My grandmother was a child of war and terror. As a young child in 1940’s Jerusalem, first under Ottoman Rule, then under the British Mandate she was kept indoors and hidden from sight. She was my great-grandmother’s miracle baby and my great-grandparents did everything in their power to keep her safe and fed. According to her traumatized account of her childhood, she spent most of it hiding out in bunkers as bombs fell. “My parents wouldn’t even let me go out to the chatzer*, instead I had to use chamber pots,” she would say to illustrate her point. First there was the War of Independence, then the First Arab-Israeli War, followed by The Suez Crisis, The Yom Kippur War and the Six-Day War. Thus, most of her childhood and adolescence were marked by the constant threat of complete annihilation, which compounded the already dire conditions of the Jews of the Old Yishuv.* Poverty, hunger and want were the norm, although my grandmother never complained of lack of food as her parents went hungry so that she could eat what meager food they had. However, my great-grandmother lost all of her teeth and had to wear dentures by the age of thirty due to lifelong malnutrition. Still, when my grandmother wasn’t bemoaning the trauma conflict and war had inflicted upon her during her youth, she would tell stories of piety and saintliness. By all accounts, my great-grandfather was a gentle scholar who was both wise and kind. An erudite man, he would learn with his only child, an unusual practice in their community, as girls were generally not taught Talmud. My grandmother bonded with her father over the study of Torah and would doubtless have become a renowned scholar in her own right, had she been born a boy. My mother speaks fondly of spending most of her pre-school days playing with her grandfather who also possessed emotional intelligence and nurturing skills. (My grandparents opted not to send her to pre-school.) Her favorite game was pretending to be the proprietor of a store and my grandfather would play along and pretend to be her customers after returning home from giving his daily lecture to other Torah scholars. My mother says that her grandmother took care of her physical needs and her grandfather fulfilled her emotional needs and my mother felt even closer to him. And I always knew that I would have borne his name, had I been born a boy. My grandmother spoke proudly of her lineage. She was an 8th generation Jerusalemite, descended of the Prushim, who were the first wave of Jewish Settlers who arrived from Lita (Lithuania) and who were strict adherents of the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon was to the Jews who are now referred to as Litvaks, what the Baal Shem Tov was to Chasidim. They were both considered contemporaries and great Rabbis who held opposing beliefs about the best way to practice Judaism. The Baal Shem Tov believed joy and good deeds were most important, while the Vilna Gaon believed that Torah scholarship and strict adherence to Judaic Law were the best ways to fulfill G-d’s commandments. The Vilna Gaon is also credited with inspiring the great Yeshivas of Eastern Europe, Russia, and Lithuania as well as the modern day Yeshiva culture, although it was one of his students who established the first one. The Prushim called themselves thus because Porush means to separate and their community kept itself completely separate from the Chasidim. Therefore, to date, I am related to at least half of the people in Jerusalem, as most of the old families have remained there and their offspring have married each other. My grandmother had an excellent memory and could recite all of the names of all of her grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on for many generations back. Israel’s current Deputy Minister of Education and former Knesset member, Meir Porush, looks eerily like my mother’s brother and is a distant cousin. I struggle to reconcile my love for my grandmother and all of the righteous ancestors she revered and remembered with all of the issues upon which I fundamentally disagree that Israel’s current Right Wing faction espouses. I know enough to know that many of these people whom I consider to be ignorant and brainwashed are also my relatives. If they saw me in the streets of Meah Shearim in jean shorts and a tank top, they might throw bleach at me, but if I showed up in modest attire, they’d be the first to welcome me in with genuine warmth, open arms, and food merely because my grandmother was Shifra Hirshler and a Braverman einikel (grandchild) and the great-granddaughter of Reb Avraham Shaag. And in the ancient cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem near Batei Ungarin, where she grew up, that is the epitome of street cred. My great-grandfather was the product of a blessing by no less an illustrious personage than R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, a famed Rav of Jerusalem. It was a story my teachers would tell in generalities, not knowing the particulars. Apparently, among other Rabbinical duties Rabbi Sonnefeld performed, he was also the city’s mohel.* Once, he knocked upon the wrong door on his way to perform a circumcision. The woman who answered the door said, “The esteemed Rav must be mistaken, because I have only been blessed with daughters.” “How I wish I would have at least one son who would be able to recite Kaddish* when I die,” she lamented. “Don’t worry,” the Rav reassured her, “in a year, I will come back and it will be the right door. “ And lo and behold, a year later, the woman had a son. Thus, the teacher would usually conclude the tale triumphantly. The story was supposed to illustrate the Rabbi’s powers of prophecy and his direct connection to God, which allowed him to supersede the laws of nature. My classmates never thought to wonder whether the story was myth or fable. They also didn’t stop to wonder who that boy grew up to become or whether in fact he ever existed. However, I knew from my grandmother, that the story was indeed true and that my great-grandfather was that boy. 1 Courtyard which housed the buildings’ shared outhouses. 2 The first Jewish settlement in Israel after the destruction of the Second Temple. 3 People who originated from Lithuania who were vehemently anti-Hasidism on religious grounds. 4 Founder of the Hasidic Movement 5 The Rabbi who performs circumcisions. 6 Mourner’s prayer to elevate the soul of the deceased to a higher level in heaven. Generally recited by the mourner’s sons.