Bubbie's birthday, the 5th night of Hanukah

This is the fifth night of Hanukah, which is my grandmother’s birthday.

We called her Bubbie (Yiddish for Grandmother).

I never knew what her birthday was on the Roman calendar.  We always knew it as the 5th night of Hanukah.

She was born in Riga, Latavia, in 1890, which would make her 120 years old today.  She left this world at the age of 97, in 1987.

She had a rebellious nature and, at the age of 15, participated in the failed Russian Revolution of 1905.

Participating in a failed revolution was a good way to wind up in prison — so her father urged her to leave the country after this event — which she did.

Apparently she was in too big of a hurry to find out her birthday.  Or, perhaps observing it on the fifth night of Hanukah was good enough.  It certainly maintained her ties with her Jewish identity (as if there were any question about that).

Her father was a rabbi, and they lived on the top floor of an apartment building.  I’ve seen the building myself, from the street — and my memory tells me it was about six stories high.


After leaving Riga, she waited a couple of years in Copenhagen, her safe haven.  She was waiting for her brother to save the money for her travel to the United States.  Her brother — two years older and  also a revolutionary — immigrated first.

She spoke fondly of Copenhagen.  She said the language was easy to learn and she had good friends and a good time there.  Of course, those are fun years — between the ages of 15 and 17 (and no parents!) — although it’s hard for me to imagine her being that age.

When she came to the U.S.A., she spent time in Rochester, before somehow making her way south and eventually to North Carolina.

She always made a face when she said “Rochester.”

“So cold,” she said.

Copenhagen and Riga are not considered warm climates, but she said they were toasty compared to Rochester.

She arrived here in Salisbury in the 30’s.  Before that, she kept a shop in Marion, VA.  Before that, Morganton, NC.  Before that — I don’t know.  That pre-dates my mother’s birth, so I never heard anything about it.  I doubt they were lost years for her, but they’re a little lost to me.

Is Hanuka like a Jewish Christmas?  No!  It’s Hanuka.  Although it’s an important holiday that celebrates religious freedom, it’s not as central to the Jewish religion as Christmas is to Christianity.  And the Hanuka gift giving is really just an American add-on, an attempt by American Jewish parents to console their children while denying them much of the joy of Christmas.

But it’s a beautiful celebration that includes eight nights, games, fried food, the lighting of candles, chocolate coins (if you’re lucky), and a theme that expresses gratitude for freedom.

And Bubbie’s birthday.

There’s nothing like a grandmother.  Like almost everybody’s grandmother, mine was terribly wise and sweet, and a real inspiration.  Happy birthday, Bubbie.

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