There is something unique about a Jewish mama. Jewish moms are not better than any other moms. So, I won’t break out the playground line that “my mama is better than your mama!”
If you have a Jewish mama, you know what I’m talking about when I say that there is something unique about a Jewish mama. If you don’t have a Jewish mama, but you know Jewish mamas, then you might know what I mean.
This month marks eight years since we lost my mom, unexpectedly, due to an untimely death when she turned 60. Words can’t describe how much I miss her. Truly, Irene was the quintessential Jewish mama.
Recently, as I was thinking about my mom (which happens more frequently this time of year, though I think about her all the time), I paused to consider what was behind my thinking there. What is the quintessential Jewish mama? I feel that in my gut, but what does that mean?
Is saying “Oy Vey!” when things go wrong what makes a Jewish mama? Were Irene’s reminders to not put her in a bad nursing home what made her a Jewish mama? Is schlepping large quantities of toilet paper to my home for each visit what makes a Jewish mama? As if my grocery stores didn’t carry toilet paper and we would not survive without it (okay, my grandmother did this more than my mom, but Irene loved making sure we were stacked with essential supplies!).
How about the excessive worrying? And the legendary nagging? Jewish mamas are tough to top here. My mom was no different.
Or her religiously watching “Wall Street Week” on Erev Shabbat (uh…yes…growing up, we were typical Reform Jews and not so frum about Shabbat)?
Or the sense that her kids together hung the moon? It’s tough to find a Jewish mama that doesn’t dote over her kids. My mom was off the charts here.
Irene did all these things and so much more that made her like a lot of Jewish mamas (I almost forgot to mention the yearly trips to Aruba!). But in addition to the funny things, here are three substantial ways that my mom expressed herself as a great Jewish mama.
My mom saw the importance of passing on Jewish values and a Jewish lifestyle. Irene was married twice - and she was two for two in getting both my dad and my step dad to convert to Judaism (she was strong!). As a result, my sister and I grew up in a home where there was no confusion about our Jewish identity. Both of us had Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. And celebrating the Jewish holidays was part of our way of life.
Though my mom was not a religious woman, her instincts and reflexes were thoroughly Jewish. Therefore, when I became a believer in Jesus in college, mom was not happy. She had every reason to believe that this spelled the end of my Jewish identity. And as I wrote in a previous blog post, if not for God’s mercy in directing me to Messianic Judaism, she would have been correct. Before mom died in 2007, I had already re-incorporated a good bit of Jewish practice into my life as a believer in Yeshua. Mom was so happy to see this. It was important to her that her kids identify as Jews.
Another particularly Jewish characteristic that my mom possessed was her sense of justice. Mom was easy to get along with. She had lots of friends and everyone liked her. But if she sensed injustice, she wouldn’t put up with it. Often as an adult, if I came to my mom with a complaint about a situation, she would say, “Write a letter!” In other words, don’t just kvetch, do something about it. Mom was not quick to jump into a fight. She could operate with nuance and discretion. But if there was a cause worth fighting for, she was more than willing to jump in the ring. That sense of justice that I observed in my mom has influenced how I have approached various situations in life.
In my late 20s, I experienced my first runaround with an insurance company over a vehicle claim. They were seeking to low-ball me. I remember thinking throughout that process, “Irene would not accept this. She would persist until this was settled fairly.” Sure enough, by calmly and steadily making my case, the insurance company yielded to my request. My mother’s voice in my mind made a difference there.
Along this line, mom also taught me that you are going to lose some battles that were still worth fighting for. I remember her talking about “cutting your losses and going home.” I sure do miss talking to her these past eight years. I’ve encountered so many situations where I wish I could have done more than wonder what she would have done.
The last particularly Jewish characteristic about my mom that I’d like to share is that mom had a fierce love for her kids. Yes, as I already mentioned, with the fierce love came the nagging and worrying. But it sure was good to be loved by Irene. One thing I always knew as a kid and as an adult, was that my mom would always be there for me. There were plenty of things that I did in my life that mom was not proud of, but never, ever, did I question her love for me. Now that I have five wonderful, amazing, incredible, fantastic kids of my own (yup, Irene’s doting rubbed off on me as a father), I am also having to face the inevitable moments when my kids make choices that I am not proud of. And in those moments, I often find myself defaulting to a posture that I once stood across from as a kid, or even as an adult. I tell my own kids, “Your choices are hurting me. I am not proud of this. But _________, I love you. And I will always love you, no matter what choices you make.” Again, though mom wasn’t a religious person, she sure did model the Father’s love to me so many times. I can only hope that my kids are seeing that same love in me.
Jewish mamas. They are a unique breed. My Jewish mama left an imprint on my soul that shapes so much of who I am today. Those close to me are familiar with me saying, “My mother used to say…” This month, when we light mom’s Yahrtzeit, I’ll get choked up. I’m getting choked up now. Truly, I am thankful that the light of her memory still burns deeply within me.