By Linda Wisch-Davidsohn
This week you are celebrating one of the most significant events in your life as a young Jewish woman — your bat mitzvah. On Monday, you shared the moments with your Akiba classmates, eight cousins, your parents, relatives, rabbis and teachers. You followed the path of hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions of young women who affirmed their faith in this way. How lucky you are to be free — to publicly declare your love, dedication and commitment to HaShem. I know that you are aware that there are Jews in other countries who worship secretly — or not at all. Your mom has truly embraced the phrase l’dor v’ dor — from generation to generation by providing you and Jessie with a Jewish day school education.
Less than 50 years ago, when I was your age, young girls were often denied this privilege. As women, we fought hard for the right to chant our prayers, to affirm our faith and become dedicated Jews. In my family of origin, only your great-aunt, Sharon, was permitted to achieve this important rite of passage — not because Bubbe, z”l, and Poppy, z’l, didn’t want their daughters to do it, but because the old traditions did not allow it. I attended Hebrew school at the Orthodox shul in Fort Worth with the hopes of working toward that goal. However, we had no Jewish day schools or access to a day-long dual program that offered the richness of Yiddishkeit and Judaism that Akiba, Levine and Torah Day School provide.
I know that you take this as seriously as you do everything in your life. You are a responsible, caring and devoted daughter to your mom and dad. You are an amazing big sister to Jessie. Sure, I know that sometimes being the oldest is a rough card to draw, but you learn to deal with “the best” of oldest children everywhere. You are a wonderful cousin to all of your Dallas cousins. And, need I say what a remarkable and loving granddaughter you are — and what compassion and love you showered on your great-grandparents. You have true beauty — inside and out. You know that Bubbe held a special place in heart for you. You gave her tremendous comfort every time you chose to be with her and spend the night, perhaps giving up time with your friends. You made her days happy ones.
You were born on May 29, 2001. Springtime is a busy time for our clan. We have a plethora of birthdays to celebrate in March and May. I have to say that the progeny speaks for itself. I clearly remember the day you were born. I was managing an OB-GYN practice when I received the call that your entry into the world was imminent. I told my physicians that I had to leave, and called Uncle Ethan to give him the news. We went to the former Richardson Medical Center (now Methodist Hospital Richardson) and entered the waiting room. Every chair was taken by a member of our family and extended family. Your Aunt Jordana was there with Rosie, 2, and Zachary, who is just 6 weeks older than you. You and Zach have been inseparable ever since, and are best friends. Your dad came out of the delivery suite to tell us all that you had arrived. You were a beautiful, good-natured baby, and I know that it was love at first sight for your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Poppy passed away in January of 2002. By the time you were born, he had mellowed and enjoyed the new grandchildren and great-grandchildren, often cuddling you all and making his famous chicken noises. Carly Simon was right when she said “Nobody Does it Better.” I’ve yet to see a chicken who could squawk like my dad.
Bubbe returned to the TJP immediately after Poppy’s death. She made up her mind to keep the paper going and get it out on time with the help of Aunt Sharon, your mom and Uncle Reuben. She set an amazing example of strength for all of us — honoring a commitment to our readers and knowing that by taking those actions, she was making it easier for all of us and setting a good example. There was a huge void when Poppy passed away, but Bubbe carried on the family traditions that my siblings and I grew up with, as well as those that your mom, Uncle Reuben, Aunt Jordana and Uncle Ethan enjoyed while growing up. Todd came to live with Bubbe shortly after Poppy died, which made it easier for her to visit Dallas more often — something she always wanted to do — so much so that in the last years of her life she bought a home here so she could be close to everyone — and once again, her home was filled with joy, laughter, an open door, a ton of food, lots of company and a host of new grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Your paternal great-grandmother, Omi, is a strong woman as well. She and her family fled Germany during the Holocaust and moved to La Paz, Bolivia, and then to Lima, Peru. She had to learn a new language and new customs. Following the death of your great-grandfather, Rudi, she immigrated to the United States, settled in Los Angeles for a short time, and then moved with her family to Houston. Once again, she learned a new language, and made new friends, initially working as an apartment manager and sewing for others. Before too long, she managed the Jewish National Fund office in Houston for many years until her retirement. Now 94, she is still driving, exercising and playing cards. She is a courageous woman — a silly little thing such as driving in the rain or a flash flood never stopped her. And, she certainly is known for her apfel kuchen, to our family and to other close friends.
I don’t know what your mom has told you about your great-grandmothers — my Nana, Betty Fine Wisch, who came to this country from Russia when she was two, and my Grandma, Gertrude Radin of Boston, who came from Meritz, Lithuania when she was a teenager. They were both widowed at early ages — my Nana when Poppy was two, and my Grandma, when your Bubbe was seven years old. Life changed drastically for both of them, as they became sole breadwinners for their families. Grandma Radin was Orthodox, Sabbath observant and kept a Kosher home. She spoke mostly Yiddish, and a bissel English. I made yearly trips to Boston as a young girl to see her, and she would come to Fort Worth every year to buy piece goods which she would then resell to clients in other areas of Boston. She had a difficult life, and missed my mother always. She thought that Texas was a wilderness, too far away from Bubbe’s Boston roots and family. Nana sold real estate in New York, and it is said that she began developing Long Island before anyone was buying property there. She rarely took “no” for an answer — and could sell igloos to Eskimos or the Brooklyn Bridge back to New York. She did not have an easy time either. The Depression hit, and she suffered severe financial reverses. At times the family was hungry; however, Nana persevered. She worked hard and started over. She moved to Fort Worth in the 1940s with my Uncle Chet, and Poppy soon followed. When Poppy and Bubbe started the TJP, she was the star saleswoman until her nineties. She had a fabulous sense of humor, was full of life, and an amazing cook. She loved her sons, but her grandchildren and great-grandchildren were the loves of her life.
I am remembering your mom’s bat mitzvah, and wondering if you will chant the same parashah this Friday and Saturday. Her bat mitzvah was 30 years ago — and I still remember the pride I felt as she captured the moment and accepted her responsibility as a young Jewish woman. I also remember how much Bubbe was involved in the events of the weekend. She was “Martha Stewart” before Martha was Martha. There is one instance that stands out clearly in my mind. Bubbe came to Dallas the Thursday prior to the festive weekend. It was unusual for that to happen, since there are always deadlines to deal with in the newspaper business. She and I stayed up working on details until the wee hours of the morning. I had a new Joan Rivers’ tape (cassette) and played it. The house was totally quiet. Everyone was sleeping except the two of us. We listened to the tape and laughed until we cried. It was a special moment — one of the many that I cherish.
Shea, I admire you and love you so much. You are not only a wonderful ballerina, but also an outstanding athlete. Your dad had you on the soccer field at the age of three. You are a hustler on the basketball court, and also love playing volleyball. What I love especially is your kindness, sensitivity, gentle demeanor and your compassion for others.
On Friday night and Saturday morning, you will look out at the congregation, and accept the charge of responsibility that Rabbi Cohen will give you. I feel so honored to be a part of your simcha, and to watch your transition into that special place. I know that your mitzvah project is making friendship bracelets that you will distribute to area children’s hospitals. I asked your Mom about your project, and she stated that “Shea has multiple projects, since she constantly performs mitzvot.”
Shea, you are so lucky to have an incredibly large family that loves and adores you. Your legacy from your great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers is one of strength, tenacity, courage and pride; it is a lesson that the women in the families worked hard to make better lives for their children and do so independently — as a result of circumstances, that although difficult, ultimately led to their success and survival. My wish for you is happiness, joy, and good health and that you continue to walk the clear path that you have charted for yourself. Although some of our loved ones are no longer with us, take comfort in the fact that they will be watching from above and beaming with pride at all of your accomplishments.
With love, Mimi