I always sensed that my adoring mother, Mollie Protage Rosefsky, was the source of my good fortune. As a frisky, energetic two-year-old, I pushed through the screen of a second story window and landed unconscious on the sidewalk below, with my head landing on a strip of grass, not the concrete — good fortune!
My Romanian-born mother was my solid rock and biggest fan. We were very close, and she was keenly and lovingly interested in everything going on in my life, from high school through Syracuse University.
When she had to deal with early onset heart disease — years before bypasses and stents — I sometimes stayed with her overnight, when my Dad needed to travel for business. The last two years of her life, unable to drive, she pivoted to needlepoint cross-stitching and created a large tablecloth for us. Many years later, that cloth was used as the chuppah for two of our daughters’ weddings.
Two weeks after our son, Steven’s bris in 1967, (the last night of our live-in babysitter), my wife and I visited my parents. We hung out together all evening, and had a wonderful time retelling family stories. The next morning, my brother called to say Mom had heart failure early that morning and died on the way to the hospital. I miss her to this very day, and I think she still safeguards my good fortune.
My grandmother, Janice Gavant, was a unique person with a loving heart and a determined soul. She passed away in 2014, at the age of 77, which is the numerical value of the Hebrew word “oz,” which means might or strength, and I’ve always felt that that wasn’t a coincidence. She approached life with passion and determination. Despite life’s challenges, she kept a positive attitude and — in her own words — “kept on chuggin.”
She was a good listener and had so much wisdom to share with family and friends. I looked forward to our long phone calls. She was a well-respected social worker for many years, helping others and lifting their spirits.
She was a gifted, out-of-the-box artist, as well as an eloquent writer and, in her earlier years, a singer. Her front doors were painted hot pink — perhaps that helps convey a bit of who she was!
For my wife and myself, she was one of our matchmakers; as the longtime best friend of my wife’s grandmother, Faye Esral, they encouraged us to go out. Well, 12 years and — thank G-d — five children later, the rest is history. We hope she’s looking down from above and enjoying some good ‘ole yiddische nachas.
My Bubbe, Charlotte Estelle Arnold Idov, grew up near Grant Park in a Jewish neighborhood. She was born in 1911 to immigrant parents and worked in her father’s dry goods store on Saturdays. Her mother, a Shabbos observer, brought them cholent for lunch that had been warming at home since Friday night.
Bubbe wanted to become a nurse, but her mother believed that nurses only emptied bedpans and performed other onerous jobs.
After graduating from Girls High School, she became a clerk at Southern Bell. Another worker, Sadie Idov, introduced her to her brother, Alex, whom Bubbe married. Bubbie worked off and on for Southern Bell for 30 years. During that time, she gave birth to two children and buried two husbands.
Bubbe advised us, nurtured us, weathered her own serious illnesses and problems — including the Great Depression — worked hard and sacrificed to sustain her family, keeping an active, engaged mind throughout her mid-90s.
When I was a kid, there was Bubbe in our kitchen before Shabbos, cooking southern “Jewish collard greens,” kasha, roast chicken and more. My father and I love to cook, but my Bubbe’s simple food cannot be duplicated. The aura she put into our world was a combination of great food, wonderful stories and love.
My late cousin, Stanley Srochi, once remarked that “the secret of matriarchal power lies in the bosom.” Stanley’s observation about his grandmother, Dora Srochi, and her sister, Mamie Katz, my maternal grandmother, was apropos: both women were formidable in this regard!
The sisters, in consort, reigned as benevolent queens over their extended families: Dora, the older, from Atlanta, and Mamie, the younger, from Washington, D.C. These two strong-willed Jewish matriarchs set family policy that was dutifully and successfully carried out by their husbands and children. Clan members knew not to step out of line, fearing “being put in their place.”
My Grandma was widowed twice by her early 30s, and she suffered the loss of a child. Despite these tragedies, she ran her late husband’s grocery store, raised and educated my mother, invested in real estate, relocated her deceased brother’s family from New York to Washington and purchased a house for them. Having achieved financial success, Grandma retired around the age of 50 and moved back to Atlanta, living off rental income.
The two sisters exemplified “true grit.” They were realists and knew that success was obtainable through Jewish observance and belief in the Darwinian principle of “survival of the fittest.”