“What a wonderful contribution our grandmothers and grandfathers can make if they will share some of their rich experiences and their testimonies with their children and grandchildren.” (Vaughn J. Featherstone)
Do you agree with Billy Crystal (“700 Sundays”): “Open your family photo albums. Let's face it, we all have the same five relatives. They just jump from album to album”? Crystal's Grandpa Julius would ask him, “Billy, you're nine years old. What are you going to do with your life? You should know.” When I was your age...I was nine years old. And I wasn't living in America. I was living in Austria in the village of (two coughs and a fart), and my parents wanted me to have a better goddamn future so they put me on the boat alone at nine years old. The SS Rotterdam. I came to America. I landed at Ellis Island. I got myself a pushcart, and I would push it up the street...So I said to myself after a month of doing this, “Schmuck, put something in it. You're pushing an empty cart.”
In a recent Vanity Fair poll, respondents were asked multiple questions about truth and lies. They found that Americans are far more likely to forgive Bill Clinton than the “gonif,” Bernie Madoff.
Listen to these statistics:
If they [respondents] could sit down with their parents and hear the truth (“der emes”) about their entire lives, a third of Americans would want to know “altsding” (everything). One in four would choose to hear MORE, but not everything. Three out of ten feel they KNEW ENOUGH (“genug”) already and eight percent said they wish they knew LESS (“veyniker”/ “vintsiker”)...file under too much information.
Knowing your family's history is “vikhtik” (important), and it is tempting to want to know more, but beware of the old adage, “be careful of what you wish for....you might get it.”
Joel Siegel (“Lessons For Dylan”) wrote this letter to his son while he was being treated for colon cancer. (He shared many things with Dylan-- JUST IN CASE he wouldn't live long enough for his young son to get to know him.) Siegel died in 2007 at the age of 63.
I have a memory of standing on a bench in a small room off the kitchen at my bubbie's house, my mother's mother. Had I come from classier stock, they would have called the room the pantry. But we come from hearty peasant stock, and we called it the service porch.
That was where my bubbie and zaideh (my grandfather) kept their phone. One phone. For the whole house. Oh, the hardships we endured back when I was your age. And it was a heavy phone, made of metal, too big for me to lift, with a rotary dial there was no way my little-boy fingers could turn. Not that anyone in my family would let me try. A toll call cost five cents a minute. “Who do you think you are, Rockefeller's eynikl (grandchild)?”
Another letter dealt with Yiddish:
I know you'll never speak Yiddish, but you already know more Yiddish than you think. Pupik, Tushie, Keppeleh, Kitzel, Shaneh Punim. (Siegel then put together a list of Yiddish words and phrases and sayings that he wants his son to learn.)
Sara Duke a psychologist who has worked with more than 3,500 children, ranging across most of Atlanta's private schools and all of its public schools, did a study of children with learning disabilities. She noticed something about her students. “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.” She and Dr. Robyn Fivush, developed a measure called the “Do you know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.
Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up?
Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?
Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush reached this “sof” (conclusion): “The more
children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of
control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more
successfully they believed their families functioned.”
(Source: “How Much Do You Know About Your Family's History? by Shannon Doyne, The Learning Network, 3/18/13)
Edie Jarolim wanted to look into the history of her mother's family. She discovered a Jewish heritage she never knew she had. She put on her genealogy hat and looked up the name “Tarnow” on JewishGen.org. There she found the town listed on the ShtelLinks page. Her family was from a shtetl. This term means “small town” in Yiddish. She said it conjures up “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Yentl,” Marc Chagall's floating brides, and other schmaltzy images that she was brought up to dislike.
Talk to your grandchildren about “bankes” (cupping), a charlotte russe, Mike Meyers (who used to say on “Saturday Night Live”), you get “all feklempt,” and the Borscht Belt. Use the term “kishkila”--a Fran Drescher term for someone who really enjoys their food. Discuss the “goldena medena” and the Jews who settled in ghetto-like clusters--primarily in the old tenements on the lower East Side of Manhattan, where they could share and retain their old ways. Share the stories about the importance of owning a sewing machine--and the pushcart entrepreneurs and peddlers who went door-to-door selling goods. Talk about the old Jack Benny radio show with its character named “Mr. Kitzel.” Do it NOW!
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