Yiddish in my Soul


I met her when she was eighty-five. She was Jewish. I was a Wasp and quickly adopted Husband’s Grandma Sylvia as my own. Well, no adopting was necessary. Grandma Sylvia grandmothered me with no nonsense advice before and after the wedding and once the kids came. Grandma Sylvia always cut to the chase in a conversation and I found it refreshing.


Her Yiddish phrases became entwined in the fabric of our household. Husband sprinkled them throughout conversation, always with a story attributed to Grandma Sylvia. Yiddish, it turns out, is perfectly suited for young kids.


“I’m going to tickle your pupik (bellybutton).”


“Cover your tokhes (bottom)!”


“Stop it, my little meshugener (crazy lady).” For better or worse, I have turned this into a term of endearment for Daughter when she’s acting out.


Grandma Sylvia would arrive for a visit having packed and transported mandel bread, stuffed cabbage, and brownies. Even after her fingers struggled at the effort; she baked for us, knitted pale pink Afghan sweaters and bonnets for Daughter and a patchwork sweater for Son. She sent me brisket recipes for Passover and over time I inherited a comfort with Jewish customs – and a certain sensibility.


She’d call weekly (when she was physically able) and listen with interest to the goings on in our lives. She always understood the nature of kids and her advice netted out to the following:


Kids are smart. Treat them like people. Don’t fuss over them or the situation.


She’s right, of course. But it takes a grandmother to remind you what’s what from her well-earned perch.


Yesterday, Grandma Sylvia passed away at age ninety-three. She, more than anyone, helped me traverse the tricky steps across two cultures in a marriage. Not by any such direct counsel. But by simply being who she was: my Jewish Grandma.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.