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In The Beginning...

Judaism gives my Bobba life meaning, and at 93 there is no need to tell her that my world is different to the one she grew up in. In my world, multiculturalism is celebrated and ritual does not equal religion...

09/12/2016 04:57 SAST | Updated 09/12/2016 04:57 SAST
Sally Moskol

Each time I journey back to Jozi it raises questions about my identity. How much does my upbringing have an influence on who I am as a person and who I want to be?

Each time I go back, I realise I have slightly changed. It gently creeps up on me over time. Lurking behind infinitesimal events. I can only measure the change by returning to where I grew up. The yardstick is how alien I feel in my hometown.

It amazes me that as much as things change some things forever remain the same. At 93 my Bobba probably has a better memory then me. She is stuck in time. A woman breathing in the air of 2016 but whose ideals and values belong to the 1900's. She was born in 1923 in Latvia, Russia to be exact. To give you context, 1923 was the year Louis Armstrong was at the top of the charts, Time magazine was launched and women's one piece swimming suits had just begun being worn. How much things have changed.

My Bobba is waiting for me to tell her that I have met a wonderful Jewish boy and that I'm ready to settle down. By the time she was 29 she had already been divorced, remarried and had her first child.

Bobba doesn't speak much of her childhood but her religion was definitely a strong pillar. Each time I visit her she needs me to affirm a few things: All of my friends are Jewish, I light Shabbat candles each week and most importantly I practice my Judaism.

I smile and nod, Bobba does not need to know the truth. I don't light Shabbat candles, I have a diverse friends group and I see Judaism as part of my culture not my religion.

Judaism is a very strong tenet my Bobba believes in. Her faith gives her life meaning, and at 93 there is no need to tell her that my world is different to the one she grew up in. In my world, multiculturalism is celebrated and ritual does not equal religion. She may call it assimilation; but I call it growth and freedom of choice.

When I tell her I'm 29 she can't believe it, at 93, time really does fly. There was a stage in her 60s where each birthday she would tell everyone she had just turned 36. I don't think she realises she's 93, she marks the passage of time by the ebb and flow of life, great grandchildren being born and loved ones she has lost.

My Bobba is waiting for me to tell her that I have met a wonderful Jewish boy and that I'm ready to settle down. By the time she was 29 she had already been divorced, remarried and had her first child. She has never mentioned her divorce to me or even to my mom. Being divorced in those days was scandalous. My mom found a divorce document when helping my Bobba pack up her house to move into an old age home. It was buried deep within her secrets, to be glossed over and forgotten.

I use Facebook to show her pictures of her great grandkids. I explain to her how my sister is a tattoo artist. She doesn't know what that means. So I show her pictures and explain how Hayley draws on people's skin. She likes the pictures. It's strange how her only real reference to tattoos is the number she has seen printed on concentration camp survivors. She does not understand that people want to now brand themselves voluntarily, let alone that it can be an art form.

It's nearly time to go and she asks if I have a car in Joburg, I show her the Uber app and explain how there are cabs all around waiting to pick me up. It's a foreign concept and she politely nods.

She tells me that she prays for me when she lights her Shabbat candles and wishes me well.

My Bobba does not live in my world or I in hers. We each have different journeys and obstacles to overcome. I am closer to the beginning of my journey whereas she is nearing the end. We have grown up in different time periods, with different frames of reference, with different ideas of what gives us meaning. Coming back to my hometown shows the contrast between who I am and who I was raised to be. TS Eliot said "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time". I think that's what the journey is about, is to make that you are constantly learning and growing, that you can revisit places or people and know them for the first time.