Today is the yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, of blessed memory, mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is also the yahrtzeit of my bubbe, Zissel Reichel bas Akiva HaKohen. They both passed away on “Shabbat Shuvah” (the special Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), the 6th of Tishrei, albeit thirty-four years apart. Four days after Rebbetzin Chana’s passing, on Yom Kippur of the same year, my other grandmother, Perl bas Yehoshua Dovid also returned her soul to G-d. Every year I think about this congruence and wonder what lesson I can learn from it.
Bubbe Zissel was born in a small town in what’s now Ukraine. Although there were no Jewish schools for girls and her parents struggled to feed their family, they scraped together the money to pay a knowledgeable woman to teach their daughters Torah. This treasure stayed with my grandmother her entire life. She’d often quote our Sages: “If you want to eat on Shabbos you have to prepare on erev Shabbos!” Bubbe looked at every situation with a good eye, even taking the jingle of a popular radio commercial, “Don’t get mad, get glad,” as a slogan for life. By example, Bubbe taught me to be careful with possessions, with time, and with words. Once, a woman Bubbe hadn’t seen for a year stopped by to say hello. The last time they’d met, she had been pregnant but now she didn’t have a baby with her -- Bubbe noticed and refrained from commenting. When Bubbe later found out that the baby had not survived, she repeatedly said how happy she was that her silence had spare the woman sorrow and pain.
|Bubbe and Zayde at their 60th Wedding Anniversary|
My grandmother Perl was born to a religious family in turn-of-the-century Philadelphia. At a time when many American Jews were leaving Judaism, her parents strove to give their children a Jewish upbringing, even if it meant walking 20 blocks in the winter to pray at the Hungarian shul. Among the few pieces still remaining from my grandmother’s artwork, is a small painting of her family observing Sukkos. The greenery roof and brick floor frame her parents, sisters, and herself sitting inside (I do wonder about her brothers, who are not shown.) Although orphaned as a young woman, Perl carried on these lessons from home and made sure to do all that a Jewish woman should.
So, what is the connection to Rebbetzin Schneerson?
In spite of my bubbe and grandmother’s religious childhoods, in spite of the sacrifices their parents made, they were not successful, for whatever reasons, in transmitting all this to their children. In the short gap that existed between my great-grandparents and my parents, so much was lost. But the self-sacrifice of my great-grandparents was not. The seeds they planted did grow – just not in their lifetimes.
Instead, it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbetzin Chana’s son, who coaxed these seeds to sprout and then blossom. Rebbetzin Chana’s deep devotion to Jews and Judaism flowered in full-force in her son, the Rebbe, who endeavored to gather every precious Jewish child and grandchild and bring them back to their rightful heritage. And in so doing, Rebbetzin Chana became the bubbe of hundreds of thousands, across the world. May her merit continue to protect and inspire us.
And so, over the next four days I will be observing the yahrtzeits of three of my grandmothers . . .