My Really Great-Grandmother


In SKA Art Academy, my teacher Mrs. Suzy Libin is always motivating us to draw what we love and what inspires us. I’m so thankful to her for all that she’s helped me accomplish over the years. This is actually one of my favorite pieces. It is yet another drawing of my beautiful great-grandmother who I’m fortunate enough to have a relationship with, one which I cherish every day. Every conversation with my Bubby Susi leaves me amazed. When I showed her this portrait that I made of her she was speechless. All she could say was “Do I really have that many wrinkles?” (Of course I answered her explaining how, you know, the assignment was to draw a very wrinkled person but since she didn’t have enough wrinkles, I had to add a few more.)

To this day, whenever I bring up the picture she still insists that that’s not how she looks. “I was young too once,” she tells me. “That’s not me. When I look in the mirror, I’ll tell you something, I don’t recognize myself.” I find it incredible that despite my Bubby’s age and all that she’s been through, she can still feel as though she’s younger than ever. She is able to remember every detail of stories that happened to her from when she was just a little girl, and I always love listening to them, gaining more and more each time.

My Bubby grew up in Vienna, and before Hitler rose to power, her parents sent her to America to live by her aunt in Pittsburg. She was only sixteen years old when she got on that boat, accompanied by no family besides a cousin who was not much older than she was. After staying with her aunt for a while, my Bubby and her two cousins set out to New York to find a place to live and jobs to support themselves until their parents were able to come join them.

Every single time she tells the next part of her story, she can’t help but start to cry. There she was, a teenage girl who was used to having everything handed to her on a silver platter, now so far away from her family in a different country, forced to try and make it on her own. She had to go out and try to make some money while living in a cold apartment. She often went to sleep hungry at night. She was faced with so many hardships that the average teenager these days wouldn’t even be able to imagine them, but her Emunah in HaShem was unbelievable.

While many other Jews compromised their Shabbos observance to keep their jobs, my Bubby courageously stuck to what she knew was more important than any amount of money in the world, and that was her faithful relationship with G-d. She describes to me how she would go to a job interview and everything would go great until they told her she must show up on Friday nights and Saturdays for work. Right away she would tell them, “I’m sorry, but no, I will not come to work those days because I’m an observer of Shabbos.” She would usually get a response such as, “All the Jews I know work on Shabbos, so you could too. When you’ll be hungry on Shabbos, then you can come to work for me.” She didn’t care though. She would simply walk away and go look for another job that allowed her to keep Shabbos, even if that meant she would be getting paid less than half of the original amount.

It’s hard to believe how such a young girl could have so much self sacrifice for her religion in such hard times, and this story pulls at something deep inside of me. It makes me question what I’m giving up for Shabbos, or really for any mitzvah, for that matter.

If someone could be lacking so much in his/her life and still be willing to give up everything to keep Shabbos, (even if that meant having an empty Shabbos table) then how can I, a girl the same age as she was who has everything I can ever imagine, not at least try to appreciate and give up things in my own life for Shabbos and mitzvot?

Also, why is it that only when we aren’t allowed to practice our religion freely do we all of a sudden get ready to risk our lives for G-d, but as soon as we receive the gift of freedom and wealth, we throw it away almost willingly? Why can’t we be more ready to risk our lives for a mitzvah even in good times like today?

I may not know the answers to these questions, but what I do know is that I’m so lucky to have my Bubby who was able to ingrain the immeasurable value of Torah deep within me. Because of her, I know that whether in good times or bad times, what’s truly important above all is to stick to your values and never forget who you are.