Jewish Mothers Know Best

May, 12 2020

“Every day when I venture out into the streets for my daily quarantine walk, I see mothers heroically juggling their families with their jobs,” writes Editor-in-Chief Nadine Epstein. “I see the same thing in our Moment family. Our deputy editor is working full time from her apartment, much of the time with her nine-month-old daughter (the darling of our Zoom editorial meetings) squirming on her lap. Other staff members are struggling to homeschool their elementary school children or cooking for teenagers and adult children who have returned home. Others can’t see their adult children for safety’s sake. It’s no easy time to be a parent, let alone a Jewish mom!”

That’s why on this past Mother’s Day, we wanted to honor those Jewish moms who work hard to make sure we eat enough, call enough and know how much they care. We asked you, our readers to share some advice and tidbits your Jewish moms gave you and collected the responses in this “Jewish Mothers Know Best” (belated) Mother’s Day special. Some of the advice seems facetious, many of it is expectedly sensible and it all comes from a place of love.

“The one thing that still plays over and over in my head is something my mother taught me many long years ago: You never go wrong doing the right thing! I have taught that to my own children and to many adult friends over the years. One friend told me she considered that in deciding whether to attend the funeral of someone with whom she had once had a friendship that ended badly. She said she decided to attend the funeral because it was the right thing to do and credited recalling my mother’s words in making her decision.”—Shirley Laiks‎ 

“My Mom was not especially fond of ‘housewife duties,’ but she taught each and every one of her six children how to do these things and thus spent time with us. But, more importantly, she was equally likely to let all of those ‘chores’ go by the wayside and just spend time with us. It was probably never actually said, but I learned that ‘cooking and cleaning and laundry will always be there, but your children grow up very quickly and leave your home!’ Spend time with them now because they will always remember this!”—Rhoda Crayne Yaverbaum

“My mom told me that Jesus may have saved but Moses invested…”—Robert Diamant 

“My mom told me that once dressed and ready to go, I should not look at mirrors, just know I looked great and enjoy myself. I have given the same advice to my daughter in my mother’s name. I don’t look for a mirror or try to tuck and tug. I can just be. It was a great gift!”—Fran Kritz

“My mother, may her memory be for a blessing, taught me to say ‘I don’t know. Show me so I can learn to do it as well.’ I count myself as someone who is not afraid to say ‘I don’t know.’ I am grateful for this teaching for I have learned much by saying this.—Irving Zlotnik 

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, every aphorism my mom taught me has come to mind. Of course, ‘look on the bright side’ and ‘count your blessings,’ but also ones unique to her: ‘The sooner you send out the condolence letter, the less good it has to be,’ and,  ‘don’t forget he’s some other’s darling’—meaning, everyone’s a person, treat them that way!”—Harris Berman

“I could never figure out what clothes looked best on me, a redhead, which made getting dressed every day a chore. My mother-in-law gave me a copy of ‘Color Me Beautiful.’ Once I realized I was an ‘autumn,’ I replaced all my black, grey, navy and maroon stuff with brown, red, orange and rust. I still follow her advice and know that whatever I put on each day will match.”—Maggie Anton

“After self quarantining at home near my refrigerator for two months (and still counting), it brings a smile to my lips when I remember my mother saying, ‘A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.’—Rischa Fishman

“My mother told me, ‘just because you don’t get along with a person, you don’t have to not like them, too.’—Chuck Cole 

“My wise Mom always reminded me that you can’t make someone love you or lend you money.”—Helene Kamioner 

My mother had a batch of pithy aphorisms that she shared frequently, including: ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ ‘This too shall pass,’ and ‘Friends may be fair weather, but family is forever.’ I’m still trying to figure out which, if any, of these has been helpful in navigating my 67 years on the planet.”—‎Jim Van Buskirk

“What I call Momilies:

1. You get more flies with honey than with vinegar  

2. Never go out of the house without lipstick. You never know whom you’ll meet 

3. When you praise yourself, it stinks;  when relatives praise you, it limps; when strangers praise you it sounds great 

4. You can’t put your head on their shoulders 

5. Make like you don’t know about something

6. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all  

7. Someday, I hope you have a daughter who won’t let you cut her hair! (We had 5 sons, and no one ever went to a barbershop, because I did all the haircutting for the 6 men in our family!)

8. Tomorrow, tomorrow just not today—that’s what all the lazy folks say

9. Clean your plate—think of all those starving children in Europe/Chine. 

10. Men are like buses—you miss one, another will be along soon. 

11. Too much is unhealthy

12. What will people think?!

13. It’s either feast or famine”

— Rabbi Avis Miller 

“My mother used to tell me that when you start to get serious about a boy, make sure to find out how he treats his mother. ‘A boy with a good relationship with his mother makes a good husband.’ Although at the time I thought that sounded extremely old-fashioned, over the years I came to agree with her. I realized that she didn’t at all mean that ideally, I should look to marry a ‘mama’s boy.’ To the contrary, my mother firmly believed a man’s allegiance should be to his wife and children first, and then to his parents. She wasn’t advocating a man who was bossed around by his mom, or slavishly followed her directives. No, my mother meant that a man who respected his mother, was devoted to her, thought she was intelligent and appreciated her advice, would make for a husband who thought the same of his wife. So while it might be a bit embarrassing to say that I checked out the relationship between my then-boyfriend and my future mother-in-law, indeed I did. And, almost 30 years later, I’ve never been sorry a day since!”—Reyna Gentin

“My favorite piece of advice was from my grandmother Sara who always told us, ‘You should never point at anything except French pastry. To everything else, especially people, you gesture.’”—Janet Pitt

“She left that morning from the home of her foster parents and accepted her high school diploma with no one in the audience to glance out at or search for. She was sixteen.

She took a train to New York from Chicago the very next day, after visiting the three different foster homes of her younger sisters and kissing them good-bye. The twins—separated by miles—were ten years old. She was mother to those three girls —emotionally, and often under her roof—her entire life. 

She married a wonderful man; they struggled to make ends meet. They had three daughters and a warm and cozy home filled with music, lilacs in May, laughter, and love. 

She had surgery and fought for her life for a year when she was 35. She sold magazines and worked part-time for Macy’s (taking the subway from the Bronx to Manhattan and back) and never missed preparing Shabbat dinner. 

She lost her firstborn daughter, Gail—a Juilliard prodigy—who was run over by a drunk driver when she was 19.

She went to school to learn how to type and take dictation. She was secretary (and right-hand girl Friday) to a lawyer, and then a judge.

She cared for her ill husband (stroke and cancer) until the day he died.

She had the voice of an angel; I can still hear her trilling a long-ago melody.

She was a wonderful, loving, and hands-on grandma. She never lost her sense of humor, and never lost hope. She had an ear for every person she ever met; and, always, only kind words.

She talked with me about goals, and taught me —’how you reach them, and who you share them with are what make life worthwhile.’ 

I think of Mom every day. Thanks for giving me a reason to put my thoughts on paper.”—Irene Squire

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