I can hear the Russian accents shrayening Yiddish barbs at one another, “You draykop!” “You’re such a shmendrick!” “Of course the goyim don’t understand!” This is the normal conversation and banter from Bubbe and Pa’s friends as they play Pinochle, a favorite card game among American Jews, brought over by German immigrants.
I see a sugar cube picked up, a bite taken and then a glass filled with hot water or tea is sipped, Bubbe’s honey cake and schdruddle noshed on…
Sitting on Bubbe’s lap at the big dining room table—or was it that I was so small at three or four years old—I saw a gathering of 10-12 former Russians from a now extinct town called Zlotopol, formerly in the Ukraine, near Kiev. They all escaped during the Bolshevik Revolution only meeting each other once they settled in Los Angeles. This group of oyslenders, foreigners, formed a club called the “Zlotopol Aid Society” to raise funds to help other landsmen better their lives. Once a year they held a fancy fund-raising dinner dance with all proceeds going to a variety of Los Angeles organizations, including the United Jewish Appeal, Youth Aliyah, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Jewish Home for the Aged, Hebrew Free Loan, Salvation Army, Red Cross and others.
From my Bubbe’s souvenir copy (that I have) of the 34th Anniversary Dinner of the Zlotopol Aid Society, December, 1956, I quote the greeting from President of the organization, “As we gather together for the most auspicious occasion of our year’s activities for our Beloved Zlotopol Aid society, our hearts are full to overflowing with accomplishments we have achieved throughout the years of our existence. In service and prestige throughout the City, we have attained prominence among other great organizations which are doing great work for humanity. We can take justifiable pride, never hesitating in our efforts on behalf of helping humanity in distress. To all my close friends and members, ‘You have aided a noble cause.’ May we go forward to our future years in service to humanity.”
I can still hear my grandparents say this man’s name, “CharlieGoldstein” but of course it came out “SharrrrlyGoldshteeeein!” They loved this man!
As I sat with these unique, iconic people, watched and listened, I had no idea that some 65+ years later the impact these gatherings would have on me, especially since I now realize this continuing scene is one of my very first childhood memories plus these voices and accents were of a dying breed.
I can still hear the voice in my head of Mr. Shore, the butcher, the Communist, whose screaming tone always scared me every Friday morning when he’d deliver Bubbe’s fresh chickens, liver and fish for Shabbat dinner and holler out, “Eins, tsvey, dray, fir, finf!” “(one, two, three, four, five”—counting back her change) as I hid behind Bubbe, worried he was after me because what little Yiddish and English I gathered, he was always mad and angry at someone! He remained a Communist till the day he died, even though he had a thriving capitalistic business! He never talked, only yelled, demeaning America while praising Mother Russia. Years later I often wondered why Mr. Shore never went back to Russia but thinking all those delivered kashered chickens had something to do with him staying!
It was as though he thought just staying was just to PASS OVER Los Angeles until, until what? That maybe Mother Russia would invite him back? But he died and was buried in Los Angeles along with his other landsmen from the Zlotopol Aid Society.
To this day I don’t know Mr. Shore’s first name because even after decades of him being her butcher, Bubbe only called him Mr. Shore.
And as I PASS OVER all those years and reminisce of my family’s Jewish roots I do so because I am approaching that BIG-into-another-zone-of-a-birthday and realize I am older than Bubbe and Pa and their Zlotopol friends were when I sat on Bubbe’s lap. How could I be older than Mr. Shore???
My kids, bless them, have planned a few birthday events. Last weekend Marni, Randy and Joree hosted an elegant luncheon for my Northern California friends, a few ladies who I have shared close relationships with, some really great times and some really difficult times, but whose friendships have supported all the good and the bad we all have experienced. They are meaningful people in my life and I treasure my relationship with each of them. Joree hosted while she and Randy cooked the most incredible gourmet meal you could ever imagine! Marni is always there to lend her support as she helps her siblings cook! Caramelized onions, slice of apple with goat cheese on fabulous sour dough! OMG! Homemade sweet potato fries with a slice of duck! My mouth waters remembering the taste! Plus many more yummy dishes and desserts to die for! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! It was a beautiful and memorable afternoon!
Coming up over Mother’s Day weekend, the kids have organized ALL my Northern California and Southern California family and family-friends, about 40+, to gather in Newport Beach for a day-long birthday celebration over-looking the Pacific Ocean at a barbeque that will also commemorate the turning of 70 for about 6 others I love and cherish! I am so blessed with such special people in my life! Then the kids, grandkids and I are off to Disneyland for a couple of days! Can’t wait for all the fun!
So almost daily I PASS OVER the memories, great ones and awful ones that create the pieces of my puzzle, my life. I have always believed in fate, that your life is pre-ordained and yet we have choice within the random chaos of this life. I believe in hard work, a plan, reinventing oneself, priority, balance, success, love: but the more I live I learn that all of the above does not always get you what you want or strive for, as the world had other plans: “Have a plan and watch G-d laugh!”
So as I prepare for our Passover Seder and my birthday, only days apart, the only wisdom I can glean is to always have a Plan B, your success is not the end result but how you go about achieving it and who and what you PASS OVER with grace and love on the journey called life.
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’re a messenger from the Most High.
I am burdened by my experiences
And displaced because of my decisions
Which has forever altered my journey.
But I am not G-d
And can only let serendipity lead me.
As a Baby Boomer Bubbe who still feels 18 but has four grand kids to prove this is the 21 Century, Sandra writes to leave a legacy for the next generations. Her belief that these precious kids need to know their cultural and family’s past in order for them to live their future is all the muse she needs!
She has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and Cross Cultural studies, has written a family history, personal memoir and is completing her first novel.
Her grandmother’s journey to America and life is her source for her deep belief and love for Judaism.