Thursday, November 17, 2011

Calling all Jewish grandmothers...

Not such old news    “Come, I’ll show you.”
Not that I was much of a wine drinker, but I was curious enough to connect my father’s interest in growing grapes to his mother’s ability to make wine that I followed her into her basement. For the first time, I saw that sizable space and its wooden racks, built for storage, I suppose, but empty of all but a small corner where Grandma Bessie allowed her wine to ferment.
“You want a taste?” she asked, although I recall that her “want” sounded more like “vant.”
She examined a few bottles until she found one that seemed to have the right amount of sediment and dissolved sugar. We went upstairs, opened the bottle, and I drank a thimbleful.
We talked about the “old country” where she learned to make wine, but we didn’t talk much. Her limited command of English resulted in conversations that were one or two simple sentences long. Although she had so much more to say, I didn’t know how to access it.
On my short list of regrets, that’s near the top. There is one other that I would have enlisted Grandma Bessie’s help in accomplishing. I say that because I remember how feisty she was. On her tiptoes, she was 4’11”. But to me, she always seemed much larger.
In elementary school, when I mistook the cafteria’s cooked cabbage for her delicious sourkraut, my stomach wretched thanks to my mistake. She came to rescue me, then provided an antidote. Chances are it was Pepto Bismal and that I was playing softball that afternoon.
Even more likely was that I enjoyed at least one of Grandma’s kosher garlic dill pickles for supper. Although she didn’t say much, Grandma spoke with her good deeds. Did yours? I’m sure, if you had a Jewish Grandma from the old country, that she did.
I have two reasons for asking. One is that I want the world to know more about what makes us Jews what and who we are. What may have been learned from Fiddler on the Roof isn’t enough. Second is that, when it came to getting things done, my tiny Grandma was a dynamo, a giant who didn’t comprehend the meaning of no.
For a very good reason, I want to channel the power of all Jewish grandmothers. “Vell,” she might have said, “if it makes for a good cause...” That would have been her signal to get out of her way, that she was about to change.
Perhaps her magic is something I can tap into; I must ask that you do the same. There is a wrong that Grandma Bessie would say, “must be turned right.” In fact, she’d agree, I’m sure, that it’s way way past time for that.  
And it has to do with a famous Jewish prisoner who hasn’t had kosher hand made potato latkes in more than 26 years. He’s in an American prison near Fayetteville, NC, in a town known as Butner, close to Oxford. Smart as a Rabbi trained in a yeshiva, he cleans toilets and, generally, eats traif. He doesn’t curse or drink or smoke or gamble or make trouble. Indeed, he’s like my Grandma wanted me to be.
His name is Jonathan Pollard. What did he do? Had she studied his case, my Grandma would have summed up the answer in one word: bubkes. That translates roughly as nothing, not much, very little, in a word, in retrospect, zilch. He spied against the United States.
But not really. What he discovered, while working for Naval Intelligence, was that America had reneged on its promise to give Israel vital security information about Iraq. Rebuked for trying to correct the situation, he gave the information himself to Israeli intelligence. Then, once caught, he plead guilty in exchange for a prison term of eight years. Or less, for good behavior. He’s been incarcerated for 26.
My grandmother would be shocked to know that, would be enraged enough to start a matzog ball brigade in his support. I know she would want to march up to our President and demand clemency. I know it. Your grandmother would too.
Especially if she’s anything like mine was. Or Jonathan’s Hadassah power house of a grandmother, Yette Klein. Neither of those women are still with us. But, if they were, we’d have a genuine Grandmother’s Revolt to cure this injustice.
Since we don’t, I’m writing to appeal to the next generation of Grandmas. Arise! Speak out! Help set Jonathan free. Please let me know that your Grandma will join Bessie’s Grandmas’ March to release Jonathan Pollard.
Grandma Bessie might insist that such good work will bring many blessings.
                                                           B. Koplen 11/17/11
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