Saturdays with Rhoda
Almost every Saturday for the last five years, I’ve gone to visit my friend Rhoda Nissenbaum. We read together and talk, along with my mother and Rhoda’s aide, Sarah. What started as my Bat Mitzvah project has blossomed into a beautiful friendship. Fortunately, I was able to record my recent meeting with Rhoda, and we got a chance to talk about her life, all 97 years of it!
Throughout her life Rhoda has had many role models, and as she told me her story, a couple of them emerged as very prominent. The first was her grandfather. Rhoda fondly spoke of the sweets her grandfather would bring like big, red grapes on Rosh Hashanah. He was the only grandparent Rhoda knew, and it’s very clear to me how her fond memories of him are reflected in her role as a grandmother. When Rhoda told me about the gifts her grandfather would bring it sounded very familiar. This is because Rhoda is on a mission to crochet a bag for every person in her family. In preparation for birthdays and holidays, it’s not uncommon to see beautiful multicolored bags filled with candy bars surrounding her armchair. Unfortunately, Rhoda’s grandfather was struck and killed by a drunk driver when Rhoda was only twelve. She and her family used this experience to become supporters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She would go to meetings and tell her story in the hopes that drunk drivers, like the man who killed her grandfather, would get tougher punishments than just a one-year license suspension, and therefore be less likely to drive drunk in the first place.
Rhoda’s parents are also significant role models for her. She told me about the work her mother did as the president of their local Hadassah chapter. She’d stand out on the street asking for donations from people walking by, and roped Rhoda into doing the same. Rhoda wasn’t a big fan of this method, but she did admire her mother’s spirit. She also learned much from her father’s entrepreneurial nature. He started his adult life as a cigar salesman, and then became a real estate agent. Rhoda followed in her father's footsteps, becoming real estate certified and helping run the family business with her husband. It’s clear that she passed on the business acumen to her children, who have continued to run the family’s business.
Rhoda has many mentors, but she’s also a mentor to others, like me. Rhoda has always encouraged me to write and is one of the reasons I am writing this post today. She is always encouraging me to write about my feelings and experiences, so that I don’t forget therm when I’m her age. One of the highlights of my month is reading my newest blog post with her and talking about the subject. By spending time with Rhoda I have learned how to be a stronger woman. Rhoda always reminds me to focus on my schoolwork and future instead of worrying about boys and is incredibly supportive of my dreams. I hope to one day be as great of a mother and grandmother as Rhoda is to her family and in some ways, to me. Both my grandmothers have passed away and when they were alive, lived far away from me. I have been fortunate to have a “local grandma” in Rhoda. Rhoda has also helped me get closer to my mom. As an average teenager, conversations with my mom about responsibilities or touchy topics can often get heated. When we’re with Rhoda, we don’t fight and instead understand each other.
When Rhoda and I meet, we talk about a number of things ranging from politics to semi-formal dresses. One thing I have always found striking is how willing she is to continue learning. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is certainly not true when it comes to Rhoda. She’s the sharpest woman I know, and her love knows no bounds. I’m truly fortunate to spend my time with this amazing woman, and I can’t wait to spend even more Saturdays together learning about the world, and each other.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Ronkin, Katy. "Saturdays with Rhoda." 17 May 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/saturdays-with-rhoda>.