My great-grandfatther’s name was Louis Reiner, but we always called him Zayde Leib. He was a tall, handsome man who had served as a soldier in Europe, but spent most of his life as a cobbler—a maker and designer of boots. His marriage to Becky Mendelovich, daughter of the learned Rabbi Mendelovich, was prearranged. Leib never saw his bride until they were exchanging vows under the canopy. He was delighted to find that a beautiful woman with lively dark eyes and dark brown hair stood waiting behind the wedding veil.
Bobbe Ida Brown on left. Sister Mary on right. Early 1920’s
Zayde Leib arrived in America in 1917…alone. He emigrated first to Iowa City but quickly moved on to Chicago, Illinois. Zayde worked hard, and for seven years sent all the earnings he could afford to his family in Europe. Finally, the day came; there was just enough money, the papers were all in order, and Becky set sail for America with the seven children: Anna, Phillip, Hymie, Rifka, Mary, Helen and Ida.
Ida, (or, as we now refer to her, Bobbe Ida) was the second oldest. She had inherited her mother’s lovely dark features and her father’s proud disposition and sense of humor. Bobbe Ida could speak Russian, Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish. She soon added English to her list of languages, and though she spoke it the most often of all, she never did lose her Yiddish accent.
The Reiner family attended synagogue regularly and clung to their Jewish identity while also enjoying their new identity as Americans. Bobbe Ida worked as a seamstress to help pay the family bills, and was even able to set aside some of the earnings for herself. Whenever she had saved up enough, Ida would spend her money on beautiful clothes, making certain to keep current with the styles of the day. She looked forward to Saturday night dances on the roof-top garden of the Jewish Peoples’ Institute for it was the place to go and be seen.
In 1928 Ida married Sam Brown, a fellow immigrant to Chicago from Europe. He was a strong, handsome man with blue eyes and a warm smile. His father was a rabbi in Europe and Sam continued to be observant himself. The two of them lived with Zayde Leib and Becky for the first few years of their marriage—not an uncommon practice for married children in those days. Soon their first child, (my mother) Anne, came along. Ten years later my aunt Beverly was born. Their home was full of love and they kept in close contact with the rest of the family, whom they visited on a regular basis.
My grandparents kept a kosher home, as their parents had taught them to do. They considered this a privilege, since we had relatives in Europe who were not so fortunate. Those who had stayed behind were persecuted and, during the holocaust, many were killed for being Jews. Ida and Sam cherished the freedom to practice Judaism and to observe the Jewish holidays.
When my mother was 12 years old, my grandfather died of a sudden heart attack. He was so young—only forty-one—that his death came as a totally and terribly unexpected shock. Bobbe Ida slowly emerged from her grief and despair with the help of loving family and friends. She struggled to earn a living for herself and her two daughters. Despite their tragic loss, Ida managed to keep her home and her family on an even keel.
In 1955 Bobbe Ida was run down by a bus and one of her legs was crushed. The doctors told her she might never walk again, but my Bobbe Ida had the grit and determination to pull through. It took several operations and skin grafts, but she was finally able to walk and eventually she returned to work.
Ida saved what money she could—and then spent most of it to give big, beautiful affairs for both of her daughters’ weddings. Although she never remarried, she took pride in her seven grandchildren…and six great-grandchildren. We always came to Bobbe Ida’s house for the holidays and spent time with her regularly. She was a perfect hostess and a terrific cook. Her homemade gefilte fish and fresh horseradish couldn’t be beat!
The years without Grandpa were awfully lonely for Bobbe Ida, especially once her daughters were grown and Bobbe found herself aging. She would sigh and tell us how bitter a widow’s life is. As she prayed that God would help her, I began to see that Bobbe Ida was searching for meaning in her life.
I had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah in August of 1975 and wanted my Bobbe to find the same meaning and peace with God that I had found. I asked a staff member from Jews for Jesus to come with me, and together we sat down with Bobbe Ida and showed her passages in the Bible concerning Messiah. She was familiar with Old Testament religious doctrine concerning the Messiah and said she had always believed that the Bible is the inspired word of God. She had never given a thought to the idea that Jesus might be the Messiah until we presented the possibility to her. We explained our belief that God became a man in order to show how much he loved and cared about us. God himself became the atonement for our sin so we can be forgiven and have eternal life.
We showed her the Bible prophecies which relate to the Messiah, such as Psalm 2 and 22, Isaiah 53 and 7:14 and Micah 5:2. God seemed to open Bobbe Ida’s heart to him that night, because she prayed to receive Jesus into her life as Messiah and personal Savior.
As we three prayed together Bobbe Ida cried tears of joy—tears which washed away the bitterness which had built up over the years. It was a wonderful moment for all of us. After that, my sister Sharon (also a Jewish believer in Jesus) and I had the joy of explaining our faith and strengthening our grandmother in hers. After everything our Bobbe Ida had done for us, we were finally able to do something for her, thanks to God and his great love and mercy.
My grandmother Ida died in December of 1985 at age 83. I miss my grandmother very much—I miss spending time with her. Yet it comforts me to know that we will be together again, in heaven. In the meantime, I will content myself with remembering Bobbe Ida.