May 2011          
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Father's mother, Sara, from Afgansitan Mother's mother, Johannah, from Germany


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Grandparents and the Chain of Generations

By Liora S. Bernstein

Like many people of my generation I have never had the opportunity of meeting my grandparents. I met my maternal grandmother once, and had a photo of her and her husband (my grandfather), and I also had a photo of my paternal grandmother.

My paternal and maternal grandparents could not have been more dissimilar from each other except that they were both Jewish. Yet they both affected my life after they had passed away in a very direct manner.

My father was born in Herat (in Afghanistan) and my mother was born in Frankfurt, Germany. My Grandfather made pilgrimage to Jerusalem, after he had a son born to him (i.e. my father, and then he had two more sons) and when he and his wife Sara arrived in Jerusalem they could not return, because World War I broke out, and then, in Russia, the Communist Revolution. So they remained in Jerusalem, and grandfather died when my father was 13 years old. I remember my father lighting a candle for him, once a year. Father had the date written in an old book.

My father was a Bukharian Jew by denomination. He met my mother in Tel Aviv. She was more than 10 years younger than him and had arrived in Israel with Youth Aliya when she was 13. They stayed married for only few years. Later they divorced, and my mother left Israel (then Palestine) to live her own life in the West. I remained with my father.

When I married, the Rabbinical Offices in Tel Aviv phoned me two weeks before the wedding and asked me to come prove that I am Jewish, because, I was told, I had brought witnesses only on my father’s side. I had at home the Ketuba (wedding contract) of my paternal grandmother, Sara (that is how he spelt the name in English), after whom I am also called (my second name). I took it with me to the Rabbinical offices and after a short talk with somebody he duly affirmed my Judaism. Thank you, papa, for having kept that document. The Rabbi was not at all impressed by my parents` divorce papers, he claimed my father could have married a Scandinavian lady (sic) and brought her here to Israel and divorced her according to Jewish law. `Where is your mother,` he kept asking, `I don’t know,` I kept replying. I could not tell him two weeks before my wedding that by now my mother was happily living in the United States and married to a non Jew. But when I told him “my father would not have married a Goya (gentile)” and showed him the Ketuba, he got up and said, “You can go”. I have had that Ketuba framed, it is beautiful and on scroll-leather, it is Judaica. And I have her photograph next to it. Thank you, grandma Sara.

My maternal grandmother Johanna loved writing. After she had passed away, her self-written biography had disappeared. I only had what my late mother had translated for me, because I don’t know German.

The advent of the internet changed my life and connected me with my grandparents both.

I found my Grandmother’s biographies, one at the Leo Baeck Institute and another at the Institut fuer Stadtgeschichte in Frankfurt. I realized then that my gift for languages (English is not my mother tongue) came not only from my father, but also from her. In her biographies I found the whispering voices of my maternal family, I learned about their lives, nature and interests, I had a clan of my own, though I had never met them. (Fröhliche Kindheit im Dorf, Johanna Harris Brandes). I admired her and she was my “alibi” when I did not understand myself.

And yet the best was to come. I knew that my paternal grandparents would be buried on Mount of Olives, and I remembered my father lighting the yearly candle. Mount of Olives now had an internet site, I wrote them and asked them about my grandparents, giving them an estimated date of demise, but at that time they could not give me a positive reply since the records were not yet sorted out and the cemetery was disorganized (to say the least). You can imagine my surprise and joy, when some three years later, about a month ago, when I had forgotten all about it, I received a short laconic email, as follows:

`Mrs. Bernstein, we have found your grandparents.`

They had found both gravestones, not next to each other, but the best part was that now I knew their Jewish date of demise (written on the stones) and I can light a candle for them, which I will, this year, for the first time, for my grandpa Jacob, on Tet be-Nissan (ninth of Nissan).

And may they all rest in Peace

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from the May 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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