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Archive for April, 2009

Tombstones of Rosa and Pesach Susnitsky, Brenham, Texas

Tombstones of Rosa and Pesach Susnitsky, Brenham, Texas, 1992

Rosa Susnitsky, my step-great-grandmother, was the daughter-in-law of Celia Susnetzky. Born in 1872, she was the second wife of Pesach Susnitsky and died in 1948. (Pesach’s first wife, Gillie, was my grandmother’s mother.) I think I was given my name, Ruth, in Rosa’s honor.

I uploaded a photo of Celia’s tombstone showing that it bore the traditional candlesticks.

Rosa is buried, next to Pesach (Philip), Celia’s son, in the Jewish cemetery in Brenham, Texas — but her headstone does not bear this emblem.

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piazzaMy latest “Ruthless Cosmopolitan” column for JTA.org is about the web site we have set up to honor my mother, the artist Shirley Moskowitz Gruber, who died two years ago.

Mom is buried in a municipal cemetery shaded by palm trees. Like most of the other grave markers there, a simple, flat plaque rather than a standing tombstone denotes her resting place.

All that is written about her is her name and the years of her birth and death. And there’s a menorah, following the tradition of marking Jewish women’s graves with depictions of candlesticks.

But there is no epitaph. Nothing that tells about who she was, where she came from, how she lived or the way she was regarded.

The fifth commandment enjoins us to honor our fathers and mothers.

This year, as the second anniversary of Mom’s death approached, my brothers and I joined the growing ranks of children who now choose to honor their parents online, creating a Web site to celebrate our mother’s life and commemorate her. Also, since my mother was an artist, we wanted to share images and information about her work.

Essentially what we did with the Web site was to etch an epitaph for Mom in cyberspace, picking up on an age-old tradition of personifying the deceased through words chiseled into solid stone.

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Pearl Gruber, 1940sPearl Gruber Kaplan is my father’s older sister, the oldest of the seven children of my grandparents, Frank and Rebecca Rosenberg Gruber. Now more than 90, Aunt Pearl lives in Santa Barbara, California. I asked her for her recollections of candle-lighting, when she was growing up in Akron, Ohio.

Yes, my mother lit the candles, closed her eyes and said the blessing; then we all sat down to the traditional (and always the same) Friday night dinner of roast chicken.  I don’t know whether she continued the ceremony after my father’s death.  But I have the candlesticks; and I’ve painted a still-life of the lit candles.

My parents emigrated from Eastern Europe and brought their religious observances, with them.  Success,for a man, was measured by his profession and /or income;  for a Jewish girl, it was marriage and her role as Queen of the Kitchen. She was the  guardian of the various rites and rules of the Orthodox faith, which she observed seriously and zealously.  The mother of a friend had four daughters, three of whom (including my friend) were successes, i.e. married. The ‘failure’ was the unmarried administrator of a large hospital in another city.  That was then, but the cultural mindset remained pretty much the same until the Conservative and Reformed congregations loosened things up a bit.  And of course Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, et. al.

I have asked her to send a photo of the candlesticks in questions — and of the still life she painted of the burning lights.

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On this web site and blog, I am focusing on the representation of women in the Jewish cemetery in Radauti, Romania — where my paternal great-grandmother, Ettel Gruber, the mother of my father’s father, is buried. She died in 1947, well into her 90s, and having survived deportation to Shargorod, in Transnistria during World War II. I was given my middle name, Ellen, in her honor.

But — I want to post here the photograph of the gravestone of one of my materal great-great-grandmothers, Celia Aronson Sustnitsky (spelled here Susnetzky), showing that it, too, represents the woman with a depiction of candlesticks. Celia was the mother of my great-grandfather, Pesach (Philip) Susnitsky, who was the father of my mother’s mother, Flora Susnitsky Moskowitz.

Tombstone of Celia Susnitsky, from Terri Meeks (2004)

Celia, born in — I think — what is now Lithuania, died at the age of 80 in New York on Sept. 24, 1911; she died, the epitaph says, on Rosh Hashanah. Along with her husband, Samuel, she is buried in the Union Field Cemetery. (He died in 1903.)

Here is the epitaph, as translated by my friend Lucia Apostol, in Bucharest, who has kindly offered to help with some of the translation for this project:

A modest woman, known for her warmth, integrity and and kindness , she has dedicated her entire life to the well being of her husband and she has been irreplaceable for him, and (she) gave best care and guidance to her children.
Daughter of Slava and Shmil (Shmuel?) Ari Susnetzky
She died on Rosh Ha-Shanah at the age of 80 .

The photograph was sent to me in 2004 by Terri Meeks, a great-granddaughter of Celia and Samuel (and avid family historian), who found the graves.

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