Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, May 7, 2021 / 25 Iyyar 5781
Summary: This week’s Oasis Songs is dedicated to moms everywhere and offers some Jewish perspectives on Mother’s Day and the parent-child relationship.
Popcorn Night at Home
This Sunday evening is Yom Yerushalayim, which marks the reunification of Jerusalem. Given that, I want to remind you of a remarkable opportunity to watch a new-old film about David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s primary national founder. While the footage of Ben-Gurion was filmed during his lifetime, the soundtrack was lost and only recently recovered. With its discovery, we have a new opportunity to hear a last word from Israel’s first prime minister. The film is available to view between May 6-19, and the session with the director will occur on May 16, 2021 at 10:30 a.m. PT.
To view the film for free and to attend a Zoom discussion with the film’s director, Yariv Mozer, please register at https://aabgu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_WEM0dbWLSKufxD6G_zT_mg
This event is brought to the community by Israel360 and a wide range of community partners including the Consulate General of Israel of the Pacific Northwest, Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies, Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Oregon Jewish Life, and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.
For questions, contact: Lisa Marie Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org; 503.246.8831.
Reading Time: Four minutes
My Mother’s Umbrella: Reflections on Mother’s Day
As we approach Mother’s Day, I imagine that we all have images and memories through which we can re-experience the love we received from our mothers. Here’s one among many. I played soccer for eight years, and mom was there at virtually all the games—the only times she couldn’t make it was when I was on the travel team. Apart from those, it didn’t matter what the weather was like. There were games we played when it was below freezing and a dusting of snow covered the field. Mom put on her gloves, hat, boots, and scarf. New York tough!
Here’s what you need to know. Mom was always a bit bougie, a bit stylish. When it rained, she would be running up and down the sidelines with this chrome-handled, royal blue umbrella. There were oval glass gems encrusted in the handle that sparkled whenever the sun broke through the clouds. I assure you, no other kid’s mom cut an image like that! It was simultaneously mortifying and amazing. Even when I was embarrassed by her umbrella, I still knew she had my back.
Next month, I will have the opportunity to visit my mother. I have not seen her in more than a year and a half. She is in an assisted living facility. For the longest time, they were not allowing visitors, nor was I vaccinated and ready to travel. I am excited to have this opportunity. She is getting up there in years and her hearing has deteriorated, so it is difficult to communicate with her on the phone.
I am reminded of a gorgeous Yiddish statement. Mames farshteyen vos kinder zogen nisht. “Mothers comprehend even what their children can’t say.” This saying portrays a sensitivity to our unspoken needs that so many mothers possess. Perhaps this pre-verbal connection begins in the womb. In any case, this maxim speaks of the special mother-child bond. As her hearing fades and she grows less talkative, it is now my turn to understand what she can’t say.
Even though Mother’s Day is not a Jewish holiday, its importance is linked to many Jewish values. The Fifth Commandment (kibbud av va’em) speaks of honoring and respecting our mothers (and fathers).
Gratitude is another essential aspect of the Jewish mindset. Setting aside a Sunday to recognize all that our mothers have done for us helps us to experience gratitude. For Judaism, gratitude isn’t only a feeling that arises spontaneously. Gratitude is an emotional muscle; the more we use it, the better we get at noticing the many blessings in our lives. It is much easier to honor and respect our mothers when we take cognizance of all they have done for us.
In the Jewish legal tradition, most obligations in the parent-child relationship outline what parents must provide for their children. In earlier life, the Fifth Commandment is understood in concrete and specific ways, such as respecting a parent’s possessions like a special chair. We are also discouraged from calling our parents by their first names. We can each decide how relevant those teachings are in today’s world, but they were clearly aimed at developing healthy boundaries that children need to thrive.
Yet as we age, the balance of responsibility begins to shift. The Fifth Commandment delineates exactly what our duties are to aging parents, which is to ensure their basic needs, like food and shelter, are provided for.
Judaism also recognizes that the parent-child relationship is one of the most complex ones we must learn to navigate throughout life. It is normally the only relationship in which we move from total dependence, to independence, and finally to assuming some of the parental roles of protection that they once provided us. It is why at a funeral, children perform kriah, the tearing of a ribbon or garment that is affixed to their left side, closest to the heart. For other losses, that ribbon is placed on the right.
The Russian author Leo Tolstoy famously noted in Anna Karenina that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Drawing on his insight, let’s acknowledge that not all people had easy relationships with their mothers. Some people have experienced outright abuse. Our tradition wisely reduces our responsibilities to such parents. Most of us, thankfully, had “good enough mothers.” We received sufficient love, protection, and encouragement to grow into productive adults.
Mother’s Day allows us space to celebrate and shower our living mothers with love and appreciation. It offers us an opportunity to practice gratitude. It encourages a strong family bond. For those who no longer have a living mother, the day carves out time to bring to mind the priceless gifts our mothers gave to us.
To all you moms out there, thank you. You are a bedrock of society.
Shabbat Table Talk
- What are precious images and memories you have of your mother when you were growing up?
- When have you realized that you were now acting like one of your parents?
- How do you relate to “Hallmark holidays” such as Mother’s Day? Are you supportive of them or do they bother you?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.