A Thread Through the Generations

Storytelling is an important part of Bobbie Zuckerman’s family. As a PJ Library grandparent, watching her grandkids grow with PJ Library has been so meaningful for her, from learning about giving thanks after reading I Say Shehechiyanu to helping her grandson as he tries to read the Hanukkah favorite Meet the Latkes. “PJ Library does such important work to inspire this generation of children,” says Bobbie. “It’s critical that PJ Library’s stories go from generation to generation, as well as my parents’ stories.”

Bobbie’s grandkids love stories, so it was no surprise when they started asking to know more about their family history. When they have sleepovers at grandma’s house, Bobbie says, “They always say before they go to sleep, ‘Tell me a story,’” and so she tells them stories about their heritage. “It was interesting over the years some of the stories that I remembered from my parents so that we just keep passing them on.” Many of these stories have traveled through history on the threads of an important Jewish garment: her father’s bar mitzvah tallit.

(Above) Collage of George Ivers (top right), Bobbie Zuckerman (middle left), and Bobbie’s grandchildren (bottom right) wrapped in George’s tallit.

Though the presentation of the tallit is always an important ceremony of a child’s bar mitzvah, this tallit has carried an especially meaningful history through the decades. Bobbie’s father, George Ivers, was a Holocaust survivor originally from Budapest, Hungary, who narrowly escaped the Nazis during a trip to see the opera Aida in Vienna with his mother and twin sister during the late 1930s. At the opening of the second act, Nazi soldiers burst into the opera house. “Twelve Nazis stormed the stage and started saying, ‘Heil Hitler,’” says Bobbie. Immediately George’s mother grasped the hands of her two children, and they ran out of the opera house and caught the first train they could back to Budapest.

Within a year of the opera incident, George celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah back in Budapest. During the ceremony, he received a tallit for his Jewish coming-of-age. But the celebration of this special event was short-lived. As the threat of Nazism and Antisemitism grew in Hungary, George and his family were fortunate enough to immigrate to the United States. On the long journey across the world, George brought along his bar mitzvah tallit, a powerful symbol of his Jewish heritage.

Decades later, George was able to present that same tallit to another bar mitzvah — George’s great-grandson, Josh.

Unfortunately, when another great-grandson, Jake, celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah, George was unable to be there. “Jake was bar mitzvah literally a week after my father had passed,” Bobbie explains. But she was determined to make sure her nephew received her father’s tallit, and she decided to take on the same role as he had when Josh became a bar mitzvah. Bobbie recalls, “I made the same presentation, which was probably one of the most difficult things I had to do.”

Over the years, her father’s tallit has become a symbol of comfort for her and her family. Bobbie now has her father’s tallit from his adult life, and she keeps it close. Because the High Holidays in 2020 were primarily virtual during the coronavirus pandemic, Bobbie felt she needed to make it special. “I needed to do something a little different,” she says. “Then I just grabbed my father’s tallit and took a quick photo.” But she also wanted to share the moment with her grandchildren, who she was able to see in person. “On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I wrapped my three grandchildren in my dad’s tallit,” she says. She then made a collage of these two images and a photo of her father wearing his tallit to commemorate the continuing tradition that her father began, uniting three generations through one garment.

Bobbie continues to carry on her family’s history through their stories. Just as a tallit enshrouds a bar mitzvah in prayer, family stories surround Bobbie and her family. As she says, “Strong family stories have a tremendous impact on our families.” And she will continue to share those stories to pass on her family’s Jewish history to children, grandchildren, and beyond.