My grandmother Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren foyl (lazy). She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe. I wasn’t going to call her Bubbe. Too effeminate.
Bub was not into baseball; she was into the card game casino, the television show “Queen for a Day” and food — from borscht to boiled chicken to cows’ feet. She could eat. She had “sugar diabetes,” as they called them in the ‘60s. Bub wore bubbe shoes.
I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from. I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.
Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl of Grodzisko. She came to America at 20.
In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.” That was dead wrong, but it at least made sense to me.
In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with my parents and me. At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut. Bub wanted my aunt not to keep kosher. Keeping kosher was too expensive. Bub was a bit of a socialist, and cheap.
At Bub’s funeral — during the shiva meal — the question of kashrut came up again. My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington) and my Uncle Itchie were at our dining room table.
Uncle Itchie, sitting next to Aunt Lil from Delaware, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”
“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.
Itchie, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat? It’s not kosher!”
Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”
“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?” said Delaware Lil.
”Yes,” said Washington Lil.
“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.
“Yes, it is.” said Washington Lil.
My mother interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” Mild laughter. My mom was the peacemaker.
After that meal, nobody talked to each other for a long time. Years.
Grodzisko. Galicia. Austria-Hungary. I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the “Shtetl Finder” map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), and it was located about 75 miles northwest of Lvov. The various shtetls had so many different names. That was the trick.
During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.” It was from a cousin, Rachela Seiger. The note, written in Polish, said, basically, “How are you?” On the flip side of the card was a photo of Rachela’s sister Mili Seiger.
Soon after it was mailed the Germans invaded.
I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem online archives. There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers. I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.
There are three types of Jews. I don’t mean Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. I mean American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust. Those are my people.
Bert Stratton is the leader of the Cleveland band Yiddishe Cup and writes the Klezmer Guy blog.
A 20-Year Quest To Find My Roots