My Savta


When you live 7 hours behind of your home country, and you get a phone call at 1:30am from your family there are really only two options. Either a butt dial or something bad happened. Tonight my father called me and told me that that my savta, my grandmother Aviva has passed away at the blessed age of 91.

I saw her last week when I visited Israel, I went to say goodbye to her for the last time. It was just hours before I was about to head to catch my flight back to Brooklyn. A nurse from her elderly house, where she has been living for more than 4 years, called to tell us that her situation has been degrading rapidly in the last couple of days. Sadly, her health has been degrading steadily for the last four years, as the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease has been progressing. She hasn’t recognized me or the rest of the family for almost 3 years, and she was almost unable to speak at all for the last year. When I saw her for the last time she was sleeping deeply, with deep heavy breaths and it felt like the end is near.

Since I couldn’t fall back to sleep after receiving my father’s phone call, the memories and thoughts kept bubbling up so I decided to write and post them so I will never forget.

Savta Aviva was a Sabra. She was born in 1924 under the British mandate, in Tel-Aviv. Her parents migrated from Russia to Israel in one of the first aliyahs, and if I am not mistaken her family even lived in tents while they were waiting for their first family house to be ready at Shalom Aleichem St in Tel-Aviv. She has a younger sister Shulamit, who I wish her many more years of health and happiness, who was always at her side and assisting her even at her last days. She was married, an like many other couples it didn’t work out with my RIP grandfather Yochanan, from which she has two sons Moshe (my father) and Mody (my uncle), and seven grandchildren.

She lived almost all her life in Tel-Aviv, she loved Tel-Aviv and she loved taking me for tours to show me where she used to hang out in her childhood. She lived for almost 55 years in a house near Yuda Macabi street, which was couple of blocks from my high-school. I used to visit her every couple of weeks; I do regret now that I didn’t do it more often.

As a teenager she served in the Palmach, but she didn’t stick with the Mapai party. She also didn’t like or trust any of the politicians, which is the case today for most of the Israelis. Unlike myself and most of my family, she didn’t believe that there will ever be peace with the Arabs. One of her most vivid memories, which I guess which she told me dozens of times, was when she was a kid her neighbor’s daughter was shot from a sniper fire from the Hassan Back mosque near Tel-Aviv, before the independence of Israel.

As a kid we used to spend many “yemei kef” — fun days together. She thought me how to play chess, she took me on the bus and let me press the stop button (yes, there was a point in my life where that was cool), she made me a fan of Charlie Chaplin, she thought me how to take pictures and got me my first manual and digital cameras, she thought me how to fish, which we did it in the Yarkon river which say the least is a bit toxic, or we just hang at her house swinging and playing at her back yard. While most of the other grandchildren used to make art during the “fun days”, I was a bit art challenged (always preferred electronics) and you wouldn’t be able to find my masterpieces hanging next to the clown of fiber strings that my father made in elementary school on her home walls.

My grandmother coined the term “Tembleizia” (foolvizia or foolTV), and this was even when Israel had only two channels and there were no reality shows. I have “fixed” her TV and VHS and explained her how to use it maybe 100 times. She loved documentaries and she even produced few, which she made us watch. One of them that I remember struggling through was about ficus trees in tel-aviv.

At times she was difficult, stubborn and not too sensitive with my father and uncle. I remember many times that they were arguing about different things, but they both were always there for her and helped her when needed. I can vividly remember how one day, when I was a little kid, she decided to patch my father’s jeans with a ribbon of fabric, so they will fit better. Since she did it without his approval, I can still see his angry face and the way he tore this ribbon off his jeans when she showed it to him. Don’t mess with a man’s jeans even if you are his mother.

My grandmother was a traveller she went to China, and the far east, Australia, and Eastern Europe (she loved the hot springs in Romania) way before it was trendy and cool to travel to there.

My grandmother went through different phases of spirituality. At one point she was a bit religious, and until her last day she kept giving me dozens of “Tfilat Haderch” minibooks for me to carry around (I can still find them in random places), and red ribbons. She was also into Reiki, which Shony my dog loved when she did Reiki on her belly.

My grandmother was a hoarder, she kept everything! really everything! when she moved to the elderly house she needed several trucks and many person hours to move out of the house (the KonMari method hadn’t been invented then). She used to freeze any left overs and never trashed any food. There are stories how she had made my father and uncle finish the food and not leave the table before then. Surprisingly, this food discipline was exactly the opposite of my RIP Magda grandmother, who was an Auschwitz survivor and never made anyone finish their food. Go figure.

My grandmother was very proud of her uncle who was an inventor. There is this one story that she told me hundreds of times on how he apparently invented the speaker phone but Bell labs stole it from him after he showed them the prototype. (I really don’t know if this story is true but it would be baller).

She was pretty good with languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Russian and some Arabic. Since she spoke fluent Russian, she helped many distant family members that moved to Israel from Russia after the Iron curtain fell.

In the late 70’s, my grandma used to have a jewelry store in old Jaffa. Many years later, my mother opened her beautiful ceramics gallery in the same place, after many years of neglect. My grandmother who used to do ceramics as well, loved my mother pieces and was always very proud and happy with my mother’s work.

My grandma got her driving license at a later age, and she wasn’t never a great driver. I remember how when I was a kid I promised her that once I will get my license I will take her around where whenever she wanted. I have honored that promise.

In her last four years she was strongly affected by Alzheimer’s disease. During the first three years she wasn’t able to recognize me or my family, and she forget everything that I told her after three minutes. In the last year it got even worse when when she wasn’t able to speak anymore . As much as this disease does not cause physical pain, its impact to the patient’s family and loved ones is insurmountable. In many ways we have lost the person we knew and loved even before her death. I only hope that the disease didn’t cause suffering to her, but you can’t really know that. The least I could do, thanks to the support of my great family and friends was to raise $1500 when I ran the NYC marathon last year, fighting for alzheimer’s.

My Savta was a character who was not always easy to digest. Her memory and stories will always stay with me.

I love my grandmother, she was always great to me.


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