Mother’s Day musing on time, Friendship Circle

During the week before Mother’s Day, my youngest son turned 4. I’m not really sure how that happened so quickly. How many hours and days were lost in the blur of everyday happenings, starting with the morning rush of getting three young boys off to school and ending with bedtime routines that always seem to last longer than planned?

Sometimes in the juggling of work schedules and school schedules and the swift passage of time, moms just need to take a deep breath and relish the moment. As I was transferring videos from my camera to my computer last weekend to free up some space to take birthday photos, I found some videos from 2011 and, of course, I had to watch each of them. How cute the boys were at ages 1, 3 and 5 and wow, they sure did have lots of energy! (They are still cute and still have lots of energy, but they were so little then!)

Anyway, now that our home is out of the baby and toddler stages – and diapers! –  it’s been so interesting to learn more about who these little people are. And while we’re still responsible to meet the needs of their general well-being, the responsibility to help them prepare for the world has become much more prominent. It goes beyond the basic lesson of sharing toys and not hitting each other, and develops into how can we help them live a good, meaningful life.

Since I’d been pondering that lately, I was so touched by The Friendship Circle’s Evening of Celebration and Friendship, held April 30 at the Herberger Theater Center. The evening celebrated the teen volunteers who work with the children with special needs that the organization serves. Some of the volunteers spoke about the special connections they’ve made with their “buddies” through the program and how these relationships have changed their lives, sometimes even leading them to switch their career path to one that will help others.

Many of the volunteers have spent over 25 volunteer hours (and a handful did over 100 hours) over the past year with the organization, which is led locally by Rabbi Mendy and Leah Levertov. I’m so impressed that the 76 teens who volunteered in the local Friendship Circle have spent all this time working to better somebody else’s life. What a wonderful treasure this community has, this large group of teens working to improve the lives of others at such a young age. Some may have initially started it at their parents’ urging – or because of a requirement of community service work – but whatever the reason, we should be proud of their work.

So, thank you to the Levertovs and Chabad of Arizona for providing this program and for the following words of inspiration from Friendship Circle International, which Rabbi Mendy Levertov read at the event. May this message continue to the next generation of teenagers, as well.

1. If you see the ability and not the disability when you meet a special child, you will have no reason to cry.

2. There are no phonies amongst them. Every smile, tear and expression is real.

3. The most important things in life aren’t things.

4. The more you give, the more you become.

5. Everyone comes with baggage. Be a friend and help someone unpack.

6. Every child is capable of things that no one can predict.

7. UPS trucks, Goldfish crackers and Trader Joe’s popcorn can make someone’s day.

8. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to jump in the puddles and dance in the rain.

9. Talk little and do much.

10. Every child has a song. If you listen closely, you can hear it. If you dare, you can dance it, too.

To learn more about The Friendship Circle, visit fcaz.org. This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

Who is a Jewish mother?

Jewish mother

One morning at 3 a.m., as I was holding my 8-month-old son and worrying about his stuffy nose, it suddenly occurred to me – I am now a Jewish mother.

Could all the jokes about the worrying, nagging and overbearingness now potentially apply to me? Are these attributes innate, something that will slowly develop as my son grows, or are they merely stereotypes?

Fortunately, three books released this year help new mothers like me learn about their new role and glean some wisdom from their pages.

For “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother” (Hyperion, $22.95 hardcover), comedian Judy Gold and playwright Kate Moira Ryan spent five years traveling across the U.S. interviewing Jewish mothers to find out what makes them different from non-Jewish mothers. As the

title implies, they asked them each 25 questions; topics range from religious observance – “Do you find Judaism limiting or empowering?” and “Are you kosher?” – to parenting – “Do you approve of your children’s choices?” and “What is Jewish mother guilt?” Interspersed with quotes by mothers from all Jewish backgrounds, Gold writes about her relationship with her mom and her own journey through parenthood.

In “‘Yiddishe Mamas’: The Truth About the Jewish Mother” (Andrews McMeel, $14.95 paperback) by Marnie Winston-Macauley, the author starts out by addressing the stereotype of the Jewish mother. Who is she?

Yiddishe Mamas

Rather than using the word “stereotype,” Winston-Macauley prefers “ethno-type,” which she describes as allowing “us to treasure our uniqueness as a group and as individuals without falling into the trap of carbon copying all Jewish mothers.” This has no positive or negative judgment, she writes, but instead “allows us to look at our history, our biology, our values and characteristic traits without prejudice or the quick sound bite.”

So what are these traits? She lists them as sacrifice (having the child come first); the importance of education; expectations of excellence; kvetching; worrying; expressing love with food; overprotection; control; guilt; high intensity and humor; activism, community and philanthropy; and measuring our own success through our children’s success.

In one chapter, “Yes, they, too, are Jewish mothers,” Winston-Macauley interviews many different types of Jewish mothers – from early American settlers to female rabbis. There’s even an interview with the Valley’s own Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, in a section called, “This land is our land,” about mothers in the military.

“You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother” (Oxford University Press, $24.95 hardcover) by Joyce Antler follows the evolution of the Jewish mother from the turn of the 20th century until today.

You Never Call - Mother

Antler looks at the early roots of Jewish moms in America – from the “My Yiddishe Mama” (a 1925 ballad first sung in Yiddish by Sophie Tucker) and Molly Goldberg, a radio-turned-TV character described as “the prototype of the Jewish mother” of the 20th century, to feminists and “Roseanne.”

For many in my generation, the “Jewish mother” stereotype is deeply embedded in our minds, but it’s actually relatively new. In fact, according to Antler, the Jewish mother jokes originated in the heyday of the Borscht Belt in the 1940s and 1950s.

Although each of these three books takes a different approach in exploring what a Jewish mother is, they all have the same message: There are all different types of Jewish mothers.

And I have a feeling that most mothers, regardless of religion or nationality, are up in the middle of the night worrying about their babies.

This first appeared in the May 11, 2007 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.