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The Language of Jewish Motherhood

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12/26/2014

The Language of Jewish Motherhood photo

On the surface, it would seem as though my mom and Silvia have very little in common. My mother is a Soviet refugee living in the sleepy suburbs of Chicago; Silvia is Argentinian, from the heart of Buenos Aires. When we have guests over for dinner, my mom prepares organic asparagus and free-range salmon. Silvia cooks blood sausage, the cow innards positively teeming out of the juicy meat wrapping. 

If they were to sit across from each other at this fictitious dinner table, Silvia and my mother would not have a single language in common, yet, strangely enough, there is no doubt in my mind that they would become instant friends. For all their differences, my mom and Silvia have one very important thing in common: they are passionately, unyieldingly, wholeheartedly Jewish mothers.

There’s something about Jewish mothers that’s almost a universal quality, a sort of bond between those who grew up under the warm and sheltered wing of such a parent. That isn’t to say that non-Jewish mothers aren’t as loving, because of course they are, but Jewish mothers are somehow of a different stripe, in ways that can only be described in anecdotes.

Demian and I first bonded talking about our mothers. We already had a few similarities, but this was an instant click – Silvia and my mom had astounding qualities in common. For instance, both of our mothers worry intensely if we don’t wear sunscreen. There have been many a time when Demian and I – on separate occasions and in different hemispheres – have insisted that we don’t need sunscreen before going out, only to later find a bottle sneakily slipped into our bags.

Once, when he was just a baby, Silvia needed to take Demian to the doctor. It was winter in Buenos Aires, which drops down to a chilly 30 or 40 degrees on a cooler day. Naturally, Silvia worried that her newborn son might get cold. So she dressed him in a thick sweater and socks; then added another sweater, just to be safe; and a coat; and a scarf; and another layer of socks.

By the time they reached the doctor’s office, baby Demian was sweating profusely and, once the winter layers were peeled away, they discovered a full-body, heat-induced rash. The doctor openly gaped at Silvia. Demian’s mother literally almost loved him to death. 

When I left for college as a senior, my own mother suddenly began to suspect that I didn’t have a fall coat. No matter how many times I painstakingly tried to convince her that I did, in fact, have a coat, she was unwavering. She planned an emergency trip up to Madison, and within five hours, I had not one, not two, but seven coats laid out on display on my bed. 

My aunt Larissa, who is the Israeli duplicate of my own mom, is no stranger to Jewish motherhood. Like my mom, she has two children whom she cherishes and, in typical fashion, spends a good deal of time worrying about. Are they warm? Are they eating well? 

One time, her 15-year-old daughter asked to skip school so that she could spend the day at the beach with me.

“Of course not,” my Aunt Larissa responded, pounding a schnitzel flat on her kitchen counter.

“I’ll eat dinner at home if you let me go,” my cousin pressed.

“Done,” was the immediate response. We spent the entire Wednesday on the beach.

Most of my friends are baffled by this story, but when I told my mom, she nodded vigorously and insisted, “There’s a woman who has her priorities in order!” She then looked pointedly at me. “You know, it wouldn’t be so bad if you ate dinner at home every once in a while, too.”

As children of like-minded mothers, Demian, my cousin and I also share a handful of similarities. We all roll our eyes when we glimpse a bottle of sunblock sticking out of the sides of our bags. We make promises to eat dinner at home only to back out last minute. As aggravating as our mothers may seem, the truth is that we’re aggravating them all the more.

As frustrated as I get when having to insist that, for instance, I wouldn’t like a glass of juice, for the 12th time (even though yes I know the health benefits and the long-term gains from drinking organic juice), I also know that there will never be anybody as deeply invested in my well-being as my mother. And, in case I ever forget, I can always count on my seven coats to remind me.

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