My grandmother, Zelda, was born in 1924 in a city called Samara in the former Soviet Union.

Her mother died in childbirth when Zelda was just 3 years old. My grandmother’s older sister, Rachel, was 5, and the baby, Olga, named after their mother, was just a few hours old.

The three sisters were raised by their loving and always exhausted father, David, who worked around the clock to feed his three young, motherless daughters. There was a lot of despair during those years, coupled with hunger and poverty after World War I and the Communist Revolution of 1917. In time, David hired an elderly peasant woman to help around the house.

Baba Frosya, as the girls called her, went to sleep at sunset and woke up with the sound of the roosters. My grandmother relayed one incident from her childhood. Once, Baba Frosya woke her up for school as usual, braided her hair and put a piece of bread into her school bag. Zelda ran towards the school, surprised that it was still dark outside. When she reached the school building, she realized that something was wrong.

Zelda banged on the locked doors, terrified of the dogs barking in the distance. A few minutes later, a night watchman came to the door surprised to see a little girl who was dressed for school. He was clearly woken up by her loud knocking and was cursing under his breath. “What on earth are you doing here at 2 in the morning?” he asked.

When Zelda realized that it was not yet morning, she started to cry, begging for the watchman to let her in. Now that she knew the actual time, she was scared to walk back home in the middle of the night. Fortunately, the watchman was kind and allowed my grandmother to stay in the classroom until morning, sleeping in her chair with her head down on the desk.

As a young girl, listening to this story, I was confused why my grandmother was oblivious to the fact that it was dark outside. I questioned her about her experience, trying to understand why she felt the fear only after she realized that it was the middle of the night.

Zelda parents, David and Olga, before her tragic death from childbirth.
Zelda parents, David and Olga, before her tragic death from childbirth.

She patiently explained, over and over, that Baba Frosya trusted the roosters, which were never wrong about the time of day, and she therefore believed that the sun would rise very soon. Interestingly, my grandmother was not angry at her caretaker. She knew that Baba Frosya was old and simply vividly dreamed that she heard the “morning call.”

At the end of the story, my grandmother would often joke to reassure me of my safety. “Don’t worry, my dear, these things wouldn’t happen today because everyone knows how to tell time.”

I just couldn’t imagine how a rooster could be trusted to be an indicator of another day.

Once I became interested in my Jewish heritage after our immigration to the United States, I started exploring the concepts of Jewish prayer. I was intrigued to learn that there was a particular prayer that is recited every morning that acknowledged the unique quality of a rooster.

Every morning, we thank G‑d, “who gives the rooster the understanding to distinguish between day and night.” I remembered how my grandmother explained to me that the crows of a rooster take place even before the sunrise. The rooster’s call is an announcement to the world that the day will begin soon. Simply said, a rooster is the ultimate optimist, predicting light despite the darkness that still envelopes the world. At the start of each day, we can internalize the lesson that darkness and sense the “dawn” that awaits us.

As I welcome the routine of daily prayer into my life, I begin my mornings by thanking G‑d for another day and feeling grateful for all the blessings He has given me. I also try to remember the hidden yet powerful message of the rooster, that every darkness is followed by dawn. And all we have to do is trust our “inner rooster” and never give up hope.

My grandmother Zelda and I, in 1977 in the former Soviet Union.
My grandmother Zelda and I, in 1977 in the former Soviet Union.