bubbe and her four older siblings were divided up among their maternal and fraternal grandparents in the Ukraine. She and her sister, Eve, were fortunate to live with their fraternal Bubbe and Zadye who lived in a big mansion in a town, Zlotopol, which no longer exists today, outside of Kiev. Zadye was a rabbi and a merchant and Bubbe recalled living in luxury in a big corner mansion with maids who brushed her long red hair and drew her bath. Others served lavish meals on beautiful linens in silver and china and gardeners tended the estate’s lawns and expansive landscape.
She and Eve attended the gymnasium, learned literature, the arts, math and science, a highly unusual lifestyle for Jewish women in Russia in the early 1900s. When Bubbe was in her 60s she studied and became a US citizen and you could always discuss current events, political issues and learn all about the Russian writers, artists and czars. We were all mesmerized by her knowledge and stories.
Have you ever thought about how intelligent your elders were, what were their views of the world, religion, art, music, politics?
The older I get, and as I watch my children and grandchildren grow, the more I want to know where we all came from. Well, I know the where, I really mean the who. Which child is like which relative? What traits come from whom? Who is wise like Bubbe, who has her cooking talents, which one of us has her unbelievable strengths?
I also grapple with the idea if family experiences are repeated and cycles of events just seem to be streamed from one generation to another, good or bad, and traits from one person to another flow through the blood of those who are related. Is this coincidence or are our stories repeated so many times that we unconsciously fulfill expectations from the past? Do we cling to those stories as gospel, or have they lost truth in the many tellings or do we find that situations have been lived out again and then marvel at, “OMG, that happened to Uncle Moishe too!”
My Mother was a great dancer and Broadway musical fanatic and show tunes ran continuously in our house and I can still sing songs from Oklahoma, Carousal and My Fair Lady while having no idea what I had for breakfast this morning! Recently my son produced an Off-Broadway musical! Oy, if only my Mother could have been there in New York to see the marquee and kvell like I did on opening night! I have to believe the Broadway musical genes came from my Mother and sang their way right to my son!
My Father was a writer, painter and musician. Music has always been important in the lives of my two brothers and their kids, me and my kids and now I see my grandkids playing instruments, dancing and involved in musical theater. My brothers and I have always had a way with words like my Dad, and my kids are involved in writing projects, with one about to have a book published! My three granddaughters love dancing and creating art, especially one who at age seven painted a series of female figures that are framed and hang in my home. I have to assume the creative genes artistically danced their way to all of us!
As I have examined my family history, threads of a theme have jumped out at me and I have to find a way to be at peace with some of the stories and hope and pray they don’t continually repeat. I am speaking of the heart breaking stories, for I come from a family that has had its share of sadness. I know I am not alone, for all of us, especially as Jews, share stories of our ancestors and the tragedies of survival they have suffered.
After the Bolsheviks burned down Zayde’s estate, her Bubbe convinced Eve and my Bubbe to run away, find refuge in other places and not suffer what was to come to their village. Why she thought it would be easier elsewhere, who can know what she was thinking, so Eve and my Bubbe both left, but not together, something Bubbe couldn’t explain and avoided talking about. She said she ran for days through the streets, hiding in burned out houses and buildings, sleeping in fields while dodging soldiers. Months before, she had met my Grandfather who came from a big family in another town so she fled to the Glebmen family. She never saw Eve again. She could not tell me how long this ordeal took.
Could you have lived through that experience at age 16? Can you envision your children or grandchildren having to go through such horror?
The Glebmen family took her in as one of their own, in fact, a daughter had recently died so Bubbe took on that child’s name, Anne, and identity, though she and my Grandfather eventually married. But Bubbe wouldn’t rest till she found out the fate of her grandparents and continued to make her way back looking for them. She finally found them in an old-folks home. She would visit them several times until one day a doctor approached her, “I am sorry to tell you that your grandparents died last night.” Without missing a beat she continued telling me the story by ranting how upset she was that as the beloved rabbi and rebbetzin, her grandparents, were buried in a corner of the Jewish cemetery.
I attended religious school for many years and knew WHY Jewish people are buried in the corner of the cemetery and when I stopped Bubbe in the middle of her only emotional outburst while telling me a story, I said, quietly, “Bubbe, when Jewish people are buried in the corner of the cemetery, it’s because they have committed suicide.”
DON’T ASK!! She almost bit my head off, “HOW COULD YOU SAY SUCH A THING? HE WAS THE RABBI! HE WOULD NEVER DO SUCH A THING!” We never spoke of it again. I realized she needed to live with her own story. I will say she had always told me her grandparents were not old but young and vibrant people. I have needed to think that they couldn’t live in the changed world, no estate or business opportunities left, no status, nowhere to go.
Would you not question how a loved one died?
My Grandfather had a rich uncle in Chicago who sent money for 20 family members to sail to America. As a married couple, my grandparents and the other 18 Glebmen relatives, walked to Warsaw where they unexpectedly lived for six months awaiting the travel money that hadn’t yet arrived. One day, while living with a Jewish family who took 10 of the Glebmens in and shared their two-room flat, Bubbe was cooking a soup with one onion when she heard a knock at the door. All alone, and with no traveling papers, she was scared. Slowly she unlocked the door and there stood the Chicago uncle who came to find his family! He marched to the post office and retrieved the missing money from the postal workers who had admitted they stole the money many months before. Finally the entire family trekked on to La Havre, France, to set sail for the United States.
Would you have traveled thousands of miles, on a ship, to a dangerous place to find your missing relatives?
When all 20 Glebmen family members were about to board ship, my Grandfather was detained after the physical exam only to be told he could not make the passage. There is family discrepancy if it was pink eye or athlete’s foot that kept him in France. My Bubbe insisted on staying behind with him but she was eight months pregnant and was convinced by the family the child should be born in America. So she left her husband and sailed without him and we all know the tales of the voyages the immigrants endured, A few days out of port, Bubbe went into labor and her child was born aboard ship. When they docked at Ellis Island she was taken to a hospital while her baby was taken to a different hospital. The baby died.
How many times have you heard your kids or grandkid yell, “Are we there yet?” Suddenly it takes on new meaning!
While the rest of the family went on to Chicago, Bubbe remained in the hospital for six weeks and then made the startling decision to sail back to France to be with her husband. My grandparents both told me, in separate conversations, that the next two years in Paris were the greatest times of their lives together. I’m not sure the decision to marry was from love but maybe of the turbulent times, as they never had much in common. My Grandfather was not educated, a hard working soul who allowed life’s tragedies to make him bitter and difficult. Bubbe had already learned, by her late teens, to do the best you could and “live for the living,” as she always told me.
I can’t even imagine the strength it took for her to sail back to France! Would you have made that decision?
My grandparent’s lives in America were not paved with gold. One of the first startling events was they learned the family name Glebmen got lost in the translation at Ellis Island and had become Glabman and the name Anne, was suddenly Yiddishized to Hinka. Finally in Chicago with the rest of the family by the mid 1920s, jobs were not easy to find, the war, the stock market crash—which, as one of its casualties, was the uncle who brought the family to the United States after he jumped from a building—and the Depression. A decision was made to follow some of the other family members to Los Angeles and now with three children, my grandparents made another move. Until he died in his late 70s, my Grandfather worked hard but was looked upon as a “jack-of-all-trades who succeeded at none” and yet he never stopped laboring to support his family. My Mother once told me, “We weren’t rich but always had a place to live, food to eat and decent clothes to wear.”
My father was orphaned by the time he was 12 and raised by his older siblings, who had moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles at about the same time my grandparents arrived. My parents met in junior high school in Boyle Heights, the very Jewish part of East Los Angeles and neither ever dated another once they met. My Bubbe treated my Father like one of her own along with his siblings, as the two families became one. It wasn’t until I was about 11 that I realized this huge family was two separate families that came together, loved and nurtured each other while my Bubbe was the matriarch and adored by everyone.
How my grandparents got through the remaining years of their lives is beyond me. In 1960, their second child died from the seventh heart by-pass operation in the United States. “The operation was a success but the patient had no will to live” is what the doctors told my family. My uncle was going through an awful divorce and his estranged wife never brought his kids to see him before the surgery, after saying she would for weeks and weeks. My family financially supported my uncle’s wife and children the entire time he was ill. Bubbe and my Mother never recovered from their loss and the situation was made worse when his wife took the children and we were never to see or have a relationship with them ever again. Bubbe told me she buried the children with her son and mourned the three of them for the rest of her life.
How do you live knowing you have two grandchildren who have been hidden from you?
Then in 1962, the unthinkable happened. My beloved parents and I had driven three San Diego AZA boys from our house to the LA bus depot for their return trip home when our car was hit by a drunk driver. My parents were killed instantly; I spent 17 days in the hospital, three months out of school.
I was orphaned at age 16; my brothers were 13 and 7. How could this happen yet another time in this family?
Words cannot define the devastation to my family and our community. Dozens and dozens of my parent’s friends from high school had moved from Boyle Heights to our close-knit Jewish neighborhood of Montebello, a thriving after-war area where I went to school as a second generation from people who had grown up together. My parents were the first to die at 38 years old. Over 700 attended their funeral and I was not one of them, as I was in the hospital with a concussion and a broken pelvis bone, minor injuries compared to the loss of my Mother and Father.
Can you imagine yourself lying in a street, your mother’s body touching you, while knowing both your parents are gone?
My poor grandparents. They lost three children in two years. My Bubbe couldn’t come to see me in the hospital, she was like a dead one herself, as everyone described to me.
But by the time I was released from the hospital and went home, the family decided my grandparents would move into our house to raise my brothers and me. Bubbe stood her five feet tall as she greeted me at the door, though I saw her wince when she saw my crutches and bruises, but she had all my favorite foods ready for me to eat. How she got up every morning to cook, clean and nurture me and my brothers is beyond any comprehension other than what she had always taught me, “You live for the living.” And that is how she lived out the rest of her life, A Women of Valor, always putting the three of us kids first, with all her love, wisdom and unselfish nature.
Can you put yourself on my crutches and feel what it was like walking into my house knowing my parents would never ever be there again?
None of us have ever been the same. I have high school friends who still relate stories of how they found out about the accident, the funeral, how their parents reacted. And almost everyone has a Bubbe story to share: how she invited them over to visit with me when I was out of school for all those months, how she always remembered their favorite food and had it sitting at our kitchen table waiting for them to enjoy, how she made hundreds of knishes to sell and raise money for our Temple so I could be crowned Queen Esther with bringing in the most money at our Purim Carnival!
Bubbe died of cancer after I had my three children so I am blessed they remember her and experienced her telling her stories. As she lay in her hospital bed for weeks before her death, she did not talk, communicate or look at any of us. That was so difficult to endure each day. I went to the hospital twice every day for her last two weeks and one day I was so exhausted that I told her I was not coming back that evening but would return in the morning.
I kissed her, told her how much I loved her and started to walk away when suddenly I heard, “I love you too, Sandala.” I turned around and for an instant I saw her eyes looking at me, she closed them, I touched her cheek and left.
Three hours later I got the call that she had passed away.
MY HERO—Anne Hinka Glabman—MY BUBBE…
Who is your hero and why? Does your family have dots to connect?
In 1958, Bubbe had a monumental surprise when she received a letter, written in Russian that I have had since translated, from her sister Eve! Through a Jewish organization, she located Bubbe! My Mother sent many packages, letters and pictures to Russia but as suddenly as the communication came, it ended! The Cold War began and we never heard from Eve again. It was a bittersweet surprise for Bubbe as she thought Eve was dead as Eve also thought her sister Rose was dead.
Only recently did I realize that my middle name, Eve, was given to me by Bubbe thinking her sister was deceased and how surprising for me to realize I was named after her sister who was still alive! I don’t know if Bubbe ever connected those dots!
Piece of the Puzzle
Everyone carries with them at least one and probably many pieces to someone else’s puzzle. Sometimes they know it. Sometimes they don’t.
And when you present your piece to another, whether you know it or not, whether they know it or not, you are a messenger from the Most High.
I am burdened by my experiences
And displaced because of my decisions
Which forever have altered my journey.
But I am not G-d
And can only let serendipity lead me.
For comments or to share a story, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org