Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

#blogElul 14 – Remember

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, today I remember the blessings my mother brought to my life through the words of the eulogy I delivered at her funeral:

The best word I can use to describe my mother is “complicated.” On the one hand, she was critical, demanding, and she was an expert at the game of “I can top that.” On the other hand, she was generous, loyal, a good friend, and she loved her husband, her daughters, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren with her whole heart.  I know how proud she was of all of us, and though she didn’t often tell any of us directly, I know she bragged behind our backs.  It was a special blessing for me to be able to sing at Village Reform Congregation and to watch her kvell in the front row.

Mom didn’t grow up with any Jewish observance or education.  When Mom and Dad married, she was completely secular and he was Orthodox.  As most such intermarriages go, they became… Conservative.  I remember going to services together most Friday nights and Mom being involved with Sisterhood.  She tried numerous times to learn Hebrew, but she just couldn’t get it.  But when they retired here to Century Village and joined Village Reform Congregation, my parents started attending classes with Rabbi Weissman and Cantor Skupsky.  Mom enjoyed them so much and decided to study to become an adult Bat Mitzvah. She loved the classes and was just so proud of her accomplishment. In fact, her bat mitzvah certificate hangs on her bedroom wall where she could be reminded frequently of her achievement. Because this was such an important and meaningful experience for her, we decided to bury her wearing the tallit that Missy and I made her for the occasion.  For those of you here from VRC, I can’t tell you enough how much you all meant to her and the wonderful impact you had on her life.

My parents had a very special love for each other.  They loved being in each other’s company; they were together for 60 years, and celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in October.  My father recently told me that when he looked at Mom, she appeared to him as beautiful as she was the day they married.  And when Dad had his surgery in September, Mom was so scared.  During the entire time he was in the hospital, our often twice daily conversations were entirely about him.  “I miss him so much,” she would tell me. 

Being a caretaker for your spouse is never an easy job, and to be perfectly honest, Mom didn’t make it any easier.  Yet Dad never minded or complained about it.  All he would ever say to me as he shrugged his shoulders is “What can I say? I love her.” I was so frustrated, even angry, when Mom didn’t fight to recover from her knee replacement, broken femur, or other issues, doing the hard work that would allow her to remain active.  She deserved better than spending much of the last several years in bed and I wanted desperately for her to want it for herself.

The day I learned that the doctors were initiating the process for removing mom from the ventilator, which was the same day she later died, I shared with my rabbi how much I take after my father.  He asked me, “In what ways is my mother reflected in me?” I’ve been thinking about this a great deal since and here’s my response:

  • First of all, I can’t get around the fact that looking at Mom sometimes felt like I was looking in a mirror. 
  • Although I may not have appreciated it at the time, my mother gave me a sense of responsibility and satisfaction in my accomplishments.  She further influenced me to instill the same in my own children.
  • Mom was a great cook in her day, and I inherited her love of cooking.  I used to love helping her when she was cooking for a dinner party, especially when she made Swedish meatballs, which were my favorite. She also taught me the very useful skill of putting dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less.
  • My mother used to schlep me to Junior Congregation from a very young age because I wanted to go. When I wanted to continue my Jewish education after my bat mitzvah, she drove me to the T twice a week so I could travel to Prozdor, the Hebrew High School in Brookline. I learned from my mother to support the interests and talents of my children even when they diverged from my own.
  • My mother always had an open home policy; our friends were always welcome, especially at holiday times. Our Seder table was always full, with many repeat guests from year to year.  All my mother asked was that I tell her how many to expect so she could have enough food.  Maury and I have carried on this tradition.  My mother taught me that there’s always room for one – or two or three – more, and the cherished value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests to our home.
  • I learned empathy, compassion, understanding, and unconditional acceptance as a result of being raised by my mother.
  • And finally, the most important way my mother is reflected in me is in my total devotion to family and friends, which I learned through her example.

The week before Mom passed, I attended Mussar class with Rabbi Block, where we discussed the idea of “gam zeh l’tova,” this too is for good.   While no one would suggest that losing one’s mother could possibly be good, I have been searching for what good could come from our tragic loss.  And there is some.  My mother is no longer in the pain that has afflicted her for so many years, and my father will move on with a life that does not revolve around being my mother’s caretaker.  And despite our breaking hearts, these past weeks have been such a gift in that I had the most precious opportunity to see my mother through my father’s eyes as we’ve talked and shared stories.  I’m so grateful for all the blessings that Mom brought to my life, for the time I was able to spend with her and with Dad during my recent visits, for being embraced by so much love during our time of grief, and that her soul is reunited with that of her beloved daughter, my sister, Ellen.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.



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