Making matzoballs, she stood in front of the covered boiling pot, wringing her hands and murmuring: I "zitter," I have "angst." [I am trembling with fear]. The matzoballs had to boil for twenty minutes, while she "zittered"; of course they were always perfect. The same thing happened when she made "gefilte fish" or some other spectacular dish. She would stand fearful at the table whispering "I have angst" until someone declared "delicious."
When anyone in uniform stopped to speak to us, she trembled. Strangers were eyed with suspicion and fear. When my brother took his first step her "angst" bounced of the walls. Thunderstorms [which were frequent in the summer] were frantic: "don't go near the window, don't turn on the water, don't answer the phone and don't touch the light." She sat trembling, trying to look calm until it passed. Electricity brought on another bout with angst. Don't touch strange knobs, don't touch that switch. She would tune the radio and "zitter." Yet, she did what she had to.
At 17, after her father died, she managed their hotel because there was no one else. She fled the Nazis at the age of 57 with four children and learned to speak English and start a new life in the US. When she was one hundred years old, she argued with the electric company about how many BTUs she used. When asked how did she know about BTUs, she said she studied it in school. Electricity was known and understood by her, so why the panic "angst?" The weather was another angst. It is raining "do you have to go out?" She had no fear for herself. She flew before any of us. She loved getting a ride - to Florida, New York, Philadelphia... anywhere; it did not matter who drove.
I observed "angst" in many Jewish mothers in Lithuania and the US. Was fear inbred? Was it perhaps a throw back to the "pogroms" in eastern Europe. I often wondered if it is a gene that lays dormant in Jewish women, only to surface at times, regardless where we live. I felt the same angst, when my granddaughter took her first step and tried walking down the steps. When it storms and I can not reach my children, fear grips my heart until l am able to talk to them. I check the weather in California and Texas, where they live, every morning.
Surely the American pioneer women could not have gone west in covered wagons had angst consumed them. The Jewish immigrants crossed the Atlantic ocean in the 1800s in steerage. Fearless, they started a new life in America; but “zittered” over their children. Some people call Jewish mothers overprotective, over indulgent, but I see it as a "zitter" gene.
40 Old Lancaster Rd.
Merion Station, Pa. 19066