A Mother’s Day Tribute to Mothers and Jewish ValuesPosted on May 8th, 2012 1 comment
Jewish mothers often get a bad rap. Comedians, movies, books portray Jewish moms as the biggest impediment to the development of healthy Jews. Yet, when I started to ask around, there are lots of us out there who see our mothers -Jewish or not- as essential to our growth into the proud Jews we are today. What follows are three moving tributes to three wonderful moms.
We would love to hear more, feel free to share your comments on what values or teaching that you learned from your mom and how they made you into the person you are today. -Ruth Abusch-Magder, editor
Lessons from Estelle
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my mother, Estelle or Essie as every one called her, was really a lesson in feminism although she wouldn’t characterize it that way, but it really was. My Mom had me later in life. She was already in her forties. My older sister was in college and she felt her child bearing days was over. She grew up in an era before the Great Depression and got married soon after high school. She worked as bookkeeper from the age of 16 out of necessity not having the luxury of a college education. Even after she married, she worked in the family business, was active in the life of the community, as Hadassah president, Sisterhood president, temple fundraiser and took care of her parents as well. She raised my sister and ran a household.
She was active in National Council of Jewish Women and so she taught me by example to be involved Jewishly. But my mom would also say to me, “Don’t be any man’s schmatta.” By that she was trying to tell me to be my own person. Go to School. Find a career. Be self supporting. It wasn’t a dig at men or marriage (My parents were happily married 58 years until my father’s death!). But it was her way of conveying the importance of being your own independent woman! And she taught me well. I was the first to graduate college in my family and then of course to go on to seminary and the blessings of a Rabbinic calling! I am no one’s shmatta today. I am my own person and I treasure my mom’s advice and encouragement to grow and learn and embrace the world. –Denise Eger
Learning to be a “mom”
I came out to my mother as gay when I was 27. While I’d like to say that this particular step out of the closet took superhuman levels of courage on my parts, that’s not exactly (or even remotely) true. More accurately, my comfort sharing who I am flowed from many of my mother’s attributes; because of her nurturing love, her subtle kindness and her perseverance in the face of challenge, it was far more natural to share than to withhold.
Getting older, I find that I, too, carry these qualities that allowed me to be open with my mother. They enable and strengthen my rabbinical life, from pastoral conversations to community building. For this reason, perhaps my mother’s greatest ability was how she was able to mold me into the kind of person she is.
About a year ago, I became a father to a daughter. Since then, I’ve been struck by how many people have asked me, “Since you’re a single man, how are you going to make sure she has good female role models?” I suppress my urge to give a snarky response, smile politely and say, “I think we have that covered.” -Seth Goren
What I Learned From My Mom
One of the most important things I learned from my mom was to tune into and value feelings. My mom would always say to me, “Don’t keep it in, it will fester.” Even though I didn’t know what “fester” meant, I understood by her statement that she not only saw me, but felt me. I was always a little surprised that she was aware, often before I was, that I was hurt or concerned about something. (She’d also say “mother’s always know…”) She intuitively knew that experience was layered and that there was more going on than what appeared on the surface. She taught me pay attention to what lies below. This skill has profoundly influenced
my work as a rabbi. I’m not afraid of feelings and teach that becoming aware is a first step toward wisdom and change. Also, this was probably why my love and enthusiasm for Torah study has been so deep. I teach that the surface layer is only one part of reality and by delving deeper into the nuances and multiple meanings of the text, we can learn more and more about our own souls. –Jill Zimmerman
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