How Jewish Mothers are Different

How Jewish Mothers are Different

Weeeeooooo, weeeeeooooooo…. 9:30 this morning and Bibi’s black limousine motorcade is flying from his house to the Prime Minister’s Office with sirens a-blare.

Since Tsofia’s gan is located on Bibi’s regular morning house-to-office route, I see his motorcade (or at least hear it) at least once or even twice a week.

But this morning, as Israel’s most influential politician went along his noisy way, my eyes wandered over to the nearby bus stop where a young mother in a teal beret was reading from her siddur. With a toddler at her side, I noticed how she was as silent as Bibi was noisy.

I watched her lips moving across the page of prayer with an intense look of concentration. In fact, she looked so completely focused, so otherworldly that I wondered if she had even noticed the deafening “weeeeoooooo weeeeeeeooooo” at all.

And I wondered about the relative influence of these two Jews—noisy Binyamin Netanyahu and this silent JewishMOM with her eyes in her siddur and her child at her side.

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One Tuesday a few months ago I went out to run some errands with my younger kids while my four older daughters were at youth group. I was sure my youth-groupers wouldn’t be home before 6:15 pm, so I took my time dilly-dallying at the health-food store putting this and that into my basket.

But around 6:10 the startling ring of my cellphone interrupted my seaweed/oatmeal/rice milk reverie.

“Eema, where are you?!” Hallel asked in a tone bordering on panic.

“I’m at the health-food store on the corner, come and meet me here…”

When my daughters met me at the store less than a minute later, my 8-year-old embraced me with emotion. “We didn’t know where you were!” Moriah exulted.

I didn’t understand my daughters’ level of distress until I spoke with my upstairs neighbor, Liora, a few weeks later.

“You know, a few weeks ago I came home and I saw all your girls standing outside your front door. They were talking among themselves and I heard they were extremely concerned since they could not understand why all the lights were off in your house. They said they had never ever come home and found the house completely dark. So they used my cellphone to call you, and they were so relieved that everything was OK….”

And I remembered how l had left my house that afternoon when it was still light out, so by the time my girls arrived home, it was dark outside and inside as well.

And while I was sorry that my daughters had been scared, it felt good…

That even on a day that I don’t do or say or make anything worthy of notable mention, at the very least when my kids arrive home and see light, they know Eema’s home. All is right in the world.

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Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations by Professor Vern Bengston

In an article about this new book that appeared recently in The New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer explains that the most important factor influencing children’s decision to continue their parents’ religion isn’t anything the parents say or do.

The deciding factor, it turns out, is the closeness and warmth of the child’s relationship with a parent. Oppenheimer writes:

Professor Bengtson’s major conclusion is that family bonds matter. Displays of parental piety, like “teaching the right beliefs and practices” and “keeping strictly to the law,” can be for naught if the children don’t feel close to the parents. “Without emotional bonding,” these other factors are “not sufficient for transmission,” he writes.

Professor Bengtson also found that one parent matters more than the other — and it’s Dad. “But what is really interesting,” he writes, “is that, for religious transmission, having a close bond with one’s father matters even more than a close relationship with one’s mother.”

Now read carefully, here’s where things turn interesting:

There are some interesting exceptions. Transmission of Judaism, for example, depends more on a close bond with one’s mother than with one’s father — perhaps because Judaism has traditionally held that the faith is inherited from the mother. Among Jews with a close maternal bond, 90 percent considered themselves Jewish, versus only 60 percent of those who weren’t close to their mothers.

The Jewish mother’s inescapable influence. As silent as prayer. As simple as light. As powerful as love passed invisibly from one Jewish heart to another.

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4 comments

  1. loved your article, especially the last sentence!

  2. Nice Post. Will help me remember that it’s the bond that matters, not what I tell them. Maybe this’ll help our tough mornings go smoother.
    I also thought about my year at home this year with my 3 year old. How sometimes it’s hard to always have him underfoot, but this is something I probably will never regret as he gets older.

  3. Bracha Goetz

    Beautiful!

  4. Beautiful! I think the bond has to stay in place throughout the teenage years to be effective. This is the challenge.

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