Throughout my college career thus far, I have taken some interesting and definitely some boring classes. Entering my sophomore year, I was excited to be taking Gender Women Studies. At URI, this class is considered a gen-ed that fulfills classes in most categories. One assignment, given throughout the course was called “The Shero Project.” A shero meaning a women who has had a positive impact on your life. I chose my nana for multiple different reasons. This piece of writing is similar to a biography or a short story. I share personal stories about her childhood as well as mine and growing up with this women in my life. Before reading this piece think about who this concept and who you would write about if you were given this assignment.
Lucille Wexler, daughter, sister, mother, grandmother but better known as nana to me. My nana was at the hospital when I was born and ever since has been an extremely important influence on my life. Growing up in Suffern, New York she lived in Monsey, New York which is only about 15 minutes away. This made it very easy to constantly see her, visit her at work or have her to take my brother and I on adventures. I was connected to my nana on a greater level for many reasons. One being I am named after her husband, my grandfather Herb. He passed away soon after my brother being born so my mother decided to name me Halle in memory of him. In the Jewish religion you are supposed to name your new born after someone who passed; so this was fitting. I also rarely saw my fathers parents so she was the only prominent grandparent in my life.
Lucille grew up in Laurelpon, Queens New York. She lived in a private house with her parents and one younger sister. She described the neighborhood as a “jewish, white middle-class town.” Growing up in the city meant she and her sister Barbara walked to school everyday until high school. When she finished middle school her parents decided for her to attend a different public high school because it was better than their local one. This required taking public transportation and allowed her to meet new people. Similar to myself, she said as a young adult for fun she liked going shopping with her sister and mother. What I found interesting is she said she was very shy growing up, and didn’t go out much. This is surprising because my nana is the most outgoing person I know. Anywhere we go she makes a friend, gives people compliments or already knows someone. This attribute came later in life for Lucille. “I became so outgoing after I met my husband Herb. His family owned bagel stores so I worked in the front greeting customers. This forced me to talk to people.” As I grow older I find similar personality traits within myself and my nana in this aspect. I consider myself friendly and outgoing; and we both love meeting new people. This personality trait went hand in hand with her career decision. Lucille said she wanted to be a teacher since she can remember. Pursuing this she went to Hofstra University in New York with an elementary education major. After this she went into pre-school teaching and worked for over 30 years.
When I was growing up, I always visited my Nana at the Summer school she taught at. She was a teacher at a school in the East Ramapo School District, which is low class family neighborhoods Seeing her care so much about these children who have so little taught me at a young age everyone deserves a good education, and that social and economic class should not effect how you treat someone. My nana’s career path also influenced my mother as she then entered the education field. Both women role models in my life being in the education field made me care about school. I was always excited to go to school, meet new friends and teachers.
A large aspect of my nana’s life is religion. Her father grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan in a very religious Jewish family, while her mother was more conservative. She was raised conservative, only going to synagogue on high holidays and for Bar Mitzvahs. However, she did not have a Bat Mitzvah. I was confused by this because being jewish today its almost assumed you will have one. She explained to me that when she was growing up only boys had Bar Mitzvahs and it was very rare for a girl to have one. This finally came full circle when I had a Bat Mitzvah. My family belonged to a conservative temple, meaning a low level of religious. This meant women can read from the Torah. Not only did I have a portion to read, but my mother and my nana also came on the bima and read prayers during the ceremony. In the religion, this shows a sign of significance and affection.
Judaism became more influential on her life after moving to Monsey. She describes this by saying, “After moving, I made friends who were all also Jewish. It became a social event to go to Temple and Jewish gathering events together.” Women’s roles in Judaism have changed dramatically over the past decades. However, there are still restrictions on women’s rights. When interviewing my nana she said she wished for this to be different. Today she belongs to what is a called a Modern Orthodox temple. This means she is not allowed on the Bima, has to dress a certain way and cannot read from the Torah. Besides these set backs alone, Monsey throughout the years attracted a higher population of Religious Jews. Within the last ten years the whole area became congested with Hasidic Jews. This is the highest level of Judaism; therefore the rules they believe in are very constraint. They follow the Torah specifically meaning arranged marriages, women not allowed jobs, and raising large families. Being surrounded by this strict lifestyle can create skewed outlooks on women rights. Even with these set backs, Lucille still attends every week and made lifetime long friendships that lead to Judaism being an important aspect of her life.
One friendship that stood out in Lucille’s life is with a women she met through the Temple named Roberta or Rasy for short. She described Rasy as a role model in her life because of her general outlook and the way she treats people. Describing her as, “She does the right thing. She does what God would want us all to do. Besides being a good friend she’s just an overall genuine person that goes out of her way to help others.” This outlook on life has carried with my nana all around. She said her parents always encouraged her to do everything and anything they wanted; if you want something go after it. Coming from a middle class family and then also raising a family owning a small business my children and myself all had to work early in life. This teaches you that nothing comes easy. Taking this advice with her, she gave the same advice to her children. Besides work ethic, Rasy’s lifestyle of helping others carries onto the other people in her life. Her personality trait of extremely outgoing goes hand in hand with my nana’s want and need to be a good person by helping others. “We’re all humans; who’s going to help each other if we don’t? Nothing is more important than good health, and treating everyone fair.” This way of life has crossed over into my life. Seeing my nana always do the right thing from such a young age taught me the same life lessons. A big reason she is so important in my life is due to her amazing outlook on life. She constantly keeps this positivity even after Herb passed away, and later being diagnosed with Diabetes which caused a lot of health difficulties. When asked what in her life has brought her the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment she replied, “Raising a family and having my children turn into successful good people. This carries into my grandchildren, and I love seeing them also grow into amazing adults.” I think everyone in my family can agree that she has done an amazing job as a sister, mother, and grandmother. I am so grateful for everything she has done for myself and my family. She is truly a shero.
Here is some pictures of my family and I: