Today I am reposting this piece I wrote 10 years ago, l’ilui nishmas my grandmother, Masha Riva bas Aharon Yosef haKohen. May her neshama have an aliyah.

I never met you. Forever a woman in sepia tones, dark eyes gazing soft-sharp from a face that may have smiled if smiling for photographs had been in fashion, you are a stranger to me. I wonder what you thought, what you felt, how you lived your life. I wonder what your voice sounded like, if you sang to yourself, if you constantly misplaced your keys. I wonder how your challos tasted and whether you would be the kind of grandmother who urged me to take just one more bite. Would you have bought me gifts? Visited me in the hospital when I gave birth? Offered to do my sewing? Would we have lived close by, or oceans apart?

I never met you. You gave me my father and then you were taken, never to see the glowing light of the next generation. Never to know the second tier, the branches, of your flimsily rooted tree. You missed my first tooth, my first step, my piano recitals, my broken arm. You missed my birthdays. All thirty-three of them. I never felt the caress of your hand on my hair. Would you have caressed me? Kissed me? Would you be like those grandmothers who love from afar? Who scold?

What were your aspirations? Did you have secret dreams? Did you fantasize, sometimes, about becoming a grandmother? Did you feel like you were too young to be that old? Did you ever lie awake at night imagining your son, my father, holding his own child, with you beside him, watching? I’ll never know.

I have no name for you. You are not Bubby or Savta or Oma to me because you never reached up to take a title. You are a lone photograph. You are a skeletal string of stories my father tells when he is asked. You are a memory to those who knew you long ago.

Would you have told us stories, about growing up in Europe, about your childhood? Would you be fashionable, or quaint? Plump or thin? Would you complain about your aches and pains or be vivacious and healthy? Would you be here now, to embrace my children, your third generation? Would you crochet blankets for them? Show me how to put them to sleep? From that picture, it’s hard to tell.

I never met you. That’s why, when I fumbled my way through the muddy paths of the cemetery, I hardly expected to feel your presence in the cold grayness. And when I came across your gravestone, I imagined I would stand, silent and respectful, yet distant. The stranger I am to the stranger you are to me.

So when the tears, thick as rain only warmer, came unbidden, I wondered.


I never met you. Why do I cry?

I think I know. I think I cry because I never met you. I cry because there are so many questions left unanswered. I cry because I grieve a loss I cannot even explain, a love I never tasted, a caress I never felt. I cry for you, plucked like an unripe fruit from a tree that went on to bear fruit that might have been yours to savor. I mourn you now, in this barren place where death and life mingle mysteriously, wading through a sea of emotion I never before glimpsed on the map of my heart.

When I finally bid you good-bye, I think I have discovered I am wrong. About your being a stranger, about your absence from the landscape of my life.

I never met you, but you gave me your name. And clearly, my soul knows yours.

February 11, 2021

OK, you did it. Tears are streaming down my face; I pause momentarily to get a tissue! I fantasize the your grandmother would love you so much and be so very proud of you and the beautiful family you have created. I believe that much of who she was IS reflected in you and that many of the wonderful things you do are (unknowingly) done in her honor. I believe that this beloved grandmother watches from heaven and glows with happiness knowing that she hats a special woman like you to carry her name.

February 11, 2021

Thanks, Mom. Now you have ME crying! 🙂 Love you so much! I am so lucky to have the best mother-in-law on the planet! XXOO

February 11, 2021

Oh, Riva. Your words could have come from my own lips, for my Bubbe, Fanny Honig. I keep a photo of her on my desk,. She is flanked by my father and his brother as young boys.She seems to never take her eyes away from me. So many stories untold that I hunger for. Questions, like yours, never to be answered. I do know she would have loved me infinitely, tenderly, fiercely. I miss her even though I never met her. Thank you , dear Riva, for finding me.

February 11, 2021

My dear Fran, I am so enriched by having you in my life. My grandmother is the one who united us and our story is so special that it gives me the shivers each time I think about it. I love what you wrote about your own grandmother Fanny. We share a special soul connection, you and I! Much love always.

February 11, 2021

I should have anticipated the unexpected when I chose to read your article this morning. I have long appreciated your talent and was looking forward to savoring your legendary choice of words and powers of description. It began as I would have predicted, but then I was swept into your feelings so powerfully that my own tears blurred the words on the screen. How beautiful! How sensitive! One of the things I’m looking forward to after 120 is understanding the reasons for things happening as they do. Why must we experience certain things? Why are we drawn in one direction or another? How will my great-grandchildren (5 so far, kinehora) remember me? What difference will my presence make in their young lives years after I am no longer with them? Thank you, Riva, for touching my heart and enriching my life. I’m sure your Bubby is kvelling with nachas from her namesake.

February 14, 2021

Thank you for taking the time to share your beautiful words and poignt insights with me, Rochel. This comment was truly a gift. Much love, Riva

February 11, 2021

Your words surely reflect the thoughts of so many children of holocaust survivors. I too am a child of a holocaust survivor and my own mother passed away in a very tragic way. How I wish I could ask her so many unaswered questions. I yearn for just one more conversation. As a grandmother and great grandmother I try to answer my children’s questions as much as i acn so that they can carry on to their children which I so deeply miss. Thank you for sharing

February 14, 2021

Oh, Raizy, it is so hard to navigate such raw pain and all those questions left unanswered. We long for the day when Hashem will erase all our tears and reunite us with our loved ones. It sounds like you are such an incredible mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother; your family is very fortunate to have a matriarch with such obvious patience, love, and compassion. Much nachas! Love, Riva

February 11, 2021

Beautiful. The reasons you give for mourning the grandmother you never merited to know are powerful and true. Your writing resonates.

February 14, 2021

Thank you so much, Chana. It was so kind of you to take the time to leave me feedback here. Much love, Riva

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