Yosef Merves
Forging New Perspectives on Jewish Identity

Reflections on My Grandmother’s 100th Birthday

My grandmother and I on her 96th birthday

This Shabbat would have been my maternal grandmother’s 100th birthday, made much more powerful because I will be spending it in the condo where she called home for 30 years, and where I last saw her before she passed away at the age of 96 in July 2016. I am planning a Zoom call with my family on Sunday, the first time I will be seeing my aunts since I talked with them on Skype on the day of my grandmother’s funeral.  She was the matriarch of the family, so it is very appropriate she is the reason we assemble this weekend, as she held the family together for many years.

Even though she is no longer with us physically, she is certainly still with us spiritually and emotionally, as current events trigger memories of previous shared experiences with her. My mother and I have been taking many trips down memory lane in the past couple of months, and photos of my grandparents are present in every room. My grandfather always called her, “Little Girl,” as my grandmother was only 5 feet tall. She really loved her family, loved seeing us, loved feeding us.  She especially loved watching us eat at her dining room table.  Her kindness and compassion were her defining values.  She had an extremely sweet demeanor and never knowingly criticized anyone or had a negative word to say. She got along with everybody and loved seeing babies and puppies when walking down the street.

My grandmother did not live an easy life. She was born into a poor family in a Hungarian village and emigrated to the United States at the age of 14, not knowing English, to live with her aunt and uncle, and help them in their home and their dry goods store. She married my grandfather in 1944, after all but one of her siblings were killed in the Holocaust.  She merited to be married for 66 years and raise four children with her boundless love and energy.  I knew her as a grandmother puttering around from store to store for grocery shopping and other errands.

Judaism was also a defining characteristic of her life. She kept a kosher home and davened at home when my grandfather went to shul for minyan, and she went to shul every Shabbat.  I was lucky to have Pesach seders with her for many years, and spend other Shabbats and Yom Tovim with her.  The main catalyst for my growth in learning was because I wanted to build upon the foundation my grandparents had given me, to transfer their legacy to future generations in a meaningful way to make a lasting impact. She did everything with love, steadfast in her routines and rituals.  She always had a lot of Emunah, and I wish I could ask her now how she maintained such bitachon and Emunah for so many years. I never knew which part of Judaism was her favorite, what she connected to the most, although I always enjoyed watching her lighting candles. She has definitely lit a spiritual flame inside of me because being closer to Hashem brings me closer to her as well. I will strive to use the love she gave me and the example she set to guide me through my next stages of life, and will always remember her wide smile when I came to visit her. As she always said to us, I say back to her, “I sure love you!!”

About the Author
Born and raised in a Modern Orthodox/Conservadox home in Miami, FL, Yosef first started to increase his Jewish knowledge while learning at Boston University. Afterward, he lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side for several years and was an active member of several shuls, including Manhattan Jewish Experience where he completed the Fellowship program. He spent the last two years studying full-time at Machon Shlomo in Har Nof, Jerusalem and now resides in New Jersey. He always had a strong Jewish identity and wants to encourage others to build and strengthen theirs as well.
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