pink chrysanthemums: Ruth Esther’s favorite flower

For those of you unfamiliar with our Godmother series, you can read parts 1-4 of our introduction series on this blog.

Hello my dear friends, It is me again, Jose, here to tell you how The Jewish Godmother and I both realized that the only way to rescue Brooklyn from El Diablo was to turn to a higher power. We needed someone who had more influence in the community than Don Bubbieberger herself, someone who could break the will of evil itself. That was obviously Ruth Esther, The Jewish Godmother’s very own Mother!

Don Bubbieberger knew that her mother was the only person in the world who could get rid of the Devil. After all, she was the original Jewish Godmother. She handed down her Dynasty to her eldest daughter Sylvia when she retired. During her reign as Godmother, all feared and respected her. She got the nickname the ‘Poly-Esther Don’ because like the fabric, nothing could stain or ruin her reputation.

But even in her retirement, she continued to wield her power at the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Center on Ocean Avenue. She controlled most of the daily ins and outs of the place and resolved the disputes between the residents.

As we walked into the Senior Center, Ruth Esther was seated at her favorite canasta table across from two residents, Goldie Bernstein and Fruma Sternbaum. They were having a dispute. Fruma was fuming as she pointed to Goldie, “She cheats in bingo and she stole my favorite wig yesterday and she’s wearing it.” Goldie was angry as well, “It’s my wig you nudnick, you are meshugana! My beloved Morty, may he rest in peace, bought this for me, he said it made me look like Goldie Hawn.” Fruma began to bang the table, “It’s my wig! You’re a liar,” she turned to Ruth Esther and pleaded, “Help me get my wig back!” She tried to yank it off of Goldie’s head. There was so much commotion, the two cans of Dr. Brown’s cream soda fell off the table.

At that moment, Ruth Esther stood up and the room grew quiet. She said in a deep voice, “I have a solution.” She turned around and addressed an elderly Latino gentleman who was holding a broom in his hand. “Guillermo, bring me my sewing shears.” I, Jose Flores de las Guiterrez Perez de Fernandez de Leon de Jesus, saw my future at that moment. But, I digress.

Fruma asked, “Ruth Esther, what’s with the shears?” Ruth Esther then grabbed the wig off of Goldie’s head and with the shears in one hand and the wig in the other she proclaimed, “I am going to cut the wig in half so you can both have it!” Goldie said, “Great idea, you’re so smart.” Then, with terror in her eyes, Fruma leaned forward reaching out to Ruth Esther pleading, “Not my wig, my darling wig, don’t destroy it, just let Goldie have it, I’d rather you do that then cut it in half.” And that’s when I knew Ruth Esther was using her old “King Solomon” technique and the wig was handed over to its rightful owner and Goldie accepted defeat. The ladies then grabbed their walkers and headed over to the cafe for the pastrami on rye sandwich special.

Don Bubbieberger gave her mother a kiss on the cheek. Ruth Esther then turned to me and asked, “Did you bring the cigarettes?” I handed her the case of Pall Malls. She whispered to me, “I mark up the price 3 times to these shmendricks!”

Don Bubbieberger said, “Ma, I need your help and guidance, I need you to come to the deli.” Ruth replied, “Ok, but only for a few hours because Judge Judy comes on at 4:00. Guillermo! Get my good walker, the one with the wheels, we gotta go back to the deli!”

In the Lincoln, The Godmother filled Ruth Esther in with all the details regarding the Devil issue. Ruth Esther seemed unfazed, for she had seen it all. As a matter of fact, she revealed to us that this was not the first time the Devil had visited the deli. “He was young, handsome and he had a way with words. He even knew what my favorite flower was! Pink Chrysanthemums.” She continued, “We had a fling, he was an amazing lover, very limber, and don’t even get me started on his forked tongue!” Don Bubbieberger was shocked and asked, “Ma, why haven’t you ever told me this before?” Ruth Esther said, “Must you know everything, what are you, the Yenta of Brooklyn? I got a life too!” I could see this perplexed Don Bubbieberger, “This could really gum up the works!” She knew her mother was stronger than anything, but now how can she possibly get rid of the devil if she had a weakness for him? We arrived at the deli with great trepidation.

Upon entering, we found the devil sitting at the counter sprinkling bacon bits on his French toast. As he turned to see Ruth Esther walk in, his face turned whiter than usual, he clutched his chest and he fell to the floor. As she rolled her walker to him he cried out, “How are you still alive? I thought you would be dead by now!” Ruth Esther peered down at him, “You would like that wouldn’t you? It’s been 40 years, you don’t write, you don’t call, nothing! You just disappear, every Shabbos I set a place at the table for you with a bowl of matzah ball soup, your favorite.” Guillermo then handed her a cane and she proceeded to clunk the devil over the head with it. “Is this how you treat a lady, you love them and leave them, you should be ashamed!” I could see a smile form on the corners of Don Bubbieberger’s mouth, she knew her plan to bring her mother in to get rid of the devil was going to work. The devil, still on the floor looking like a crumbled nebbish, cried, “Forgive me Ruthie, please, I was young and impetuous, I did love you, I just couldn’t take the constant nagging and criticism, it never stopped, even me, the devil has a breaking point, it was so awful.”

Ruth Esther said, “Oh so you think that was bad? I haven’t even started yet! Why are you bothering my daughter? When are you going to get a real job? By the way, you look too thin, stand up already, your posture is terrible! You’re too pale, what’s with your haircut, it looks like you have horns coming out of your head, straighten your tie, you look like a shlump. I’ll help you, come live at the Senior Center, I’ll make you a changed man!”

The devil, barely recognizable as the demon he really was, looked more frightened than a lamb in a slaughterhouse. My friends, we were watching a true legend at work, no one could dole out the Jewish criticism and guilt like Ruth Esther. He quickly gathered his things, bolted towards the door and Ruth screamed, “Where do you think you’re going?” He answered, “Just like 40 years ago, I’m going back to hell, It’s better than an eternity of this!” And with that, the devil vanished.

Ruth Esther then asked us, “So do you have an extra slice of that Devil’s food cake? I heard it’s the best in town!”

Yiddush and Hebrew word glossary: *Nudnick: an irritating person, a boring pest *Meshugana: silly, crazy, nonsensical *shmendrick: a foolish or stupid person *Yenta: a busybody, a person who is a gossip *Shabbos: The Sabbath *nebbish: a man who is ineffectual and submissive *shlump: a rumpled or dowdy person

You can click on our team follow through link or the related posts below to read The Jewish Godmother parts 1-4 or The Devil and Miss Bubbieberger parts 1 and 2.

So let me tell you what happened as Yankel hobbled away from the deli with the gefilta fish pressed against his groin… The Godmother’s friend Lucille walked in to deli. She approached Martha who was working behind the counter. “I’m here to see the Godmother,” she proclaimed. Martha replied without speaking as she timidly raised her arm and pointed to the back of the deli. Just then, you could hear the Godmother bellowing, “Where’s my borscht?” Martha with hand shaking, gave a plate to Lucille and said with great trepidation, “Here, you bring the borscht to her, it might help your plight!” Lucille walked slowly towards the back and approached the table. She set the borscht down next to the Godmother. “Here’s your borscht,” she said as she kissed the Godmother’s ring and then remarked, “You look younger every time I see you, what’s your secret?” The Godmother replied, “An ounce of shmaltz and a good shtupping daily, it keeps you regular!” Lucille sat down in an empty spot next to Francine with Mah jongg tiles set up. That’s when the Godmother blurted, “Jose, sit down and be our fourth for Mah jongg!” I obediently sat down and we proceeded to play. The Godmother started the conversation. She said,” So Lucille, to what do I owe this pleasure, you didn’t just come for the Mah Jongg.” Lucille, who as East, started the game said, ” There’s talk in the street I think you should know about, 2 Crack.” Then Godmother replied, “Tell me more, 5 Bam.” It was my turn and I said, ” Are you referring to the alleged illegal high stakes Mah Jongg game, 7 dot.” Francine mumbled, “what are you talking about Jose?, red dragon” Lucille revealed, “Yeah, it’s real, it’s in Sheepshead Bay, 6 crack!” Godmother then took her turn, ” Everyone knows I run the Mah Jongg ring in Brooklyn, 1 dot!” I then turned to the Godmother and replied, ” Well this one you don’t know about, I’m in this deli everyday and I witness everything as I sweep, I hear it’s run by the Russians, 9 crack.” Then Francine exclaimed, ” Oh the Russians, why do they meddle in everything? 4 bam.” Then Lucille chimed in, ” Instead of betting in change they are betting in BIG dollars, Svetlana Oosterveld, was seen carrying 50’s and 20’s down Sheepshead Bay Road last night, Soap!” Godmother gasped, ” 50’s and 20’s? Where’s my cut? Red Dragon.” I then added, “And I heard that they are photocopying the Mah Jongg cards, North!” Everyone fell silent. The Godmother uttered, ” This is a mockery on so many levels,” as she stopped playing . She then tasted her borscht and immediately spit it out. ” The borscht is scalding hot”, she shrieked, “Martha, who is responsible for this?” Martha came running to the back of the deli and nervously replied, ” We have a new cook, Alejandro, he just got off the boat from Columbia.” Francine with her face twisted confusedly asked, ” Columbia University has a boat?” I then shook my head and went to get Alejandro from the kitchen. Alejandro walked in holding his dishtowel in his hands as he shakily whispered, “Si, Godmother, Si.” She replied, ” I’m going to send you back to your home country in pieces!” Alejandro, confused spoke the only 4 English words he knew,

” I no speaka English.” Godmother sneered, ” Let me put it in a language you’ll understand, borscht is a dish best served cold, like REVENGE!!! ” She then flung the scalding borscht in Alejandro’s face. Alejandro ran screaming through the front of the deli covered in borscht, ” El Diablo, La Abuela del Diablo!” And with that Godmother says, “Mah Jongg!”….Tune in next time ( in 2 weeks) for the rest of the story….

In the deepest part of Brooklyn there lies a force to be reckoned with.  It instills fear in the hearts of every man woman and child, even undomesticated pets.  Don’t be fooled by her innocent grandmother-like exterior…she is a bubbie like no other, for inside there beats a heart that is as hard as an undercooked matzah ball.  With blood colder than Brighton Beach in January, she’s The Jewish Godmother, and she runs Brooklyn with an iron fist. Her name was Don Bubbieberger.  What? Do you doubt me? Well sit back and listen, I was there, I used to work for her at her base of operations, the “Oy Va Voy Deli.” A nondescript deli on a nondescript street in the heart of Flatbush. My name is Jose Flores de la Guiterrez Perez de Fernandez de Leon De Jesus.

If you look past the deli counter in the front, you will see a trifold screen from Chinatown behind which she sits. On a Manichewitz-stained fourtop with a few mahjong tiles tucked under one of the unbalanced legs, she runs her empire. This was her ‘office.” Such things I heard and saw there…let me tell you about a memorable day a few Chanukahs ago.

A grandmother entered the deli with her grandson who stopped at the counter to order a bagel with a shmear. She had an appointment with Don Bubbieberger.

The Godmother’s daughter, Francine, who was her gatekeeper said: “Ma, you’re 2:30 is here, its Gertie Gershewitz who just recovered from hip surgery at Mt. Sinai.”

The Godmother greeted Gertie with “How’s the new hip?”

Gertie replied in the typical Jewish manner:  “Don’t get me started! I think the Doctor left an extra screw in there!  I nearly died! You shouldn’t know from the pain! But I’m not here for the hip.  Its about my grandson Yankel.”

So her daughter Francine exclaimed, “The one in Law School? A full scholarship at Columbia? You must get such nachas from him!”

“How is he doing with his studies?” asked the Godmother adjusting her silver wig.

Gertie replied pushing aside her bagel, “Not good Godmother, that’s the problem, he’s not studying. He found a summer job and now he doesn’t want to be a lawyer! He’s not going back to law school in the fall.”

There was a collective “OY!” that resonated throughout the deli and the Godmother responded clutching her chest, “My heart just stopped for a second!”

Francine then handed her mom some pastrami to calm her.

Gertie continued, “I know it’s terrible.  His mother is back at her apartment sitting shiva!”

Francine asked, “So what is this summer job?”

Gertie whispered audibly, “A male stripper.”

The shocking news caused The Godmother to spit out the pastrami, which sailed over the top of the screen from Chinatown. Wiping her mouth she calmly said: “Gertie send him in, I can adjust his attitude, I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” (stroking the side of cheek with back of her hand )

Gertie shouted: “Yankel, get in here!”

Yankel sulked in and said, “Bubbie, I told you its not Yankel anymore, its Jake.”

Gertie shouted  “Jake, shmake, this is a name for a boy in law school?”

Jake answered, “It’s my stage name.”

Godmother then said to Gertie, “Give us a moment, Help ya’self to some fresh rugelach at the counter.”

At this point, Godmother turned to me and said, “Jose, we need to make a mood here, turn off the lights and turn up the music. Ok Jake, show us what ya got!”  So I put on the Godmother’s favorite, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking.”

So he danced in front of us, the shirt came off, the shorts came off and he was down to his Spiderman undies and socks.  He danced so horribly, and as Francine put a pity dollar in his underwear the Godmother shouted, “Jose, cut the music!” She turned to Jake and said, “So Jakela, do you remember your circumcision?”

Yankel then replied, “Godmother, how can I remember, I was 8 days old.”

Godmother then did something that most bubbies would deem unthinkable, she grabbed his family jewels and held onto them with her Jewish GI Joe Kung Fu grip and said, “Allow me to refresh your memory!”

“Now listen to me very carefully, your future is in my hands, I am only going to tell you one time, your grandfather was a lawyer, your father is a lawyer and Judge Judy is your second cousin once removed!  You’re gonna go back to Law School! And let’s hope you are a better lawyer than you are a stripper!” As she released her grip, she said, “Francine, give him an ice pack for the road!”

Yankel cried out, “Godmother it hurts…” he kissed her ring and picked up his clothes and backed away and Francine handed him a frozen loaf of gefilte fish.

The Godmother channeling her grandmotherly instincts, then gave her final directions to Yankel:  “Apply it to the inflamed area 3 times a day, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off and it will be good as new!”

Yankel answered as he stumbled away, “Thank you Godmother, you sure know how to ‘handle’ things!”

And that, my friends was just the beginning, there will be more to follow…..