My grandmother is a special woman. Behind her she has almost a century of world history fraught with wars, repressions, a totalitarian regime, separation of families, the abrupt ending of an entire world of European Jewish culture and community, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the mass emigration of Russian Jewry.
I grew up with her, and her stories have become vivid in my mind's eye, as though I lived them myself. The innocent pre-WWII world, a houseful of children, baking days and washing days, the smell of home-baked Challah, tales of potato candy told in such detail that they make my mouth water to this day even though I never tasted it, ominous rumours, the scattering of families, emigration to the Soviet Union, marriage (no silly things like wedding rings or a honeymoon), a train to No Place somewhere in Siberia, poverty, cold, hunger, walking through a winter forest with an axe as a weapon and a bottle of life-giving milk for the baby held close to one's heart, to keep it from freezing.
Raising a family, gardening, fresh fruit and vegetables in season, sewing, knitting, crocheting, living a life that was humble but honest, a lifetime, a whole world encompassed in just one person. It is good to tell the same stories again and again, so that they are remembered.
There were people in our family who perished tragically and senselessly, like millions of other Jews in the Second World War. Perhaps those branches were cut off the tree, but the tree lives on. And by hearing stories about them, and perhaps trying to do something in the way I was told they used to do, I am doing my little bit to make them, in a way, come alive again.
I did not have a garden growing up, but I heard of it, and thus began my passion, for many years hidden, to live a simpler life closer to nature, and interact with plants, animals and seasons. Perhaps my heart was first touched by what was no more, but something new in me stirred.
Now my grandmother, while still here, is slipping away as it sometimes, unfortunately, happens to old people, and her world is slipping away as well. I retell some of the things I heard from her, trying to make them come alive as they did for me when I first heard them myself. I tell my children that while she could, she held them, and she loved them very much.
That is probably the ultimate purpose of our earthly work: to hold and love each other as much as we can.
We blunder, we make mistakes, we hurt each other. But I want to believe that ultimately things will come right if we wake up every morning with the resolution to hold and love and comfort each other in the limited time we have.