In memory of Marcia Anscher: mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, sister, daughter, niece, granddaughter, adventurer
Bubbe was the one who introduced my brother and me to foreign travel. When I was a fourteen, she took us both on a two-week trip to Turkey. This trip would later spark my love for photography. It would also leave forever in my memory, and imprint of my grandmother’s chutzpah – חוצפה.
The trip held many adventures for us, like getting caught in a speed trap, being separated from the main group as Bubbe sat panicking on the bus, and my request for a bathroom being mistaken for a desire to rent a bedroom. But, the moment that will always stick in my mind was the Turkish belly dancer. Yes, I know what you are thinking: typical fourteen-year-old boy, but it was not the belly dancer herself that sticks out in my mind when I think back to that night.
One thing my grandmother was well-known for was interjecting choice Yiddish words into the conversation at opportune moments. In Hebrew, chutzpah is an indignant trait, representing one who has stepped out of social politeness for selfish reasons. In English, however, it has come to take on a different meaning. It is closer to the Italian word moxie, the Spanish word cojones, or the Finnish word sisu. Chutzpah is a daring disregard for social expectations. In short, it is having guts with style, and Bubbe had no lack of either.
When the belly dancer came out on the stage, Bubbe wasted no time getting up, and dancing herself around the room as well. She danced herself right up onto the stage. At the age of seventy, who can afford to be shy? Now, picture in your mind a twenty-something Turkish belly dancer, next to my seventy-year-old European-bred grandmother. Embarrassing? I would think so.
At the age of fourteen, experiences like this were not uncommon with my grandma. I had often found myself embarrassed by Bubbe’s brazen willingness to walk up to anyone anywhere and do or say anything in the entire world. To this day I remember when Bubbe came to visit my Hebrew School. While sitting in the back, she spied one of my fine young classmates chewing gum in class. Without a single word, she leaned over, and put out her hand to him, silently indicating that he put the gum in her hand. She did not move until he had given her the half-chewed gum. Few can outlast my grandmother, and this boy certainly had no extraordinary powers of will. He gave in quickly, and watched as she threw the sticky mess into the trash.
On countless occasions I witnessed Bubbe walk up to completely random strangers to give a complaint, ask a question, offer a compliment, or show off her grandchildren. She greeted people she had never before met with hugs and kisses and told dirty jokes to anyone who would listen (willingly or not). There is no dearth of embarrassing moments with my grandma.
And yet, sitting in this Turkish restaurant, watching my grandmother – with all of her chutzpah – dance right up onto the stage to the beat of Turkish music, I did not find myself embarrassed. Soon enough, others joined her dance (though none were daring enough to go on stage with her), and I found myself compelled to photograph this true moment of life. This night would forever change my embarrassment to admiration.
You see, dance is the metaphor through which I understand my grandma. Bubbe danced her way through the richness of life. For me and my brother, this would be the first of many adventures into the world outside our home. We went, unsure of what to expect, and excited about every new experience. For my grandmother, this was a last great adventure in the world. She would travel again on a few more special occasions, but never again would she dance onto the stage with a Turkish belly dancer, walk under ancient Roman ruins, or sit in a Bedouin tent drinking freshly roasted coffee.
She recognized that life is too short to waste time trying to fulfill the expectations of others. In an age where we question our own freedom, Bubbe understood its true meaning. As Bubbe knew then, and I know now, this is where freedom lies: in the uninhibited choice to live and the chutzpah to take the adventures that are given to you.