May 25, 2024
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Grandparents and Grandchildren

It is well known that the month of Cheshvan is devoid of any official holidays (thank God for Shabbos!). But to me and my siblings, Cheshvan marks the yahrtzeits of my father’s mother (16 Cheshvan) and my mother’s father (27 Cheshvan).

The late comedian Sam Levenson once quipped that grandparents and grandchildren get along so well because they share a common enemy. Indeed, grandparents and grandchildren seem to live in a fantasy world in regards to each other. Grandparents cannot seem to find any fault in their grandchildren, and grandchildren see their grandparents as divine ethereal figures.

A friend of mine once remarked that whenever his mother comes over to visit his home and his children excitedly line up to greet her, he chuckles to himself, and holds himself back from telling his children that, “that is not the same woman I grew up with.” It is incredible to see how the most dignified and regal people interact with their grandchildren. Even the parents who never believed in spoiling may suddenly change their belief system. [Just ask my children’s grandparents, B”H.]

As mentioned, this week marked the yahrtzeit of my father’s mother, Mrs. Minnie Staum. To her grandchildren she was affectionately known as “Savta Minnie.” Since my first cousins were quite a few years older than myself and my siblings and had children of their own, their children referred to our grandmother (their great-grandmother) as “Savta Minnie,” and their grandmother (my aunt) as “Savta Chaya.” However, in my naïveté, I did not realize that Minnie was my grandmother’s name. I was under the impression that “Savta Minnie” was the generic Hebrew name for grandmother.

I believe I was in sixth grade before I found out the truth in a most embarrassing way. One Sunday, a classmate asked me what I was planning to do that afternoon. I replied that my family was going to the city to visit my Savta Minnie. He looked at me quizzically, “Your what?” I very seriously replied, “You have a Savta Minnie too. Maybe you call her ‘Bubby’ or ‘Grandma,’ but in Hebrew she’s called ‘Savta Minnie.’” Needless to say, I learned something new that day, and my classmate had a good laugh.

It is now more than fifteen years since Savta Minnie’s passing. But the memories are ever so vivid: The smell of lamb chops when we would visit, the omnipresent bottle of ginger ale in her fridge, the walnuts in the brown bowl with the nutcracker hanging out of it, and the smell and look of her apartment on the fifth floor on the Lower East Side.

I personally do not have the best memory. But it is uncanny how I remember so many details from the Shabbosos I spent with my Saba and Savta, going to the shteeble with my Saba, the zemiros at the table, the grapefruit as their perpetual entrée, Saba’s special egg salad, reading Scuffy in Saba’s bed, etc.

As all those memories swirled this week, it gave me reason to pause and introspect: Will I be able to create such beautiful memories for my grandchildren, God willing? Will they remember me the way I remember my grandparents?

I guess I still have a lot of work to do.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as guidance counselor and fifth grade rebbe in ASHAR, and principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He is also a division head at Camp Dora Golding for boys. For speaking engagements he can be reached at: [email protected]. His website is: www.stamtorah.info.

By Rabbi Dani Staum

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