Pandemic, shmandemic. Jews are known for always retaining a sense of humor even in the darkest of times.
It’s not always easy. Our family has felt the pain of COVID-19 taking the life of our elderly uncle and his first cousin. Parents are juggling work and kids from home, as others are fighting just to keep their homes, jobs and sanity. Both dads and moms are being forced to reexamine and reframe priorities.
We were blessed with a granddaughter Thanksgiving week, but because of the pandemic, we have not been able to hold her in months. On April 23, 2020, we were blessed with another granddaughter and have never held her. Technology has been a gift but is no substitute for skin-to-skin contact, looking into the eyes of your grandchild and letting her know that she is your everything.
When I became a first time mother 36 years ago, I felt so blessed to have had a healthy baby girl, health insurance, a life partner willing to parent equally with me as our journey as a family began. Within a matter of 36 months, we were blessed to have a son followed by fraternal twin sons. Life in the Klein household was so busy in those formative years. When I look back I often remark that I would not have done it any differently.
Jewish mothers come from a legacy of biblical women with strong personalities who have persevered against the odds and help us form ideas of what are and are not considered acceptable parenting behaviors. Raising Jewish children means we have a responsibility to nurture our children’s souls with values that resonate with the teachings of Torah — to protect, guide, discipline, set boundaries, establish repercussions for bad choices while modeling ethical behavior, allowing space for personal growth and development and always reminding kids that their parents’ love is unconditional, that home is a safe place in this world.
You’ll notice that I said it’s the parents’ love that is unconditional. Judaism requires children to honor their parents, not to love them. Love is a by-product that children learn to express when their experiences in life have been filled with the values that Judaism demands parents give and the home is filled with truth, open communications, healthy discussions, respect for opinions and a willingness to listen and respond with a heart and head that reflect a deep appreciation for one another.
Do we Jewish moms really need one annual day in the calendar to remind our children to honor us when Judaism asks our children to fulfill that mitzvah fairly frequently?
Mother’s Day, an American invention that began in 1914 under the Woodrow Wilson administration was inspired by Anna Jarvis who wanted to create a national campaign to honor her deceased mother’s life’s work. She never intended for it to become such a commercialized celebration. Ironically, she regretted that it had ever become a material fixture in American and international societies.
I have never really cared much for the formalities of Mother’s Day. We don’t go out for a meal, there are no expectations, although the kids usually send cards. I much prefer the frequent phone calls when we discuss work, play, share news, give advice (even when not sought), check on the grandchildren and tell them how much their Bubbe misses them.
Throughout this pandemic, Jewish women continue to demonstrate a legacy of resiliency in the face of adversity. They are being mom, teacher, breadwinner, consoler, caregiver and more. They are burying their loved ones without the physical embrace of family and community. They are birthing babies with and without a partner in the delivery room and then having to isolate at home with no family or friends to visit. In the past several weeks, I have officiated at funerals in Pittsburgh and burials and shiva services virtually in New Jersey and New York and co-officiated a bris virtually while the mohel operated in person.
As I celebrate this double chai year of motherhood, I am overjoyed that our children have given their children strong beautiful Jewish names. I pray that all of our grandchildren grow as people who always put family first; that they receive the nurturing of caring parents who will teach them Torah values, to take pride in their Jewish identity and to develop strategies for coping with adversity while always being grateful, humble and compassionate. And I pray they will learn to honor and love their moms and dads daily. PJC
Cheryl Klein, a native Pittsburgher, is a rabbi and cantor.