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A tribute to Jewish mothers 
05/05/2009

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Let’s face it—Jewish mothers can sometimes be a royal pain in the ass. But despite their neurotic, overprotective, passive aggressive tendencies, they are also the most loving, supportive and accomplished women around. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, some of us here at Oy! wanted to share our thoughts, experiences and memories about our real life Jewish moms.

If you have a Jewish mother, we know you can relate. So feel free to laugh, cry, pull out your hair, eat a tub of cookie dough ice cream or however it is you deal—we know just how you feel.


Lessons from a Jewish Mother
Yes Mom, I am listening!

By Stefanie Pervos 

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Me, Mom and my sister Lonnie—three of the most beautiful, smart and talented women to ever set foot on this planet!

Throughout my life, certain lessons have been instilled in me by my mother, whether it be through her incessant and obsessive nagging (see article: Jewish Coming-of-Neuroses) or just through her living example. I spent this past weekend at home with Mom and Dad, and was inspired to pull together a list of my favorites. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, here, without further ado, are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned from my very own, very special Jewish mother:

Lesson 1: Mom is always right—about everything (this applies only to my mother, just to be clear).

Lesson 2: Give and give and give to people until you're exhausted beyond belief and never expect anything in return (although you can complain about it afterward).

Lesson 3: Don't spend beyond your means (unless there’s a great sale at Nordstrom) and be prepared for the future.

Lesson 4: Be patient, be passionate and be persistent and you'll get what you want.

Lesson 5: Never, under any circumstances, eat mayo, whipped cream, custard or anything white, really.

Lesson 6: Clean can always be cleaner and organized can always be neater. And for God's sake clean the hair out of your hairbrush!

Lesson 7: Fight through the pain (but again, feel free to bitch about it).

Lesson 8: Friends are invaluable, so love them, listen to them and never desert them—no matter how crazy they are or unappreciative they may seem.

Lesson 9: My sister and I are the most beautiful, smart and talented women to ever set foot on this planet—and don’t you ever forget that!

And last, but not least...

Lesson 10: Always, always, always, put your children first and work tirelessly (like even stay up all night worrying about something you have no control over) to ensure their every happiness and success (no matter what toll this may take on your own physical and mental health).

So, if you can't tell, I love and admire my mom, a lot—though if you ask her she'd go on and on about how I don’t appreciate how she practically bends over backwards for me and my sister (I can almost guarantee that exact quote). But I do, Mom. And the truth is, though I still have a lot to learn, we're a lot alike—and I think that's pretty awesome.

Oh, and Mom, in an effort to follow your advice about not spending beyond my means (especially after that shopping trip this weekend), this heartfelt piece will also serve as your Mother's Day gift—I love you!


What makes Mama smile 

By Jane Charney 

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Me and Mama on my big day

My mama isn’t what you’d call a typical Jewish mother. She doesn’t call me every day to make sure I’m eating or to ask what I’m doing this very minute. And she asks me for the best Pesach recipes and how to braid a challah, rather than the other way around.

And yet, my mama is the best Jewish mom I could wish for. She personifies the very real – albeit also somewhat stereotypical – value of lifelong learning and the utterly un-Jewish-mother-like ability to adapt quickly.

Back in Moscow, mama had spent two years trying to get into the top teachers college. It wasn’t that her grades were not good enough or she could not show passion for the subject. It was that she was Jewish – her passport clearly said so – and Soviet universities had quotas based on ethnic origin. In the end, she was able to earn a Master’s in secondary education with an emphasis on teaching Spanish. She persevered because her love for knowledge is infinite. As a teacher, she would instruct first graders in the basics of Spanish vocabulary; help sixth graders compose essays about their summer vacations; and practice Lope de Vega lines with tenth graders. Some of her former students still contact her just to say how much her love for Spanish impacted their life path.

Mama’s life changed swiftly when we came to the United States in pursuit of opportunity. Unable to teach school-age students because of a lengthy and expensive teaching licensing process, mama switched to giving Castellano and Russian lessons to adults. Soon, she also landed a job in Spanish-language customer service at a financial services company. She’d complain about long hours hooked to an earphone listening to customers plead for extensions on bills or yell about some issue they had with the company. She persevered here too. She even found things to smile about, like the eternal questions about where she learned to speak Spanish so well and why she’s speaking with a Castellano accent rather than the Latin American tones one would expect here.

That’s the quality I admire most about my mama – her eternal optimism and faith that, eventually, everything will work out! Since moving to Las Vegas from Cincinnati, Ohio, about six months ago, mama has realized a life-long dream: a garden. She joyously told me that the almond and orange trees she planted in her new backyard were blooming in February, making me smile despite the gray Chicago skies overhead. Somehow, she finds time for a job, a hobby and the arduous task of shuttling my almost 17-year-old brother to school, theater workshops, and friends’ houses.

The ultimate multi-tasker – that’s my mama, the best Jewish mother I could ask for!


My mother’s things
In memory of my Ima, the writer, Florence Chanock Cohen
Feb. 14, 1924-Jan. 19, 2003
 

By Aaron B. Cohen (originally written March 10, 2003)

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Sorting through my mother's things
seven weeks after her death
my father, sister, and I approached the task
with trepidation

What of her scent might linger?
and might her spirit hover
amidst shoes, clothes, and jewelry?

She cloaked her life in airs and moods
words, and beautiful clothes
Her world became what she imagined it to be
This was her stage, these were her props
we were her supporting cast

How sad would we be
looking, sorting, sifting?
A pile for charity
a pile to keep
a pile for the trash

I took pair after pair of shoes
from a rack in a recess of the closet
shoes she hadn't worn in decades
comfortable shoes, stylish shoes
which bore the scuffs of an active life

Her mind was so active, so fertile
I had forgotten that she used to walk
was even known to hike
though better yet a cup of coffee
a cigarette
a conversation long into evening
days in front of the typewriter
weaving and spinning tales
wise words carved
with the sharp edge of her emotion

How diminished she became
and how she railed against that
Her mind overwhelmed her body
the vessel of her soul
clothed in colored cloaks
knits and weaves
yarns and threads
tales intricate in design
dyed tapestries of histories
lived and perceived
handed down
outfitting us
with fantasies
world views
that sometimes fit
sometimes not
sometimes made us crazy
and sometimes had us
in stitches

Her soul perhaps has flown away
it was not attached as all that
content to leave limp blouses
hanging mute
folded slacks long unworn
old shoes, soles forlorn
and we who loved her
sorting through her clothes
gently putting them to rest


My Quintessential Jewish Mother:
Why make just brisket?

By Cheryl Jacobs 

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My mom and I touring a vineyard in San Diego

I’ve already written a lot about my mom (and my dad) on Oy! particularly, describing her as the family matriarch, the glue that holds our family together. But what I haven’t yet mentioned is that my mother personifies the Jewish mother mold—she is the quintessential Jewish mother. Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples so you can see what I mean.

Despite the fact that my sisters and I are between the ages of 25 and 40, my mom still insists that we all call her when we are leaving town. Leaving town can mean driving three hours from Chicago to Iowa City to visit my boyfriend’s little sister at college. Come to think of it, making the drive from Highland Park to my apartment in Wicker Park is also leaving town. (In one of my serious acts of rebellion, I refused to contact my parents for the six weeks I studied abroad in Europe during the summer between my junior and senior year of college. My mom wasn’t so much as angry as she was utterly horrified to not know where her daughter was at all times.)

Around the holidays, the Jewish mother appears in full force. My parent’s house is the hot spot for the Jewish holidays. Whether it’s Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah or Passover, the whole extended family shows up my parents’ house ready to eat their way through the holidays. No matter the size of the party, usually somewhere around 35-ish people, including my adorable, but very loud, at-times uncontrollable nieces and nephews, my mother insists on serving a seven or eight course sit-down formal dinner. My mom’s kitchen philosophy is why make just brisket, when you can also serve chicken and fish? The same attitude applies to dessert. At Passover this year, in the category of cakes, there were three of the chocolate variety, one with yellow icing, one with banana filling and one with chocolate icing. Truly, she doesn’t know how to not cook and bake for at least a 100 people.

Fortunately for my mom, she wears the “Jewish mother” crown so endearingly well, that it just makes everyone love her even more. As much as I kid her, she’s always there for all of us. Just this past weekend, my aunt and uncle had a wedding, so my mom and my sister (another Jewish-mom in training) drove down to Urbana-Champaign to attend an honors induction ceremony for my younger cousin. And as I write this my mom texted me to say she’s getting on a flight with my aunt (don’t worry she will let me know when she lands) to go pick up another cousin from college.

I truly aspire to be like my mother, one day far in the future. In the meantime, there can only be one. Happy Mother’s Day to the best mom in the world!

Have a story about your Jewish mother? Send it to us at  info@oychicago.com or in the comments section below by Friday, May 8 and we’ll post it here just in time for Mother’s Day! 

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