Faigie Heiman
Sixty plus years in Jerusalem

The Zaida’s Wife

It’s 41 years since that special day. I had soaked a bag of chickpeas Thursday night, certain that my daughter would give birth before Shabbat. I had no idea (neither did she), if it would be a girl or a boy, if a “Sholom Zachor” would take place Friday night or not. I had prepared for some 20 guests for Friday night dinner, Sheva Brachot for a niece who had been married earlier that week. So even if my daughter delivered a girl, I could still cook the softened chickpeas Friday morning, and we could still celebrate on Friday night at the family table, noshing on chickpeas with the chatan and kallah.

Uri, our first grandson, son of our eldest daughter and son-in-law, made his debut early Friday morning, Rosh Chodesh Elul. Turning grandma at age 41 was the kind of joy I wasn’t fully prepared for. I still considered myself a young mother, and I needed a little more time to bask in the blessing of the upgraded status of grandparent.

My husband at age 46 was better primed for his new role. A recent email that I received with humorous quotes about aging included one that made me laugh. “Grandchildren don’t make a man feel old, it’s the knowledge that he’s married to a grandmother that does.” That quote reminded me of the new roles we were graced with 41 years ago. At the time, I needed a title. Something other than “Grandma,” or “Savta,” or “Baba.” So, I introduced myself as “the Zaida’s wife!”

I loved being the Zaida’s wife for all the years the Zaida was at my side.

Grandparenthood is a busy mid-life phase.  I remember my grandmothers’ spending hours in the kitchen, cooking and baking and serving all their offspring. It was always a full house, with all the chairs around my grandfather’s table occupied. News from overseas, from Israel, was major table talk. A letter from a distant relative who needed sustenance for his children had my grandfather organizing twice yearly campaigns, raising funds for families in Israel. And his personal dream was to merit Eretz Yisrael in his lifetime.

My grandfather’s dream was realized in 1961, a year after we made aliyah, 30 days after my grandmother passed away on Hoshana Raba. Our large family in America was reduced by three, as we, and then my grandfather, emigrated to Israel. My parents followed three years later, my mother feeling guilty, believing it was her duty to look after her father, and not her children’s responsibility. The birth of our daughter and son upgraded our status in Israel to a small, four-generation family.

Children and grandchildren are a blessing, especially when we have the time to pause, to look back and reminisce, and then enjoy the moment, the opportunity to spend quality time with multiple generations. Grandchildren are allowed what was forbidden to their parents. I observe my daughters and daughters-in-law, busy with their grandchildren, their homes filled with toys and books and games, the kind that they never had. Picking up grandchildren from gan, babysitting, cooking and baking for their extended families, and still making time for “mother” — the link in a long chain, connected to the past, enjoying the present, perceiving the future.

My eldest granddaughter, Chanie, born on the 22nd of Elul, (my father’s yortzeit) upped our status to “great-grandparents.” My arm was hung in a sling at the brit and pidyon haben (having fractured my shoulder in a fall), signaling I was no longer a helpful young grandmother, yet I was grateful for having come a long way from a struggling start.

Elul, the month of repentance, month of remembrance, the yom zikaron for my father, a”h. Elul also holds joy-filled memories of weddings, births, and bar mitzvot of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, one of whom is our eldest grandson Uri’s youngest daughter, Nili, born one year ago on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Elul.

Nili is an acronym for the Hebrew phrase, “netzach Yisrael lo yishaker”  (1 Samuel 15:29) and translates as “the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or relent.”

This is a popular expression for the eternity of Am Yisrael, voicing hope for redemption and the victory of our nation over its enemies. As newlyweds in Israel sixty-three years ago, we never imagined how Israel as a small undeveloped country would miraculously develop into a superpower; how naming a child would express hope for the future.

Without family or friends, our life here in 1960 was not always a happy time. It was a struggle. Learning to embrace life in a foreign country, learning to speak the language, and learning to connect to a greatly reduced material lifestyle required the power of love. As I have grown from mother to grandmother to great-grandmother; from “Zaida’s wife” to “Ama,” I’ve been blessed with the wisdom of age, and express my gratitude for “ureh banim l’vanecha” – meriting generations of beautiful descendants, at home, in G-d’s country, Israel.

About the Author
Faigie Heiman is a frequent contributor of essays and short stories to Jewish newspapers and magazines, and author of a popular memoir, Girl For Sale. Born in Brooklyn, she made Aliya in 1960 with her husband and together raised a three-generation family in Jerusalem spanning six historical decades.
Related Topics
Related Posts