Friday, August 31, 2012

Argentine Family Traditions

Zeide and me drinking Mate on the back porch

Today would have been my grandfather's 81st birthday. He passed away October 19, 2011, a few days before my son was born. Pablo Hackman, my Zeide (we called him by the Yiddish word for grandfather), was born in Poland and moved to Argentina as a baby. There he married my grandmother "Lala" and they had two kids before moving the family to New York. I wanted to celebrate his birthday by reminiscing about a typical family gathering.

Our food and get-togethers were very much influenced by Argentine culture. And Argentine culture is influenced by Italian culture. We ate lots of pasta, and said "ciao," and probably did lots of other things I don't realize are more Italian that South American. I grew up in Florida, living near my grandparents and my Aunt Monica's family. We got together often to enjoy asado Argentine barbecue.

We would all meet at Lala and Zeide's house in the afternoon. We might sit outside by the pool, or inside with a soccer game on the TV. At some point, maybe in the afternoon, my grandparents would prepare mate (mah-TAY) for us to share. (I was going to make this whole post about yerba mate, but that will wait for another day.)

My mate set from my grandparents
There is a real ritual to preparing and drinking mate. After the prep, Zeide would slowly pour hot water over the mate leaves in his little ceramic mug and hand it off to one of us. We would drink the hot tea-like drink through the special filtering straw called a bombilla. After we drank that serving, the mug would go back to my grandfather to be filled again with hot water. We would continue taking turns drinking until the mate was very weak.

Dinner was a long draw out event. Long before sitting down at the table, Zeide would serve an antipasto.  He might bring salami or a block of cheese outside, or to the coffee table, and slice pieces for us. Then Zeide or uncle Danny would begin grilling a large variety of meat - chicken breast, blood sausage, sweet breads... Lala and Aunt Monica would set the table and prepare salad and other dishes while the meat cooked in waves. I remember Zeide giving us little sandwiches while we waited. I think we must have consumed quite a bit of meat and bread before ever sitting down to eat. We ate the grilled meet on thick toasted rolls with chimichuri.

Pablo (Zeide) & Marta (Lala)'s engagement party, Buenos Aires 1952
After dinner (and dessert, of course) the adults drank coffee and played dice (a Yahtzee-style game with dice, cups, and poker chips) or borraco (a game like Canasta, played with Rummikub tiles).  I am grateful that I grew up with these family gatherings as a normal part of life.

My kids and I Skyped with Zeide as long as he had the strength, but it makes me sad that he didn't get to meet my son. I hope that our family can continue some of the traditions that my grandparents gave to me.


  1. That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing that on Zeide's birthday.It really means a lot to me, well, to all of us. I hope you are all doing well and hope to see you all soon.
    Much love,
    Your cousin,

  2. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. Love you all, Aunt Monica

  3. I'm happy Zeide made such a wonderful impression on you. Love, Grandma Lala

  4. Wow! You brought back allot of happy memories for me. I am sure I have met you when when you were a child.

    My name is Diana Goldbort and my parents were very close friends with Marta and Pablo for many years. I was very close friends with Monica Hartman Sabaj. I loved Marta and Pablo.

    My family are Argentine jews too. We used to go to the Argentine club in Queens New York for many years. I went there until I was about 16 yrs. old. I spent my growing up years at that Argeninian club, as well as at Marta and Pablo's house.

    I went to Monica's and Danny's wedding and was in her bridal party.

    I know Danny as well from the Argentinian club as well as his family.

    I met allot of Monica's relatives during those years during social events, including her cousins and aunt and uncles. I also remember Monica's grandparents. And of course Monica's brother Danny. I went to his wedding too.

    So I must have met you and your parents, but you were much younger than me.

    All those experiences you had with drinking Mate, I had as well. I loved it and have great memories. I miss those days, Monica & her family, my family members who passed away and the Argentine customs.

    I am so sorry that your Zeide Pablo passed away. He was so wonderful. So is your grandmother Marta. My parents passed away too. Is Marta still alive?

    I have not drunk Mate or Mate Cosido in so many years.

    I am sorry that your cousin Monica and I lost touch. I just left a phone message at her business Moni's. Monica and I used to be very close friends. Best friends for awhile. I hope to hear back from her.

    I also remember playing Canasta, Burraco, and rummy with Monica, Marta, and my mom sometimes at my parents house and other times at your grandparents home. It was so much fun but most of all the people were so special to me.

    With the exception of one of my cousin's who moved to florida, all my relatives Still live in Argentina.

    Thank you so much for posting this wonderful story. I remember sitting down and drinking mate with your grandparents Marta and Pablo, Monica, Danny, Danny's parents and other people. Those were wonderful days!

    You made my day.You brought back memories that I had not thought about in over 30 years.

    I hope that you and your family are well.


    Diana Goldbort

    1. Hi Diana, Thanks for sharing! My grandma "Lala" Martha passed away a couple years ago. My family still lives in Florida, and I live in Israel with my husband, five kids, and dog.

    2. I am so sorry to hear that and for your loss. I adored Marta. May she rest in peace.Thank you for replying. I appreciate it.

      Are you in contact with your cousin Monica?
      If so, are Monica and Danny well?

      Living in Israel! That is fabulous. I have visited Israel in the past. It was wonderful.




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