Sometimes you meet somebody just once or twice, yet you feel like you knew them all your life. And even in that short span of time when your paths crossed, they touched you in a profound way, just with a small, random gesture of kindness or thoughtfulness.
That may be the most wonderful gift of all.
And that’s what I received from my friend Michael’s late grandmother, Bobe Rebeca, as she was known.
Bobe Rebeca was your archetypal Jewish grandmother, straight out of Central Casting. Slight of build, the lady was gigantic in the heart department. She loved people, and if you were a friend of her family’s, you were her dear friend, too.
Bobe Rebeca lived in an apartment building on the 23rd or 24th floor in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Michael and I went over to visit her a couple of times. You couldn’t help but fall in love with this lady. She was so friendly, gracious, modest and generous of spirit.
She didn’t have an easy life, mind you. She was born in Eastern Europe, moved to Cuba – where she spent a good chunk of her life – and then immigrated to the United States after Fidel Castro came to power. She’d seen her share of ups and downs, but had an indomitable spirit.
When I met her, she was up in age but still quite sprightly and energetic. We took an immediate liking to each other, but then again, my guess is that she clicked with everyone she met. She was just that kind of person.
Unfortunately, at some point, Bobe Rebeca started to fail in health and was not well for a few years and eventually passed away. Her family was quite sad, of course, but recognized that she lived a good, full life and had a loving family that would always perpetuate her memory and spirit.
But one day while visiting me in Baltimore months after her passing, Michael said, “Oh, I almost forgot to give you something.” He dug deep into his duffel and pulled out a little plastic bag. “Bobe Rebeca wanted you to have this.”
A bit confused, I reached into the bag and pulled out a keychain from Jerusalem and a harmonica.
I was puzzled. A keychain from Israel … and a harmonica?
“What do you mean, ‘She wanted me to have this?’” I asked him, to which he responded, “Oh, she got these for you somewhere, but then she got sick and never got a chance to give them to you.”
I stared at him for a moment. “Why?”
He explained that she bought the keychain somewhere — maybe a Judaica shop in Brooklyn — because she knew Michael and I had originally met in Israel and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. The harmonica was, well, because she knew I love playing the blues harp. Michael must’ve told her. She was the kind of grandma you could tell just about anything to. (My grandma Sarah was one of those, too.)
I was in disbelief that this person, who I barely knew and was now gone, had been so kind to pick up these things for me in her travels in and around Brighton Beach. It was as if she reached out and touched me from the great beyond.
They may seem like little tchotchkes to some people, but to me they meant the world. That this little elderly lady got these items for her grandson’s friend, just out of thoughtfulness and because she liked me and wanted me to know she was thinking of me, just blew me away.
And it still does.
Top photo: Alan’s gifts from Bobe Rebeca, a keychain from Jerusalem and a harmonica. (Jmore photo)
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