From Budapest to Auschwitz to Chassidic Valentines in Brooklyn- Tribute to my Maternal Grandmother Ima Bubbe

From Budapest to Auschwitz to Chassidic Valentines in Brooklyn – Tribute to my Maternal Grandmother Ima Bubbe

February 1926 – December 2018 #RIP 


My maternal grandmother, fondly referred to as Ima Bubbe, was born in Hungary before WWII. Although her birthday was February 10, we enjoyed humoring her with birthday presents on Valentine’s Day. Growing up in NYC, my family did not celebrate American legal or secular holidays. Valentine’s Day was a mere convenience, where we were able to find nice red and pink items on sale the day after. For many years, we all pranked my grandmother with new red underwear, because they were on sale, and hilarious to all of us. She always giggled heartily, but appreciated the 8-pack! 

Ima was a survivor. She outlived three husbands (Weiss, Oberlander, then Moskowitz). She spent most of her life walking on 3 bullets embedded in her feet at Auschwitz. She hobbled and wore special shoes on a large wedge. It looked like toddler booties with a wide front. She resisted a cane, and resisted a wheelchair. She always put a smile on first, and never allowed anyone to see her without her dentures, or without her wig. Lipstick and clip-on earrings were her friend. She smelled of Bengay and goulash, with a hint of Dollar-Store musk perfume, which made me cough.

Ima and I had a special relationship. I was the obnoxious relentless trouble maker, but also a wiseass. I learned quickly all matters that were of interest to me. Languages being one of them, I was the only grandchild to learn Hungarian by listening. How I made her laugh with my Hungarian wisecracks! The song  סְאָל אָ קָאקָאש מַאר as well as Mókuska, Mókuska, a children’s song about a squirrel, were my specialties. My mother, her siblings, and all the grandchildren, had a very specific job around Ima. We were required to help her by massaging her feet, knees, and shoulders. I was the only grandchild that she preferred, and called me גאלדענע הענטעלאך, העניקא פּעניקא! “goldene hentelech, Hennyka Pennyka,” translated to “Golden Hands, Henny Penny.” To date, my hands betray me due to dyspraxia, a neurological motor movement disorder. But my intuition and empathy allows me to provide comfort in ways that surpass the person’s capacity to indicate or request it. My grandmother recognized my gifts for energetic intuiting. She appreciated my wit, and humor. She liked my spunk and creativity, and she loved my style.

When she was dying in the hospital last year, my family forbade me from visiting. I was in New York at the time, and they threatened me in all kinds of ways. I begged to be on speaker phone, at minimum, just to sing for her in Hungarian one last time. The response was mainly, “no, it’s going to kill her!” She died the next day, almost 93 years old. I cannot forgive that she took my family’s position about my divorce, after herself having suffered a lifetime of abuse and oppression, and denied me 10 years of family time. 

I can work on forgiveness if there is more communication about her story. But I have been withheld all of her life details that my family did not want us to know, such as the secular lifestyle that she had in the first 10 years after WWII living in Hungary with her husband Imre Weiss. Even the circumstance of his sudden death, rendering my grandmother a widow with 3 children under the age of 6, was a family ‘mystery’ and blamed on “sick from the war”. She simply never shared photos of him. I found some of those photographs. There were no wigs, beards, yarmulkes, etc. My grandmother looked sexy, happy, and encouraged by how her life was rebuilding after the holocaust. 

Today, I reflect on the positive memories. The times that she shared freely with me how she whipped out all her magical Hungarian dishes. I am the grandchild who holds those magical memories and skillsets directly passed onto me with love. I am the grandchild that cries softly when an 8-pk of red panties are on sale today in the store. I am the woman who has her stamina, her humor, and her creativity. Together with my pragmatic/logical, non-love paternal lineage, I have become an unbreakable warrior, inoculated against trauma. There is nothing left that will break me or scare me into irrational coping. How wonderful that I can see my face in my grandmother’s, and remember that I have so much left to aspire to. RIP Ima Bubbe, on your 94th birthday.

Is it OCD or Autistic Perseveration? Setting the Record Straight

People are very quick to assign labels to behaviors. When an autistic person insists on correcting your grammar, it may feel like they are shaming you. When an autistic person insists that you have taken the wrong road to get to the ice cream store, you may feel like they are calling you stupid. Knowing the source of these expressions helps the bystander coexist with the autistic person. For autistics, knowing that the world is becoming less hostile and safer for them to express their thoughts, is necessary for healthy identity.

Negative perceptions of the self are formed when people tell you to stop. Stop talking. Stop lecturing. Stop flapping. Stop covering your ears. Stop reciting pi. Stop, stop, stop. These are weapons used by neurotypicals to enforce societal norms by oppressing the autistic way of being. When the autistic persists, they call it a mental illness. They must label it because any other explanation is inconceivable.

We are told that we are rude. We are annoying. We persistently set the record straight. We should not correct others. We should not tell them that the plural of syllabus is syllabi. We should simply sit with all that information and hold it in. Like a sneeze that is threatened to exist. If you hold your nostrils, maybe it won’t escape. If you stuff your mouth with a sock and also hold your nostrils, there is a chance that you can bring on just the exact amount of internalized oppression to make this sneeze implode inside.

When you do sneeze anything, you are perceived as a social misfits. Bloggers call us fussy brats. Authors refer to us as having ADD/ADHD because we live in the tangent of our own creations, to the exclusion of the input of those around us. Being referred to as annoying, uncaring of the input of others, or persistently insisting on our ways of being, takes a toll on the mental health of the autistic person.


How OCD is different from Autism

OCD is an obsessive compulsion to repeat a task, or to be involved with a matter.  It becomes a disorder when the person is unable to withhold from completing the task. The lead-up to the task (checking the stove, locking the door) is rife with a pre-sneeze panic. It must come out. You must sneeze. Involuntary functions are aroused rather than paralyzed. It simply bursts forth like the sneeze that popped after you smelled a bunch of lillies. The person becomes more and more anxious as they repeat the task.  Trying to ignore or stop your obsessions increases your distress and anxiety, and despite efforts to ignore the urges, they keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior, and the vicious cycle of OCD.

Autistic people operate with a radically different neurological setup. The structural anatomy of autistic brains are nearly indistinguishable from typical brains. However, the neurons fire up and move through pathways that result in a dramatically different worldview. A person with synesthesia is not mentally ill if they hear a number as a color. They are not having hallucinations, but rather, experiencing a multisensory perception to a single stimulus. These perceptions are very exciting for autistic people, and quite pleasing. The autistic person is happier the more they engage in their perseverations. The person who has OCD becomes more anxious as they try to resolve their compulsions.

Engaging in the party in my head is my choice. I maintain the right to speak of the unicorns and the cats dressed in tuxedos. I maintain the right to recite pi until my pet gecko’s stares at me judgingly. You are looking at my happy place as the primary source of annoyance to you. It is not an obsessive compulsion to annoy you. I am simply enjoying the happiness that exists within my personal and private consciousness reality. When I am kind enough to share and hope to bring you into my party, you fail to grasp it. You don’t see the beautiful patterns, the philosophical ponderings, the way the undiscovered colors dazzle my mind. You are struggling, and that is okay. But please don’t put the burden onto me for carrying your challenges.