My grandmother, a Hebrew school teacher, wielded a wooden pointer. With it secured under her arm, she confidently strode the synagogue’s carpeted halls, making the rounds of Sunday school classes like a svelte Jewish Santa Claus. A small metal loop at the tip of the pointer allowed her to latch it to a hook at the top of the chalkboard and swiftly unfurl the Hebrew alphabet chart. Her pointer tapped on each letter, teaching the children first the Hebrew letters, and then words, sentences and prayers. All were entranced: even the spirited boys that seemed to wreak havoc on other teachers energetically participated in her classes. Her personality seemed more pronounced at work, as if the pointer channeled not just the letters, but also outlined her intelligence, warmth and desire to connect to others. In her kitchen she separated milk from meat, and she lit her mother’s Sabbath candlesticks weekly. But she also devoured every book of Jewish history and literature and enrolled in every class. She was no Gloria Steinem, or even a Betty Friedan, but she knew that her Jewishness could take a new form in this country; she could avail herself of a secular university education that made the tradition accessible to her in a way that her own immigrant mother could never have imagined. Then, she used her energy—and her pointer—to creatively transmit that learning and culture to thousands of children.

Year: 1978

– Annie P.

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more