The Jewish Mother by Ann Karlin
Volume 3 , Issue 2 (Nov, 1989 | Cheshvan, 5750)
Almost as much has been written about the Jewish mother as about love and/or marriage. Even Mad Magazine featured her some years back. In actuality, who is she ? especially the abandoned Jewish mother here in Israel? Maybe, like me, she came to Israel hoping to reunite a family, only to find, a few years later, that two of her children left to go abroad. Or, she may be the mother from Iraq who did everything she could for her sons only to find that while they visit her on Friday nights, she is never invited to their homes to spend the night, even during the holidays.
Or again, she may be the woman I meet on the street occasionally who, with tears in her eyes, tells me how she is never invited for the Sabbath ? because her daughter does not keep a kosher home and she cannot eat there. ?Why,? she asks me despairingly, ?can't she prepare something just for me?? Why, indeed!
The business of kosher becomes even more exacerbated during Passover. Mothers who live alone and are usually widowed, and whose daughters do not keep kosher homes cannot go to them for Seders. One visiting couple from the States I met told me how they had to go to a hotel for Passover because their son lived on a non‑religious kibbutz.
When did we begin to lock our hearts and homes away from our mothers? And when did we begin to abandon them?
We may look for Israel's many problems in large domestic and political issues, such as the intifada, U.S.‑Israel relations, Israel's recession, and on and on ad infinitum, but to me no issue is as relevant as the indifference to and the abandonment of the Jewish mother.
For me, personally, the seeds were sown years ago with the neglect of Judaism in the home. If it wasn't ?smart? to be secular either pre or post‑World War II, neither was it the ?thing? to be Orthodox. Even in homes where kashruth was observed, as in mine when I was growing up, other basic factors were lacking by example ?? factors that would bind us to an Orthodox way of life and make it mandatory in our married lives.
In a troubled home environment, my family's Judaism was something we ?were,? to be celebrated at holidays and one's brother's Bar Mitzvah, but it was not thought of in terms of our emotional or mental survival. While my parents had to struggle with a new language ? they had come to the States in 1923 ? and my father with the necessity of providing for a growing family, they tried to retain the old values while adapting to the new.
For me, therefore, while it was disturbing to marry a Jew from a non‑observant family, it was not the tragedy it would later become. And, though my children were educated in Jewish day schools, including Hebrew high school, life was, by and large, mainly secular.
It took World War II to teach us what it meant to be Jewish and how much our enemies hated us for it ? enough to kill six million of us.
Some of us also learned it was not only the Nazis who hated us who indeed, wanted to destroy us. That made it all the more important that we stay alive. To do so we had to find out what it was that made us Jews since the time of Abraham, and as individuals in our own time.
Living in Israel, for example, we found out just how close Egypt was during the Yom Kippur war, and how it was when our people were enslaved and subsequently taken out ?with a Mighty Hand.? Moses became, not some remote prophet and teacher, but a living personality whose examples of humility and G‑d fearing laws remain with us until this day.
For me, those of our children who have left us for greener Elysian fields have not served themselves well, no matter how improved their status may appear to be elsewhere. They have forsaken their inheritance (The Land, their faith), and their mothers (or parents), even if those same mothers failed to do, through youth and ignorance, everything they could to provide them with a total Jewish background.
Are we then saying that all observant Jews are devoted to their mothers and parents while the non‑observant are not? This, of course, would be a sweeping generalization that no one could make. However, what we can say is that the Fifth Commandment is more apt to be taken seriously by those who love and fear G‑d than by those who do not.
Usually we quote the commandment as ?Honor thy father and mother,? when in fact, the commandment is both tied to life itself and to the land. Here is how it reads:
Honor they father and they mother, as the Lord thy G‑d commanded thee, that they days may be long, and that it may go well with thee upon the land which the Lord thy G‑d giveth thee.
I think we may safely assume that inasmuch as all Jews are one, that even those who live in the Diaspora are bound by this as well as all Ten Commandments.
Let us bear in mind that no one can legislate love; we are not commanded to ?love? our parents, but to ?honor? them. Only when we cease to honor them can we abandon them, no matter how the word ?abandon? is interpreted.
What we did not understand as we grew up, and no one could or would tell us, was that aside from the sufferings of our people's history as a whole, culminating in the horrors of the Shoah, our own personal sufferings would be linked with both our complacency and lack of observance in our own lives.
In a flourishing U.S. magazine dealing with Jewish topics, one feminist writer says:
I wouldn't have missed being Jewish for the world. It lives in me as a vital subculture enriching my life as a writer, as an American, and certainly as a woman.? (emphasis added).
To this I would like to add that in Israel, being Jewish is no ?subculture.? It is our very reason for being here in the first place, the Land deeded to Abraham by G‑d to his descendants for all time. It is also the place where we see our soldiers return each Friday for the Sabbath weary and hot, knowing the dangers they have faced defending our right to be here. It is also the place where we listen to yet another radio report of one more civilian killed in a terrorist attack, or witness the agony of those maimed and killed in a bus disaster by a crazed Arab seeking revenge.
For those mothers whose children do remain on The Land, but still suffer, the answers, while individually complicated, may still have to do with the strict observance of G‑d's decrees.
It hath been told thee,
Only to do justly, and to love mercy,
Micah, VI: 8
??1989 by Ann Karlin. Ann Karlin currently lives in Bnei Brak. She is originally from Brooklyn and made Aliyah in 1970.