By Ruth Ellen Gruber
My Aunt, Pearl Gruber Kaplan, passed away Friday in Santa Barbara, California, at the age of 94. She was my father’s oldest sister; the oldest of my immigrant grandparents’ seven children; a military veteran; a mother; a grandmother and great-grandmother; a highly independent woman who lived her life on her own terms. May her soul be bound up in the bond of life.
I’ve already posted this before, but in 2009, when I was starting this project, I asked Aunt Pearl what her recollections were about her mother (my grandmother) lighting Shabbos candles and what her own relationship with the tradition had been. Pearl, ever iconoclastic, had this to say:
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.
Later, my cousin took a photograph of Aunt Pearl, with the candlesticks and the still life she had painted of them.