Nona, Did I Kill God?
Everything I know about God I learned from my grandmother.
It was on a hot July day in 1959, a month after turning eight years old, when they accused me of murdering God.
I was drinking from the water fountain in the Allen Street Park when some of the neighborhood kids approached. Lucy, the girl I sometimes played with, stepped forward and accused me. “You are a Jew and the Jews killed God!” she proclaimed as she pointed and wagged her finger at me. “I am not allowed to play with you anymore!” The others nodded in agreement.
Stunned, I raced over to my grandmother sitting a few benches away. “Nona…” I tried to tell her what happened but my tears were flowing too fast.
She placed her crocheting into her bag, put out her arms and pulled me towards her. Hugging me she asked, “Kook-la-moo, what’s wrong?” I felt safe whenever Nona called me ‘her doll.’
She opened her tulip embroidered pocketbook, took out her neatly folded handkerchief with flowers that she had stitched with different color threads, and wiped my face. “What happened? Why are you crying?”
In between hiccupping sobs, I asked, “Am I a murderer? Did I kill God?”
“No. Of course not. Tell me, who told you such a thing? Those kids by the water fountain?”
Don’t listen to them. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Now I want you to look up to Heaven and throw a kiss to God. He loves you.
I nodded my head. “Don’t listen to them. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They got it all wrong. Now I want you to look up to Heaven and throw a kiss to God. He loves you.”
As we headed home, Nona told me not to think about what those mean children said to me. “You’ll feel better after you come to shul with me on Shabbat. Okay, Kook-la-moo?” When we reached my building, she waited until I got upstairs before continuing down the block towards her apartment.
On Shabbat, I wore my favorite dress that matched my eyes, a deep royal blue. It was starting to feel tight. Mom did not think it would fit me by my 9th birthday. I was disappointed – I needed more clothes for shul but we didn’t have extra money.
My six-year-old brother was watching Saturday morning cartoons on television. “Nona will be here any minute so turn off the T.V.,” Mom warned him. I asked my mother if she was coming to shul with us. “No. Your father is working. There’s laundry and cooking to do before he gets home.” I wished she would go with us, even just once.
I heard Nona call from outside. As I flew down the flight of stairs, I heard the television from our apartment go back on. I waved goodbye and ran outside into Nona’s waiting arms. I slipped my little hand into her big one, as we proudly walked to the corner and turned left onto Broome Street. The Greek shul, Kehila Kedosha Yanina, was in the middle of the block, wedged in between two larger apartment buildings.
The balcony was crowded with women and girls dressed in their best outfits. The fragrance of the combined perfumes was like a bouquet of flowers blended with the scent of wood polish from the benches. We sat on my grandmother’s special bench as she nodded to the other women as a way of saying “Shabbat shalom.”
I look downwards into the men’s section. There it was standing on a special table in the middle of the shul. The Torah! Nona told me God’s words are written inside. The scroll was inside a large round silver case. As the strong man picked it up, the tiny bells on the top near the crowns chirped like little sparrows. He held the Torah up so the women could see it.
Even though Nona had old lady hands, I loved watching the red nail polish on her fingers glide through the air as she prayed.
Please don’t let my friends hate me because they think I killed You. You could never die.
I moved my hands just like her and the other women. We touched our eyes, lips and blew a kiss to the Torah.
Nona continued to pray quietly. She didn’t go to school in Yanina, Greece where she grew up. She never learned to read or write. She knew how to pray without looking at a book. Her open hands were raised high as she spoke in a low, soft voice directly to Him. She once whispered in my ear that when talking to God, she thanks Him for all the good people, health and things in her life, asks Him for what she needs, and tells Him anything else she might have on her mind. Sometimes I see her praying like that even when we are home and not in shul.
I started to think about what happened in the park that week. I am not a murderer. They got it all wrong.
I opened my arms and began my prayer. “I thank You God for making me. Thank You for giving me a mind so I can think. Please don’t let my friends hate me because they think I killed You. You could never die. Please don’t let them hate the Jewish people. I love coming to shul.
“And thank You, God, for giving me my Nona who teaches me all about You.”