My Roommate Is an 86-Year-Old Jewish Grandmother & I Highly Recommend It

I moved to Australia, took a job at a bagel shop — and found a new best friend four times my age.

I’m sitting on the couch talking to Linny as she tells me about her new boyfriend. She is reeling in the exploration of new love, honeymoon phases and the “Snow on the Beach” feeling that Taylor Swift can’t get enough of. And I can’t get over the fact that she’s my 86-year-old roommate.

I moved to Sydney, Australia in September, eager to explore new parts of the world and grow into myself as a young woman balancing aspirations and anxiety. I arrived with two of my closest friends from college, and as we learned the astronomical expenses of Australia, we were desperate for employment. That’s when I came across Lox in a Box, a Jewish-style bagel shop owned by a Jewish lesbian couple. I figured, I’m from New Jersey, I’m JewishI can do bagels!

My first day at Lox in a Box was the opening of their new shop in Manly, a neighborhood in Sydney. An open floor plan, a clean white and green aesthetic, fresh lox and hundreds of fluffy bagels greeted me as I stepped off the Manly Fast Ferry. That’s when I met Candy and Gaia. They welcomed me with open arms and were fascinated by why a New Jersey Jew would come all the way to Sydney to work at a bagel shop; I wasn’t so sure myself.

The opening day was a whirlwind. Hundreds of bagels sold out in hours, and it turned out oat flat whites, tuna salad, classic lox and chicken schnitty sandwiches were all the rage right off the Corso. I was in love. The loud music, the Jewish families, my bubbly coworkers and quality schmear were all I needed to know that I had found the perfect job for my time abroad.

But Lox in a Box soon became more than a job.

Candy called me a few weeks later: “This is so random, but my 86-year-old grandma wants someone to live in her spare room — for free! She’s got this beautiful apartment in an amazing neighborhood and she wanted me to ask if ‘that American Jewish girl was looking for a place to live.’” Living with a Jewish grandmother had not been on my bucket list for my Australian adventure, but I figured I’d be a schmuck to say no. By November, I was moved in.

I quickly realized that living with Linny was not going to be like living with any ordinary Jewish grandmother: She’s a cool Jewish grandmother. I come home by 11pm and the woman is still out on the town. When she gets home at midnight, we enjoy a cup of tea and an episode of “The Graham Norton Show.”

We discuss a variety of topics, from her experience moving from London to Sydney to how, in her words, “America has lost the plot.” Linny was fascinated to hear all about my education in Gender and Women’s Studies and how my passion lies in abortion-based advocacy. She was incredibly disappointed to learn that my ex of four years was not Jewish, but was also supportive in my single era. When I told her I take antidepressants, she said, “Throw that shit away! You’re too beautiful to be depressed.” I think she cured me with that one.

Candy and Gaia have become like older sisters to me. While they filmed content at the Manly store, I spent my hours sitting with their baby boy and catching up on all the family gossip, particularly around Linny’s new boyfriend — or, as she likes to call him, her “end of life partner.”

On Fridays, I join Linny and her family at Shabbat dinner. Sitting around the table, I am faced with the reality that I will soon say goodbye to my Australian family. How did I stumble upon this community? These people? Why can’t I take Linny back to New Jersey with me?

But spending time with Linny has also made me feel closer to my family back home. She reminds me of the chats and laughs I would enjoy with both my Jewish grandmothers, Carrie and Karen. I often imagine getting to introduce these three women: The three of them would spend hours discussing reproductive injustices, their favorite recipes and mahjong versus bridge. My Jewish family here only deepened my love and affection for the Jews I grew up with in Jersey.

To me, being Jewish is more than going to temple on Shabbat and being a bat mitzvah; being Jewish means celebrating family and food and culture. I never knew I would find all three on the other side of the world.

When I get homesick, I turn to Linny for an episode of “The Crown” and a cup of English Breakfast. When I’m hungry, I go to Lox in a Box and eat a tuna mayo bagel with pickles and chips. When I’m feeling lost, I attend Friday night Shabbat dinners with my Australian family and am reminded that I will always have a home in Sydney. Being Jewish is just that: connecting through family, food, warmth and culture, even on the other side of the world.

Maya Cherins

Maya Cherins (she/her) is a writer, storyteller and activist. Upon graduating from UW-Madison in 2022, she took six months to explore Sydney, Australia but is looking forward to returning home to NJ. Maya loves to read, write and spend time outdoors with friends and family.

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