Grassian was born on February 15, 1946, in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Elijah David, a rabbi, and Ann R. Stampfer, a clerical supervisor.
Her father was a rabbi from the 1920s through the 1960s, in the days when rabbis spent a lot of time teaching both classes and individuals. Among his other responsibilities, he had to teach boys how to chant for their Bar Mitzvahs, and there were no personal tape recorders for students. They all had to practice in person with him, day after day, week after week. Though he was a wonderful person, he was not the world's most patient or admirable teacher. Her mother, though, has always been a natural, patient, step-by-step teacher, and Esther Grassian realize now she modeled her teaching style on hers. She's also been an incredible role model for sticking to a dream. She dropped out of high school during the Depression to get a job and help her family. But education was so important to her that she took one night-school class after another for many years until finally she earned her associate's degree from Los Angeles City College.