November 13, 2013

The Gifts That Make Memories Are The Best Gifts

When I was a young boy of 6 or so, my grandmother went on a trip to Israel. My father’s mother, she was an American Jewish lady and a west coast transplanted New Yorker. She didn't travel much, and if I had to guess, that trip was her first and only one to Israel. On her return, she must have filled half her suitcase with souvenirs, most of them for me, her only grandchild at the time old enough to appreciate gifts. So while it was always a treat to see her, this time was extra special. I can clearly remember what she brought back because each gift left me with an enduring and positive memory.

My grandmother’s go-to gift was clothing, and naturally, she bought me a t-shirt. Normally I was less than thrilled when I got a stuffy button down or polo shirt, but this was a bright red t-shirt with two white silkscreened f-16 fighter jets on it and text that read: “Don’t Worry America, Israel is Behind You.” For a 6-year old boy, anything with a jet on it is pretty awesome, but this shirt was particularly special because it was from Israel and was tough as nails. You can believe that I wore that thing until I thoroughly outgrew it. In fact, I loved that shirt so much, I bought one just like it for myself years later as an adult.

The shirt was similar to this one

Another gift was a set of three olivewood carved camels – a mother and two babies. Now I’ve never actually seen camels in Israel but I hear they have them somewhere. In any case, kids love animals and naturally, I loved those camels and displayed them in my room with pride. I still have them.

Another gift from that trip was the leftover Israeli money my grandmother had on her when she came home. This was another go-to gift that people seemed to give me when I was little. I have a whole box somewhere of the spare change left over from other people’s foreign travels. This time, it was a few coins and a 1,000 shekel bill, so clearly I was rich now. Mind you, this was before Israel switched to the 'New Shekel' so 1,000 shekels wasn’t actually very much money. In fact, when Israel switched to the new shekel in 1986, the conversion rate from old to new was 1,000 to 1. But 1,000 is a big number to a little kid and the portrait of Maimonides on the bill made it look mysterious and important.

Big money for a little kid

However, the most special gift my grandmother gave me from that trip was a small gold mezuzah pendant on a gold chain. It was a simple design suitable for a young child and I loved it. It was probably the most valuable object I ever held and I couldn't believe it was mine. I wore that chain proudly for a long time. I still look at that old mezuzah sometimes and think of my grandmother, who is no longer with us, and what a meaningful gift it must have been for her to give her only grandson a precious and enduring symbol of his heritage.

The pendant my grandmother gave me

Of course, the real value of the mezuzah, like the other items, was the lasting memory and warm sentiment it created. Obviously, a little kid doesn't think that way, but when that kid grows up and looks at these things and thinks of them, he remembers his grandmother’s smiling, loving satisfaction at making him happy. Those are great memories to cherish.

Now, many years later, I find myself in a family business that makes mezuzahs and other Judaica pendants, just like the one I got almost 30 years ago from my grandmother. When we sell a piece of Judaica jewelry, we hope we are helping, in a small way, to create these kinds of memories. We would love to hear stories from our readers about what getting or giving a special gift meant to them. Please feel free to share any stories here.