LETTERS FROM THE PAST
We are so worried about our families and friends and all who are suffering during these very dark days. As we pray for the State of Israel, and all the innocent people caught in the terror, I think of my maternal grandmother, Bubba Sheindel – Sarah Ainbinder Singerman – whom I used to visit in Peabody, Massachusetts until her death in 1977. Bubba Sheindel, an observant Jew, sat with her prayer book throughout the day when she wasn’t cooking or cleaning or shopping or tending to her grandchildren. She and Zaida raised their six children adhering to the laws of Abraham. She was strong-minded but kind. Several of her grandchildren married out of our faith and although she wasn’t happy about it, she learned to love and accept what she couldn’t change. Imagine that.
Only one of her six children is still living, her youngest daughter, Essa, will be 90 years old next year. Aunt Essa lives in Jerusalem and I’m thinking about her, and her 2 beautiful and strong Sabra daughters, Natalie, and Tania and their three remarkable children. The oldest, Aya, 18 has left home to fight Hamas with the IDF. I hold them in my thoughts as I write.
My Bubba kept old photos in the top drawer of the mahogany chest in her dining room. When I was a child and we visited 4 Elm Street in Peabody, I used to open the drawer, inhaling the scent of old black and white photographs and grab handfuls of these precious snapshots of my mother and her siblings. I would climb up to sit on my mother’s lap as she told me stories of her handsome uncles, Hymie and Solly and her brother, the youngest, the golden boy, Chaim. My mother’s sisters were smart and beautiful. I have many photos of her parents and grandparents and all my cousins. We are a large family of strong women.
My mother, the 2nd oldest of six, grew up, left home, and joined the war effort after graduating from college, like many in the greatest generation. She was a constant correspondent, and while away she sent newsy letters to her family. The letters sent to her oldest sister, Rebecca, contained extra details of her meetings my father and how their relationship progressed until they were married. It was in these letters that the details were shared when they were stationed on the same army base – at Perrin Field in Sherman, Texas.
Aunt Rebecca hid these letters from my grandmother, who wouldn’t have approved of my Orthodox mother dating my father, a reform Jew from Chicago’s South side. Rebecca always wrote back, but the letters documenting her side of the 2-year long correspondence haven’t survived. Rebecca placed the letters she received from Bert in a box in the attic where they remained for half a century. After Rebecca and then my mother passed away, Rebecca’s youngest daughter, my cousin Essa, discovered the box of wartime letters, and she sent them to me. It was clear that some letters were missing, but we could still fill in the blanks. Essa and I shared our joy and surprise and the feeling that our beloved forebears were communicating to us from the great beyond.
My mother had created her own stationary, and at the top of each letter in all caps she had typed, “DIRT from BERT,” documenting her life during the war, and her love story with my father. Over the years I’ve read and reread those letters. Recently I took them out of safe storage to read them again. I wanted to “hear” my mother’s voice, remember her sarcasm and humor, and conjure up the circumstances of my parents’ wedding in July, 1945.
The world as we know it is a technological wonder. We are fortunate to have email and the ability to easily preserve and revisit our communications. But holding real letters in my mother’s handwriting is a special gift. I also have my mother’s handwritten recipes that I come back to all the time. They make me feel close to her and I can hear her speaking to me when I’m in the kitchen cooking.
Reach out to tell your loved ones about yourself – on paper. And save your old photos and mementos. You will be leaving a precious gift and legacy to your descendants.
Together let’s pray for the future of Israel.