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  KD MAGAZINE!
Posted: December 16, 2007  ב"ה, ז' טבת תשס"ח
 
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EXCERPTS FROM "YIDDISHE MAMAS"
The Truth About the Jewish Mother

By Marnie Winston-Macauley
About the Author

PART ONE: CHAPTER ONE:
THE JEWISH MOTHER: IS SHE OR ISN’T SHE,  AND  WHO IS SHE?
 

“The Jewish Mother.” YIDDISHE MAMAS - BY MARNIE WINSTON-MACAULEYNever has one tiny adjective evoked such a firestorm. Make a speech in front of any Sisterhood meeting and play a little word association. Wear protective gear. A barrage of answers will tumble out among reverberating all-knowing laughter: “Loves her kids – to death!” “Always with the food!” “She won’t take a ‘no.’” “Oy, the guilt!” 

And then, as the titters subside, other associations emerge:  “Kids come first.” “Smart.” “Funny.” “Determined.” “Cares.” “You can count on her.” And ... “I miss her.”

There you have it.  The essence of a peculiar conundrum that Jewish mothers and their children have been facing for the better part of the last 100 or so years, as many of these mamas have left their small European towns (shtetls)  to come to America.  

As  "the chosen people" whose history is one of oppression, exile, and calamity, the modern Jewish mother is faced with the problem of imparting our heritage while insuring our children “make it” in the secular world.  The balance is often, as shaky as that  fiddler on the roof.  Teaching Jewish practices while helping the child comprehend the murder of six million; teaching values, pride, courage, activism, and tikkun olam  in a world where millions would like to see the extermination of our homeland,  requires the balance of a ballet master.  And the ultimate landing is to raise children who are unafraid and proud to be Jewish.

Can we be all those things?

But more, do we want to be all those things? 

"Is There Such a Thing as a “Jewish Mother?”

Zora Essman, the delightful, funny mother of American comedian-actress, Susie Essman,  has  called me, out-of-breath. She just got off a bus with 25 Hadassah women.

“I don’t know if there’s a Jewish Mother,” she says, then quickly talks about the ladies on the bus. “Every mother of my class and education is the same.  We share the same values.  ... a certain style.  And then ...

“When my friends get together, we’re in our 70's and 80's, we  say, ‘My daughter -- she married this one, she’s dating this one, I told my daughter not to do this or that’ ... and we all say don’t tell the daughter! Then we talk about Bush.”

We have it! We see this highly educated, lady who isn’t about to buy into a stereotype, “morph” as the conversation continues into one of the classical traits we associate with Jewish mothers.

The Jewish Mother: “Is there or isn’t there?” And why the hesitation to admit it?     

 “There’s probably a “Jewish Mother,” says Melanie Shrug, mother of  Kerr Shrug, who made Olympic history in 1996, when, with torn ligaments, she landed the gold for the United States’ Women’s Gymnastic Team.

 “She over cares, over worries, is very concerned about the kids ... making sure they get a good education, a happy social life.  Mom does everything for the kids.”  After which,  Dr. Burt Shrug, her husband, adds: “ Did you mention obsessive-compulsiveness?”

“Some think of  her as overbearing, a yenta,” says  Dr. Ruth Grubber, who saved countless lives during the Holocaust and whose own life was made into the film, “Haven.”

 “But the women I see around me are not. The Jewish mother is warm, takes pictures with her heart. There’s something about being Jewish that comes from the soul, the neshuma.”  

Over  the years, we’ve watched American media characters virtually scouting places in Florida, not in tribute, but to get rid of  their kvetching interfering, critical, loud-mouth – but “funny” moms– oh, who they love.

And Jewish Mothers are supposed to accept this brutal image? Feh!  These are the daughters of shtetl moms! Women trying to survive in poor Eastern European towns, who,  shlepping Sabbath candles, were running, running, running –  from pogroms, starvation and death camps – some sacrificing their lives, holding their religion and their children close. Often bribing their way to a new land, they used chutzpah, smarts, grit, to make it and more, keep their families whole and Jewish, so their children would do better, and so doing, add to the world, and give them  nakhes.

“Is there a Jewish Mother? Definitely,” says Dr. Myrna Hant, visiting scholar at The Center for the Study of Women at UCLA   “There is truth in stereotype, but do you want to say I’m a Jewish mother and have others formulate a whole litany of who you are? The modern Jewish woman isn’t like this.” 

“We are stereotyped incorrectly as overbearing, unable to cut ties with children, unable to see beyond the limited family. This does us great injustice,” says Rabbi Shira Stern,  (daughter of Isaac Stern). “Yes, there are women who let their children actually cross the street without holding their hand – once they have the skill.”

So much for “stereotypes.”

Ends Part One


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