My Grandmother Riva
A Story of Self-Denying Deed
When my grandmother, Riva Dorfman, told me about her life, I was a teenager and I did not take any notes. Her stories were spilled with tears and suffering time when she was missing many opportunities and experiences her peers enjoyed. She was born exactly at the turn of the 20th century, in 1900, in Ovruch, a small shtetl in Zhytomir region, Ukraine. Her family lived in a poor house, while her parents were servants of a wealthy Jewish family. Riva had 2 brothers and a sister, and though she was born with a heart problem and did not have an easy life, only she reached the age of 90.
Her school years were very short- after three years of studying of reading and writing in Yiddish, her parents could not longer provide her with clothes, shoes, books or notebooks. So at the age of 12, Riva had to drop out of school and started to work as a servant for a rich family. She worked hard for 12 hours a day and often cried because she was tired and she wanted to learn instead of washing dishes and cooking meals for the rich children who went to school and later to college. They became educated and successful while Riva stayed as a servant with their family for years.
When Riva was 13, her elder sister, Fruma, married. Fruma and her husband were an extremely beautiful and happy couple and had three sweet children but soon after the birth of the fourth child, in 1918, she died. Her widower , Zisl, desperately needed help with the orphans.
My Grandmother’s Sister and Her husband
A year passed, and the widower, fourteen years older than her, who stayed with four young children, proposed to Riva. At the beginning, she refused because she was still very young, only nineteen years old and wanted to marry a younger man. But her parents asked her to feel mercy for the little ones, and finally they managed to convince Riva to marry her brother- in- law in order to save her little nephews.
Riva raises four nephews and her own children
In the photograph which was taken a few years later, in 1925, we see the combined family. They stand in their garden next to their large home on a summer day. All the children attended school and became educated. And the girl holding the book , my aunt Fira (Esther), became a teacher like me. Eventually, there were seven children in their family, and all of them treated Riva as their own mother, not as an aunt, and treated each other as brothers and sisters, and not as cousins.
I chose to share this story as an example of self-denying deed in my family.
a woman who has good skills to take care of her home