By: Tessy Agassi
Four years ago this week, I lost my most beloved grandmother, my Bubbe. The reason I am sharing this somewhat old information with you is because she had a great impact on my life and I can feel her spirit guiding my every step. To know her and my relationship to her is to know more about me. My Bubbe was a vibrant and fiery little woman, (when we stood next to each other, she came up only to my shoulder) but with an undeniable presence. She loved life and enjoyed the simple pleasures it had to offer, drinking good coffee with friends, lying for hours on the beach and spending time with us, her family.
My grandparents were born and raised in Mexico. They were married in Monterey and had five children before deciding to leave it all and move to Israel. It wasn’t easy starting a new life in a foreign place, learning a new language, finding friends and getting used to a different mentality. But my Bubbe never gave up. She was driven by her strong faith in God and the belief that Israel is the only place for Jews to build their home. I loved listening to her funny anecdotes from her first years after the move and was so inspired by her determination to make it work. Her persistent love for Israel is what encouraged her children to settle throughout the Holy Land, building their homes in Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Peduel, Sussya and Hashmonaim.
Family was the most important value in my grandparents’ household. We would come together regularly at their house and like every other Jewish family, food was always the main event. Nothing made Bubbe happier than watching her grandchildren eat her amazing overloaded Mexican tortillas and play soccer in her big backyard. And when we had to say goodbye to her for the last time, one hot surprising day in the summer of 2014, we, her children and grandchildren, were united in our love for her. I was not ready to part from my dearest grandmother. I stood at the foot of her hospital bed holding on to her last breaths. As she departed this world, I was left holding the hands of my sobbing mother and sister trying to imagine how my life would be without her.
In Jewish tradition, the day of someone’s passing is commemorated yearly with many different customs. The first is the “Mourner’s Kaddish”, a prayer said by those who were orphaned with the passing of a loved one. It is a prayer which sanctifies God’s name, praising Him and glorifying His name in the world. By doing so, we submit to God’s power and recognize that even the most tragic events are God’s will.
We believe that when the soul departs the body, it returns to the heavens and is spiritually elevated with every good deed that is been done in the name of the deceased. And we honor our departed loved one by studying the Bible and the writings of our sages in his or her memory. For this reason, it is customary to study sections from the Mishna (a 2nd century compilation of Jewish law) as well as the Bible on the memorial day.
When we lose a loved one it creates a darkness in our life. It is customary, therefore, to light a memorial candle that burns for the 24-hour period of the memorial day, representing the need to restore light in our lives, to fill the vacuum that was left when our loved one left us. And we remember the good things the deceased did in his life. This eases the blackness and gets us through the day.
My family observes all of these customs on the memorial day for my grandmother. My mother and her siblings recite the Kaddish, light the memorial candle and there is a family get together that includes Bible study. But my husband and I decided this was not enough for us. I lost my grandmother, not my mother, and I knew that my cousins and I were in need of our own way of expressing what we had lost. So we created our own personal custom.
Every year we pick a date close to my Bubbe’s memorial day and my husband and I invite all of my first cousins for an amazingly delicious feast in honor of my grandmother. I cook all the Mexican food that she used to make, using her unbelievable recipes, putting out a spread that reminds us of all of the meals that we miss so much. Many of us are married and some of us already have children of our own. But for this evening, we are all Bubbe’s grandchildren.
For some people it might sound shallow and meaningless, but for me there is no greater way to remember my grandmother than bringing the family together. It is an evening filled with love and joy — the complete opposite of what you would imagine a memorial day should be. We refuse to be sad as we remember her vibrant presence in our lives. I would like to think that she is looking down on us, smiling, laughing at our jokes and crying as we share our memories of her.
This year when I went to the cemetery with my family and I stood over my Bubbe’s grave looking at the warm words engraved on the stone, I could feel her presence. It was as if she was telling me how proud she is that I am continuing her legacy, keeping the family together and creating new traditions. I walked away stronger and more determined than ever to do everything in my power to become as amazing a woman as she was.
May she rest in peace…