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.

Putting on the Bar-Mitzvah Tallit: Autism and Motor Skills (VIDEO)

putting-on-the-bar-mitzvah-tallit-autism-and-motor-skills-time-0_00_3422Autistic kids preparing for their Bar-Mitzvah are at a distinct advantage. Their musical ear will make memorizing their Torah portion a breeze. Their love for languages will guarantee that the drash
will be read with expression and drama. Lastly, their extensive support team from childhood will be rooting for them, making their big day a very important rite of passage and into adulthood.

When purchasing a tallit, it is important that the B’nei Mitzvah’s sensory preferences are a
lready known. Does he prefer soft velvety fabrics or is he aversive to them? Does he prefer woven linens to chenille and velvet? He should be given as much time as he needs to test by wearing the actual styles and make sure he can tolerat
e the textures on his neck. After all, he will be wearing it for two hours on the big day, as well as for the rest of his life during prayers. Perhaps he prefers that you wash and dry it many times so it isn’t very crispy on the big day. Ask, and discuss.

Donning the tallit independently and with dignity is very important. Nobody wants to stand up there looking like a confident young man with a beautiful suit and tie, dressed to the nines, and suddenly have mama adjust the tallit on for him. Imagine the public embarrassment anyone would feel—“Ma, stop!”

Other than the grueling and frustrating rote memorization of gross and fine motor skill tasks, motor planning disorders (such as dyspraxia) require a neurological alternate route for successful execution of the task at hand. The following is a strategy that worked for my student:

  1. putting-on-the-bar-mitzvah-tallit-autism-and-motor-skills-time-0_01_1706Grandpa (or whoever) holds the tallit, with the words facing you, so you can read them.
  2. Begin reading the blessing.  You’ve got this. You’ve been practicing for so long!
  3. Right Hand reaches for the word  “Batzitzit”
  4. Left Hand reaches for the word “Baruch”
  5. With your “Batzitzit” hand (Right Hand), put “Batzitizit” over your head.
  6. Gloat as it falls into place.
  7. Wiggle the tallit to make sure it doesn’t hang like a toilet paper tail. Don’t look at it. Try to feel it.


IMPORTANT: Do not practice in front of a mirror. It confuses the motor system that tries to imitate a reversed image. Rather, practice by reading from this chart.  If the tallit does not have words on it, imagine where the words would be and reach for it when grabbing the corners. If it is your family custom to kiss the tallit, ask your family where and when to do so and revise your chart accordingly.