Deep thoughts, random insights, and musings by Susan Jacobs

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Take me home, Country Roads

It's several weeks overdue, but below is my May column from The Jewish Chronicle.

‘Mountain Mama’ nurtures Jewish souls

Recently, I was home in Charleston, W.Va., to see my family. While there, I had time to attend to some important tasks, not the least of which was paying a visit to Hubcap Heaven, a side-of-the-road operation outside of Charleston where one can find replacements for long-lost wheel covers.

A hand-written sign identifies the white trailer that is Hubcap Heaven, which is decorated with hubcaps of various origin. Hubcap Heaven has no phone book listing, so there’s no calling ahead to make sure they carry the specific hubcap you seek, but chances are good that they will have it. And shopping there is truly a West Virginia experience.

Less typical of the state, but more emblematic of my family’s Jewish experience there, is the old B’nai Jacob Cemetery, which I also visited while I was home.
Three generations of my family are buried there, beginning with my great-great-grandmother, who died in 1912, and ending with my grandfather, who died in 2004.
I find it remarkable that I had great-great-grandparents who lived and died in the same city in which I grew up. And they were Jewish. In West Virginia.

Five generations of my family have lived at least part of their lives in West Virginia, which means that our stay in the "new country" has been more extensive than that of Jews in many places that one might call the "old country."

My great-great-grandfather, Isaac Padlibsky, is rumored to have been a firebrand who reprimanded his offspring for acting like goyim. It is worth noting that his daughter, my great-grandmother, kept a kosher home and was very active, along with her husband, in the local chevra kadisha. They made their own kosher wine and married off their daughter, my grandmother, to the son of a chazzan. Goyim indeed.

Still, Isaac's fervor may have amounted to something. While some immigrants of his generation, and many of their descendents, were all too eager to cast aside the burdens of Jewish observance and identity, Isaac's staunch devotion to tradition likely played a role in his descendents' continued observance of Jewish rituals.

Some of us have even chosen to be more traditionally observant than our parents and grandparents – proof that what was lost can be found again.

Which brings me back to Hubcap Heaven.

Since some of the lost hubcaps on my Ford Taurus disappeared while traversing West Virginia's highways and byways, the spiritual side of me wondered if perhaps in purchasing my "new" hubcaps I was somehow reuniting my car with its original wheel covers.

And that leads me to reflect on deeper matters. That, as much as we each become our own persons, we are inextricably linked to those who came before us.

My grandmother sometimes recounted her memories of Isaac Padlibsky, who lived into her teen years, but she had no memory of his wife, who had died years earlier. Not that long ago, I realized that this great-great-grandmother of mine and I share the Hebrew name Chaya. For some reason, I believed that she had died in Europe, but on this latest cemetery visit I finally noticed her grave stone, right next to Isaac’s. She had been there all along, buried in the hills of West Virginia.


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