Where have all the Jewish mothers gone?

Sadly, their presence in popular culture has dissipated.

May 9, 2009 23:34
3 minute read.
Where have all the Jewish mothers gone?

blue umbrella 2. (photo credit: Courtesy Peter Blum Gallery)

Upon returning from a preemptive Passover pilgrimage to mom's house in Massachusetts, prior to Mother's Day, it dawned on me how the symbolism of Jewish motherhood has gotten yanked away from us over the ages. Along with so many other notions that are now inherently part of Christianity and Islam, motherhood too got morphed into Mary. It seemed everywhere I looked in my old hometown, there were statues of Mary with her arms stretched out in adoring fashion. In front of churches, on top of them and among the shrubbery in front - she was ubiquitous in the largely Portuguese enclave of southeastern Massachusetts. How did Mary, a nice Jewish girl, become so dominant a figure by paradoxically embracing motherhood and virginity at the same time? She's part of an ongoing pattern. First there was Jesus. He was our guy and then - they stole him. Then the Sabbath got moved from the seventh day, Saturday, to the numerically dyslexic seventh day of Sunday. But taking a Jewish mother (saints that they all are) and with a strange Midas touch mass-producing them into plastic ornaments, statues and collectibles is like downloading music for free without attributing the rights to the original artists. In many forms of Christianity, the venerated symbol of Mary has assumed so much power she casts a shadow over her son. Right there, it would seem to me we have a direct patent infringement! And while the impact of a Jewish mother has weighed heavily on sons like myself, their presence in pop culture has dissipated. WHO CAN STILL remember Nancy Walker, as Rhoda's mom? Or, Mrs. Goldberg? If you can, is there a top-of-mind, contemporary icon of such Q rated strength today? Motherhood isn't just another holiday either. Look, we all understand how Christmas eats Hanukka's lunch. And the movie isn't called Passover Pageant; it's called Easter Parade. Let's admit that we've come to accept a certain level of defeat while still celebrating our historic victories and making what we have as awesome as possible. But motherhood is where we need to draw the line. They say when a brand is lost, it should go back to its roots. Some brands do and are revived (think Apple) and others veer off and don't (think Cadillac which combated sagging sales by coming out with muscle trucks). The Amida in our shul's new prayer book (Siddur Eit Ratzon) makes reference not only to our patriarchs, but Sarah, Rebekkah, Rachel and Leah as well. Perhaps if more shuls incorporated this approach and got across the understanding to our youth that we have some pretty mighty matriarchs of our own, they would realize their song, in its original form, was pretty cool too. A lot of us today look back at our rich maternal heritage as if they are staring at a phonograph record wondering, "what is it?" and "how does it work?" It's time we raised our matriarchs' profiles to their rightful place. As America's Mother's Day approaches and as a Jewish son whose mom is still plucky at 90 and still living in the same house I grew up in by herself, her oomph has inspired me to hang on and fight for that last piece of mother's earth we own. Flying back on Southwest from our Passover visit, the inescapable linguistic irony wasn't lost on me, as I flew on Easter weekend between Massachusetts and home to Maryland and touching down on the ground, my children ran into their mother's arms. As a husband who has had to play the role of Mr. Mom on many occasions, and with an economy creating even more of us, perhaps it's a way of God giving us a lesson on how the other half lives. Now it's time to embrace how they live, and love them ever more for it. The writer is based in Baltimore and works in communications.

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