Thursday, December 31, 2009

More Food for Thought from Grandma Toby a"h

In a previous blog, I mentioned the biggest delight for my Grandma growing up in Russia. It was a little slice of an orange her Dad would bring home on extremely rare occasions.

The other day, I related this memory to my kids. “Yuck!” commented my five year old.

My seven year old daughter (notorious for her inexorable sweet tooth) had this to say: “Well, if it was only once a year, couldn’t he have at least brought home a clementine instead?”

That was it, I thought to myself. I’m going to teach my kids that even in today’s modern age of designer junk food, they could still enjoy the simple fruit my Grandma enjoyed when she was their age ninety years ago! So I went out to the supermarket and bought the most delicious-looking navel oranges (sorry Mom, they weren’t organic).

So we started snacking on oranges.

Now, the kids started calling them “Grandma Toby treats.” When ever anyone is hungry for an orange, they ask for a “Grandma Toby treat.” (Everyone, that is, except my five year old. He still calls it “Yuck!”)

* * *

On a serious note, I would like to mention one of my Grandma’s oft-repeated sayings.

It was quote from the Prophet Isaiah. She’d say it every so often, when ever she complained that we weren’t calling or visiting enough.

“Bonim romamti v’gidalti, v’haym poshu bee.”

The prophet echoed G-d’s complaint about His People. “Children I have raised and exalted, yet they have rebelled against Me.”

We always read that verse in the Haftorah of Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbos preceding Tisha b’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple (and look forward to its rebuilding with the coming of Moshiach).

My Grandma’s quote implied a bit of a departure from the literal meaning. “Poshu” (rebelled) in Mishnaic Hebrew can also mean “neglected.”

So basically, Grandma was complaining that her kids were neglecting her.

How ironic that my Grandma would cite that verse. In recent years, as Grandma aged, her children were so responsible in caring for her. Especially her son, my uncle Randy, who cared for her with love and devotion until her final hours, and even after her passing.

But come to think of it, she never said it with bitterness. Maybe she meant it in jest. Maybe it was just a nudge to get us to visit more often. Or maybe she really felt neglected. Who knows?

Anyway, what I found cool in all of this is the fact that she chose a verse from TaNaCh to express her dissatisfaction.

She probably learned to do that from her father. It’s a typical scholarly thing to do in the Yeshiva world, i.e. to quote an appropriate verse or word from Scriptures to express a sentiment or to relate to a situation, especially when there’s a non-literal twist to it.

Sometimes she was a bit over the top. Like the time she insisted that “Pierre” comes from the Hebrew word of “L’hit-paer,” or that “cholent” is from “Chalons,” France (hey, maybe she was right about that one).

Reflecting about it years later, it seemed pretty cool to me that my Grandma had such a good knowledge of Hebrew and TaNaCh.

And that’s one thing sorely lacking today – Jewish literacy.

OK, enough blogging. Time for some Torah study (and an orange).

1 comment:

  1. wonderful thoughts cousin Michoel...I too have been realizing recently how much Grandma Toby loved the Hebrew language and how she would use her knowledge to translate words and find deeper meanings and connections- even the funny ones....which made her so endearing.

    I wanted to share a tag to your memory of the orange story. I think she said they were imported from south america, and so very expensive. She would take the orange that her father gave her, and go out into the neighborhood to meet her friends, who would gather around her in a circle to view this special delicacy.

    Grandma said that her friends would watch and wait in excited anticipation as she peeled her orange, and then she would give each friend one slice and they would savor it. She said that even though she wanted to eat the whole orange for herself, the one slice tasted sweeter for sharing the whole. They each ate their one slice slowly and appreciated it!

    I tell this story to Noah all the time, and I hope your children will find another special meaning in Grandma's treat...