Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Grandmothers (May They Merit a Long Life)

This post is dedicated to two wonderful grandmothers, E and Y. E was born in 1923 in Moscow, Russia. Her grandparents were observant Jews who lived in a small shtetl outside Moscow. She'd spend her summers with them. They tried teaching her the Jewish way of life, but her Moscow friends held a bigger influence on her, and while she never ignored her grandparents, the secular life of the Russian capital held more allure than the simple, old lifestyle of Pale Jews.

E's granparents survived the Holocaust when the Nazis occupied the Ukraine and much of Western Russia in 1941. They happened to be visiting Moscow the day the SS arrived in their town. The Nazis forced all the shtetl's citizens into the local synagogue and proceded to burn it down. May the blood of the righteous victims of the Holocaust be avenged and may their souls merit an eternal resting place Above.

My grandma's father, Avraham, was a very talented engineer. Following the war, Stalin sent him along with some of the country's brightest engineers to learn the secrets of the trade outside the USSR. Avraham went to London. He took my grandma, then a girl of 7-8 along with him.

They stayed in England for a few years. These were the formidable years of my grandma's life. She made quick friends in school, adjusted to the British way of life, and learned English to such a degree that when her father was recalled back to Russia (his boss defected to England and Avraham received a stern scolding from his superiors. He also had trouble finding a job after this episode.), she finished the Moscow Languages College and went on to teach in the prestigious #1 school in Moscow (in Russia, schools are known by their number which is given according to the presinct the school is found in).

With time, my grandma's English became impeccable. She read so much that it was unheard of for her to make any kinds of mistakes, whether in her written or spoken English. She helped write and publish two textbooks. I believe these are still used by Russian schools. Still, my grandma was Jewish and this prevented her from being accepted to teach at a Soviet university. She instructed the children of State heads, and KGB leaders, who'd go on to take central roles in the Soviet government. My grandma has some very interesting stories to tell about her former students and their families.

Grandma met grandpa after he'd escaped the Siege of Leningrad which claimed several million lives. He was on the verge of starvation when they met. She nurtured him back to health and, soon afterward, they got married. Theirs is a story of true love and commitment. We recently celebrated their 60th anniversary!

Grandma E lives in Chicago, on the 17th floor of an apartment building not far from downtown. She's my best friend and has been there for me literally every step of the way, from when I was born, till now. We make sure to talk at least a few times a week. We stay in touch via e-mail and Skype (!)

My grandma from my mother's side has had a very difficult life. She was born in 1910 (she recently turned 92!), in Ismail, Ukraine, a seaport Russia captured from Turkey I believe in the Crimea Campaign.

She got engaged early, but her fiance, whom she adored, was killed fighting in the war. She also lost her dear brother, whom I'm named after, and who was only 18 at the time of the war. Needless to say, the war changed her life dramatically.

Nevertheless, my grandma, Y got married to my grandfather (whom I never had the privilege of meeting) and had two kids: my mom and my uncle. Grandpa, who'd fought valiantly as a navy captain, and had received numerous eccalades for his heroism, drowned in a swimming accident shortly after the Allies' victory. She was left with two small children and almost no money.

Granmda made ends meet by cooking pastries and sewing. My uncle brought in the rest of the income. He was only 17 when grandpa passed away, but managed to get accepted to a top math university (all the top Soviet universities had quotas for Jews), and earn money tutoring math and chess (he had the choice of becomming either a professional mathematician or professional chess player as he excelled in both).

Grandma never did remarry, even though she had plenty of suitors. The loss of grandpa (Z"L) was extremely devastating for her. She's always keeps his picture by her side on her bedroom table. Mom says yortzheit for grandpa every Yom Kippur. She's been doing this since we came to America even though she never had any religious upbringing.

Such is the nature of my family. These are truly holy people who have been touched by tragedy but have always continued doing their best to welcome strangers to their homes and give large amounts of money to charity. They love Israel with all their hearts and support her struggle for peace.

This is more or less the story of my two amazing grandmothers, a story uncommon even amongst the Russian-Jewish community. May my grandmas, E and Y merit a long life full of happiness, good deeds, charity and lovingkindness. May they merit the coming of Mashiach ben David and the Redemption.

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