Why curse the mother?


I am out with an old Israeli friend. A black street cat and its little unkempt kitten cross in front of us. My friend curses the cat''s mother in Arabic slang - ''kossa imak'' which means ''may your mother be cursed.'' I think about the many times a day I hear this terrible common curse in this country. This curse seems harsher to me than the American ''mother f....r'' which implies the person you are swearing at has intimate relations with a mother, and given that so many woman are in fact ''mothers,''  this probable statement is not so much a curse as an assumption.  The Hebrew equivalent is to call someone a ''ben zonah'', which means a ''prostitute''s son.'' This is also not such an insult, given that so many marriages can be reduced to a sex for money exchange, and most Jewish women are not that easily insulted.

The Arabic curse is double pronged. Not only is it an insult to the one to whom it is directed but it is also a curse to his mother. But to curse someone''s mother for the actions of her adult child is ridiculous and unfair, unless of course she has trained or encouraged her child directly in acts of brutality. But why curse the mother of the black cat who crosses your path? Why curse the mother of the driver who remains stationary at a red light? What do these children''s actions have to do with their mothers?

Now I understand that mothers are at least half responsible for the ways in which their children behave. But for the most part, us mothers struggle to do our best and can only be held responsible for so much.  A fifty five year old ticket officer''s mother cannot be held accountable for the fact that her son is issuing you with a ticket for parking across the pedestrian crossing, yet ultimately it is she who will be cursed, and not just once, but all the way home and then again every time the story is told.

I think of all the people behind a desk in this country whose mothers are repeatedly cursed. I think about all the hard working teachers in classrooms'' whose innocent mothers are cursed daily. I think about the garbage men in the early hours of the morning disturbing the neighbourhood and how many times their poor innocent mothers are cursed, and I feel sad for these women who have done nothing to deserve this hostile daily barrage of negative energy they unknowingly receive from complete strangers for nothing they have actually done.  

A friend of mine recently went through a difficult divorce from his Moroccan wife and family. He assured me it was not beyond his ex-mother in law to have mixed some of her daughter''s menstrual blood into his food to curse him with bad luck in his business. To be cursed by a woman who lives by these ancient and primitive practices and is no small matter, and while I have my doubts about her actually having done such an insanely ridiculous, vindictive and un-kosher thing, I do believe in the power of negative intention especially when coupled with a strict Torah prohibition and a dash of African witchcraft.

I was recently invited to a Mizrachi Bar-mitzvah. A Mizrachi Bar-mitzvah is like a Mizrachi wedding, only smaller. The food is the same, the music is the same, and the entire event is directed towards and performed for the video camera.  Make up, clothes, music and set are all for the sake of the almighty video lens; the guests are simply extra''s who pay for their own dinner. Cynicism aside, I was struck by the traditional ''mother and son'' dance. The overdressed, over stylized, over made up mother held her son a little too close as they danced a slow dance to a mizrachi song praising ''mother'' above all else. The boy had a stunned look on his face but he remained fixed on the camera and performed well - given that he was dancing with his mother in front of all his under-dressed girlfriends. No doubt the one who wins his little heart will be the one least like her in every possible way.

I looked around the table for someone to agree that the whole thing was a little weird, but my fellow extras were all lost in the sentiment of the moment. I couldn’t imagine the ''cooler than cool'' Ashkenazi Bar Mitzvah boys of Sydney''s Jewish community dancing with their mothers so intimately in front of all their friends and potential girlfriends. Their sentiment would be subtly hidden in the words of a witty speech, with one or two lines of heartfelt gratitude thrown in for authenticity.

Still all these boys will grow up and through the course of their teenage lives and their lives as young men in the world, they will in some way, at some stage find themselves cursing someone''s mother for actions that have nothing to do with her at all. Traditional psychology might suggest a deep seated unacknowledged love of one own mother to be the cause of this lashing out at someone elses mother, and this might explain why we mothers are so liberally  included in the curses of so many cultures. Yet in the end it is up to us to better educate our young sons and daughters to think about the words they use with a little more awareness and to leave us out of their battles and their curses.