The American holiday Mother's Day began in the late 19th century. Some say
it began in Michigan, others in West Virginia. In both states, there were
women who felt that a day of acknowledging motherhood would spark a moral
revival. In 1914, it became an American national holiday, and shortly after,
Mother's Day became celebrated around the world.
Long before that, though, the Jewish people stood at the foot of a desert
mountain and heard the divine words "Honor your mother and father" spoken as
part of the Ten Commandments. Some would say that that day was the first
Mother's Day (and Father's Day too). Our tradition is filled with reverence
for mothers: "My child...do not walk away from the wisdom of your mother,
for it will be a sign of grace upon your head" (Proverbs 1:8-9).
When you think "Jewish mothers," two thoughts might pop into your mind.
First come the matriarchs--Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, all women who
experienced struggle and heartbreak as they overcame life's obstacles.
Second come the old jokes: "I'd rather sit in the dark," "my son, the
doctor," "Oedipus shmedipus, at least he loves his mother..."
Yet somewhere between the worlds of piety and comedy, Jewish mothers are the
women who have nurtured, instructed, supported, and challenged us. So hearts
and flowers don't go far enough. To honor mothers "Jewishly" is to celebrate
the real women whose love and wisdom guide us.
CLAL has undertaken a project to infuse American holiday traditions with
deeply Jewish meanings As you choose the rituals that you will enact this
Mother's Day--flowers, dinner, phone call, card--consider the ways in which
you can deepen the celebration through these reflections.
1) Meditate or reflect for a moment on each of the following words and how
they connect you to your mother:
In what ways do you communicate your love for her?
In what ways do you help your relationship to evolve and grow?
In what ways could you try to see the world through your mother's eyes?
2) For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, Mother's Day is a
time to remember and to mark the life and dreams of our mothers. Take time
to reflect on the legacy that your mother has left behind and the ways in
which your life continues the values that she lived by.
3) Mother's Day is also a time of reflection for mothers themselves. No
text, traditional or contemporary, can capture the experience of all
mothers--but here are two Jewish texts on which you might reflect to mark
"Let my soul be in all things like the earth.... She is generous, she
nurtures and clothes all creation, she gives space to let others build their
homes and adorn themselves, she showers all with untold wonders" (Korban
Minha Siddur, Vilna 1910).
"...she surveys a field and buys it, she plants a vineyard with her hands,
she radiates strength, her arms flexed, she stretches her hand to the
needy...she opens her mouth with wisdom, a Torah of kindness is on her
lips...." (adapted from Proverbs 31).