Washington Area Women's Foundation

The Best Gift My Grandmother Gave Me

nonnaHow do you show others that you love or care about them?  Some people say it with kind words, thoughtful gifts or generous donations.  My grandmother, Esther, has always expressed it through actions.  Now going on 96-years-old, in good health, and having outlived both of my parents and most of her siblings and friends, my grandmother has always expressed her love by having a full pantry and room at the table for anyone who needed a meal.  And that wasn’t always easy.  My grandmother emigrated to the US in the 1950s with two teenage daughters and raised them essentially on her own.

I remember her in her prime as always juggling multiple jobs.  For years she was the jewelry buyer for the UNICEF gift store in Los Angeles.  But she was also, at the same time, a travel agent, a French teacher (her pupils included Leonard Nimoy!), and the uber-volunteer.  She won multiple “Volunteer of the Year” awards from the Israel Cancer Research Fund, where she began volunteering after my mother died from cancer in the early 1980s.  But above and beyond nanathat, she always had a home-cooked meal and an invitation to her table for neighbors, friends or the visitor who had nowhere else to go.  Her friends knew that they could call on her day or night and that she would be there to support them, drive them where they needed to go, make them a meal, or provide whatever else they needed.  Nothing was too much to ask of her and she never — never — expected anything in return.  I did not realize then that she was my introduction to philanthropy.

This Hanukkah, as I prepare a meal for my family and our neighbors I am thinking about my family — especially my grandmother — and the lessons they’ve taught me.  She is proof of what we all know: women are resilient; women will do anything in their power to provide for their families and hold them together.  And for me personally, she was one of my most significant role models who showed me through her actions that supporting those in need, giving back and caring for others is the way to live.  It’s an example that I try to follow everyday through my work, my giving and my actions.

Nicky Goren is the president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.