Grandma Bluma

I wonder if the pub that now stands in place of my grandma's home can ever match the taste of her wine.

grandma back 88 248 (photo credit: The Jerusalem Post Archives)
grandma back 88 248
(photo credit: The Jerusalem Post Archives)
My grandma Bluma lived just a stone's throw from the Yarkon, the only river in Israel that runs through a city. It is not as grand as the Hudson, the Seine or the Thames. But in those early days of little Tel Aviv, it was grand enough for children to swim in, to row or play in the bushes on the shore. And for young couples to court at night. There was no boardwalk. The name Bluma means "flower" in Yiddish, but she was also known as "Moshkova," which in Polish means "wife of Moishe," a name given to her by her Gentile neighbors in Biale-Podlovska, the small village where she was born. This was the name that stuck to her when she moved to Palestine with her husband and children in the l930s. Grandma Bluma lived alone in a one-room flat, part of a modest, white structure that looked like a poor cousin of the imposing Bauhaus apartment buildings that were just beginning to rise in Tel Aviv. Later, as the city grew, it became known as the White City. As such, it is now one of the world's architectural monuments protected by UNESCO. But I remember my grandma in that one room cluttered with big European furniture. She was tall and thin, with penetrating blue eyes and rather sharp features. Her wheat-colored hair was knotted into a bun and also covered with a colorful kerchief. She was an Orthodox woman, and never stepped out without covering her head. She possessed another large kerchief designed for just one purpose: to carry gifts to her numerous grandchildren. I used to eagerly await Grandma Bluma's weekly visits, her knotted kerchief dangling in her hand. She would sit erect, opening the knots carefully, while gazing furtively at my mother, her daughter-in-law, for approval. Out of the kerchief would appear cheap multi-colored candies and, as a real surprise, delicious homemade cookies. Even today, I am unable to solve the puzzle of how she baked those cookies, or how, for that matter, she managed to cook at all in that kitchen of hers, which was no more than an alcove created by the steps in the hall above. The ceiling was a head shorter than Grandma Bluma's - the space had just room enough for a sink with a cold water tap, and a board with a kerosene cooker on it. Grandma Bluma was not only an excellent cook and baker under great handicaps, but she was also a talented winemaker. I have no idea how she pressed the grapes, but in the bottom of her closet there were rows of bottles waiting to be distributed among her family. Some of my friends who knew of the secret treasure urged me to take them along on my visits to Bluma. It wasn't simple to get to the wine: first, we had to close the door to the balcony, then move the table and chairs that blocked the closet door, until at last she would dig out a bottle and place it gently on the table, then pour the liquid into the only two goblets she had brought from the old country. I wonder if the pub that now stands in place of my grandma's home can ever match the taste of her wine. How did we converse with grandma, when we only spoke Hebrew and she only Yiddish? I don't really remember, but I'm grateful for the Yiddish I learned through her, unlike many other Israeli children. I acquired the taste of this unique language, with its softness, empathy, humor, humanity and warmth - all qualities that Grandma Bluma possessed in large measure. I remember well the afternoons she spent in our house with my mother, without ever getting into any argument. Or her wise and considerate attitude toward her children: she steadfastly refused to accept any help or money from them well into her 80s. She insisted on earning her living by babysitting. At 90, she still refused to become a burden on her children, instead checking into an uncomfortable old age home. This was after my husband, who was working for a welfare organization in Jerusalem at the time, had tried to find her a place in one of Malben's spanking-new modern facilities, which the American Joint Distribution Committee operated for aged immigrants at the time. But he was unsuccessful: Grandma Bluma was not a new immigrant, and therefore not eligible. I visited her one morning soon after she moved to her new home and found her quite sick and frail. We were alone in the room. This was the first time I had come face to face with a dying person, and I was lost for words. She came to my rescue, asking me to hold her hand. This was rather strange, as she was not one for tenderness. The warmth of that hand was the only caress I ever remember her bestowing on me. Then she whispered in Yiddish: "Brachale, zei a zoi ziss, un' bring mir a glezele tayale for de veg." (Bracha'le, be so sweet and bring me a cup of tea for the way.) She died the next day.Â