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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Madloch

Barbara Silber

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

This picture portrays my maternal grandmother, Jennie Schneider. She had five children: three girls and two boys. My mother was the youngest of them. She married last and my grandmother lived with us in our apartment on the Lower East Side. Even though we were probably the poorest of the entire family, all the other siblings who lived in New Jersey, Long Island, and Brooklyn came to visit very often with their families because their mother stayed with us.

Grandma Jennie came to the United States via Ellis Island in 1887 from Galicia in Poland, which back then was a part of either Austria-Hungary or Russia. She had two sisters and a brother. We called her “Bubbie,” which means maternal grandmother in Yiddish, and she spoke 90% Yiddish and had lots of funny expressions. She was separated from her husband and called him “schlemiel,” which is a derogatory term describing a man as an unlucky bungler. My grandfather did visit us occasionally, so I had somewhat of a relationship with him. During Jennie’s life she worked mostly at home, but according to one family story, during the Great Depression, she sold bananas on New York streets just to support her family. She was considered blind in one eye, but no one ever explained to me what caused this. Later on, after one of my cousins married a physician, he explained that Bubbie had probably had an undiagnosed stroke long ago.

When she lived with us, Bubbie was not particularly social. For the most of time she just stayed in her room or did housework to help my mother. It was only fitting that she have her own room in our apartment, which meant that my younger brother and I shared a room until Bubbie passed away. She contributed to the family’s life by doing some chores, too. She helped my mother with the cooking and cleaning; her recipes were very basic and many were traditional Jewish recipes which she remembered from her childhood. Bubbie had a heart attack and died while mopping the floor in our apartment when no one was home. My mother returned home to find her dead on the floor with the mop still in her hands.

I wish I had asked Bubbie more questions about her life: about her childhood, her family, where had she met my grandfather, why did she marry him, how did she manage to book passage on a boat to America—so many things I’m so curious about today. I also wish we had simple ways of recording people when I was a child, with video and audio. I could have documented so much information about Bubbie in her own words. All my other relatives from her generation, as well as my mother’s, have also passed and so it’s very hard to piece together a complete backstory. I have many wonderful family pictures, but I cannot recognize many people in them.

This particular picture is my aunt Sarah’s wedding portrait. Even though it is Sarah’s wedding, grandma Jennie is obviously a central figure in this photograph. Bubbie is surrounded here by all her children: George, Gussie, Sam, Sarah, and on the far right, my mother Eva. The child is my eldest cousin Sheldon, who passed away several years ago. I named one of my twins Jennie, in remembrance of my Bubbie.

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