In first person…When Bubbe spoke up, rabbi listened

My father was a person who elicited great respect; his role in the community was not only that of a rabbi, but beyond religious boundaries, when he spoke people took note. However on one occasion I remember him silenced by five words, spoken by his mother.

My grandmother was a simple woman of strong convictions. She brought up seven children and was as hardworking as any country woman of her generation. While my grandfather conducted his business in the roomy facilities across the barnyard, she reigned over house, grounds and kitchen, collecting eggs from the chickens' hiding places with sure instinct, or bringing baskets full of apples, plums or cherries from the garden. Her oak corner cabinet held my childhood dreams of baked goods, raspberry syrup and sweet-smelling spices.

All this changed when my grandfather died. I was 9 and remember particularly the change from the big white apron to totally black attire from then on. Thus my grandmother would remain, forever knitting black stockings without looking at them, clinking the four needles and praying, reading her siddur (prayerbook), which she knew by heart.

She visited her children occasionally, but spent all the holidays with us — her son the rabbi. So it was only natural to ask my father if she could "go shul" with him. My father remonstrated, explaining that he had to be there before 8:30, when services began and it took 20 minutes on foot to arrive there. He wanted to avoid this hardship for my grandmother.

I can still see the expression on her face, the eyebrows rising up her forehead and I hear her saying in her inimitable Swabian dialect: "Haaanoh, s'isch doch shabbes hagodel" (Well now, but it is Shabbat Hagadol). No more discussion; in the morning the two walked down the street together.

Every year when shabbes hagodel, the Sabbath before Pesach, comes around, I think of my grandmother.