What’s a Jewish Mother?

From Dallas Children's Essays

From Dallas Children’s Essays 

These sketches of the Jewish mother—either from life or idealized—were written by Jewish children in Dallas as entries in an essay contest sponsored last fall by the Jewish Book Festival Committee. The 300 participants were in grades one through 9 in three Hebrew schools: Akiba Academy (Orthodox day school), Temple Emanu-El Sunday School (Reform), and Congregation Shearith Israel’s afternoon and Sunday school (Conservative).

The Book Festival, coordinated by Naomi Goodell, Director of Cultural Arts of the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, had as its overall theme “The Jewish Woman in America.” The children were asked to write on one of two topics: “What is a Jewish Mother?” or “What is it that my mother does that makes my home Jewish?”

The children’s concern with their mothers’ nurturing roles is self-evident. Not so obvious (kids say the cutest things!) is the fairly common view of Jewish mothers not only as selfless—literally—but also as followers and enforcers of the rules. Charity and obedience are what the kids seem to see in the Jewish mother. Or expect to see. Or believe they should see. So many of these mothers sound alike! Are our children being trained to see us only in such narrow ways?

We have no evidence that these children, or any other Jewish kids randomly selected, would have any less limited views of their fathers. But nobody ever asks kids to write essays about Jewish fathers, because there’s no special role for them, no quick, stereotyped view to flash in front of the children before they write. An essay on the Jewish father would be synonymous with an essay on “Jew.”

Only the women are called upon to demonstrate their Jewishness by what they do to/for/with their kids.

My mother is very nice. She means a lot to me. She helps me do alot of my homework. She cares for me alot. She pays for alot of the things I need. My mother sometimes hits me. The reason why she hits me is because I do something wrong, because I don’t listen to her, or if I yell at her.

My mother is the best mother in the whole wide world.

My mother sends me to hebrew school and regular school. She helps me get good grades. She lets me go to alot of different places.

My mother keeps a good house. She helps me get better when I am sick. She gives me the right amount of medicine, not to little, not to much. My mother supplies with all of the supplies I need, food, water and all of the rest of the supplies you need to live on.

Wendy P. Age 10

…she takes care of me and I wouldn’t be here without her. She helps me if I have a problem. My mother is a good Jewish mother because she sends me to Religious School and cooks the appropriate food for holidays.

Michael M. (no age given)

My mother is a good mother because she takes care of me every day and she does it because she loves me and not because she has to do it because she is a mother. Andy R. (no age given)

I think my mother is great! She cares about us, she loves us, cooks for us, wants to give us an education.,.. On Passover she even lets me find the afikomin! Mothers are good to have. They raise children for the family, too. She cleans the house. She greets company that comes to our house. She helps us when we need help and she does things with us. Mothers are good to have!

Jamey N. Age 7

I think a Jewish mother is a mother who takes care of her children. A mother who takes care of her husband, A mother who worships God…. A mother who obeys the rules. A mother who helps all over the World. A mother who teaches her children ….A mother who always remembers lunch money for her kids. A mother who helps in UNICEF. A mother who always gives to the poor. A mother who will discipline you.

Sam K. Age 10

The Jewish mother is important to the family and religion. She cooks meals for the family and prepares everybody for the holidays. She gives you clothes and shelter. She also gives you things you want. She tells you whats right and wrong.

Howard S. Age 11

Jewish mothers are special, very special. They make everything in your home a little more Jewish. Heven forbid you should go two hours with a cold, without a bowl of chicken soup, never. The house better be pretty clean by Friday or it just isn’t Sabbath. And of course roasted chicken on Friday, why break up a nice monotony. Every other holiday you go to temple, and the only way you can get out of it, is if you’re about to die. It’s really not all that bad either. Because if you get tired she’ll whisper to you, “Why dont you take a trip to the bathroom.”

Judy R. (no age given)

I am very proud of my Jewish mother because she has care enough to even send me to Sunday School. Also on Jewish Hola-days she feeds me matza ball soup and of course pizza. When we go to temple services when the sermon is so long she lets me go to the car early….

Donald B. (no age given)

My mother makes my home Jewish by lighting the candles on Friday. She lets them burn until they are out. We eat kosher food on Friday. On Chanuka she hangs up stars and puts presents all around the fire place.

Steve B. Grade 6

A Jewish mother has a very difficult job. One hard thing she must do is to keep kosher. She is a very sincere Jew if she does because kosher foods are very expensive and buying these foods can hurt her family’s budget. She should watch over the holiness of Shabbat and of all other Jewish holidays. This is a very complex duty, because there are many rules she must follow to each particular holiday.

But her main duty, greater than all the rest, is making sure her children love being Jewish. If a Jewish mother’s children love being Jews, she will feel that she has succeeded as a good mother. But in order for her children to be good Jews she must go through many hardships. She should send her children to a Hebrew school where they will be around other Jewish children. She should see that they won’t be embarrassed about Judaism when they are around non-Jews. After all of her difficulties and hardships; imagine how happy she will be if her offspring grow to be sincere Jews!

A Jewish mother will feel that Hashem has given her everything she wanted if her children are earnest Jews. She will gladly help her children and go out of her way to do things that will benefit her children as Jews. She will feel a spiritual holiness among her family which arises from her children. When her children grow older and have their own families, she will rejoice as she sees them watching over their families as she did with them. She will know that all the things she did to be a good Jewish mother, were worth it.

David D. Grade 7

My mother makes my home Jewish by caring for the Jewish religion… and working at the temple library and warming up our house by saying the blessing over the candles. And you can tell that she’s proud of our religion because, when I start eating before she says the blessing over the hallah and she tells me to stop eating and I don’t she’ll send me to my room! I’m proud of my Jewish mother.

Jenny K. Grade 6

…She keeps the house very holy for her husband and children…. She also has to watch and teach her children how to do things better. She teaches her girls how to do everything she does so when their older they can do the things she does. She is a good woman and teaches to her husband and children.

Ben S. Grade 5

A Jewish Mother is a mother who has high hopes and wants you to be famous doctor, loyer or polatition. She also wants you to be respectable, loyal, trustworthy, honest, brave, reverent and handsome.

Mike R. (no age given)

My mom talks in yiddush and wants me to be honest, true, and a doctor. She also wants me to be a democrat but I want to be a republican. That what makes my mother a “Jewish Mother.”

Eric F. Grade 6

There are several ways you can tell a Jewish home from any other. Most of these ways come from the mother. Number one, the phone is always tied up. This is caused by the mother and once in a while the children …. When you are ever having trouble, there is one person you can turn to, your Jewish mother.

B.G. Grade 6

…She also is important to the religion because she raises a family that is mild mannered and could go to services at any time they would like.

Jeffrey G. Age 11

…She takes care of the family every day. She gives up her pleasures to make pleasures for her children and husband. The Jewish Mother is an important Jewish symbol and is a tribute to the Jewish religion.

Andrea P. Age 11

A Jewish mother is one that acts like a companion to man instead of a slave or servant. Who thinks she equal instead of an underclassman. She should talk out instead of holding her thoughts to herself. She should apply for a job if the money is needed. And also she should speak up for others when they need help or are in some kind of trouble.

Alan S. Grade 5

…She works very hard. She doesn’t talk mean. She isn’t cruel. She is very smart and knows alot about Jewish history and about English history. She does alot of nice things for her family. She cares for herself and for all the other people, in her family or not.

Lee P. Age 11

A Jewish mother is different from an other mother as she has the responsibility to bring her children up in the Jewish faith. She is the person that teaches her children the basics of a Jewish life when they are infants…. Also from the mother we get our first sense of our background. She tells us the stories of our past, making them interesting and exciting in her own way so we will remember them in years to come. Without these stories we may not have found out about our history until much later.

Mothers also have a very special charm for understanding our wrong-doings and teaching us the right way. She covers up our mistakes by reassuring us that we have not done a major crime, but we have learnt a lesson from them.

Jodi L. Grade 8

A Jewish mother is a good Jewish mother when she has alot to give. My mother is this way…. When she has a party or something like that, and someone can’t drive carpool, she almost always volenteers. Then she doesn’t bother to let the other mother drive for her. She just says, “Oh, forget it!”…. When someone up the street needs to borrow something, she always gives it to them if she has it.

Stacy S. Age 10

…She has two helping hands in her window for anybody….

Francine F. (no age given)

…She should volenter at temple. She should help other people that are ill in bed and need help. My mother brings cookies or punch for our school parties and she always brings the best, sometimes homade. She helps the J.C.C. of Dallas with bake sales. My great grandmother is sick now. So she went all the way out to Baylor Hospital to get her. Right in the middle of fixing dinner. That’s what makes her a Jewish mother.

Peter M. Age 10

My mother is like a Jewish mother because she cares enough to tell us about Israel and its problems and prepares chicken soup when we’re sick, and teaches me prayers…. She even wants to move to Israel. When I get older she will let me go on the teen tour.

Brenda B. Age 12

A Jewish Mother should partake in a few at least different community and temple projects (voluntary of course)…. Beside the housework it’s nice to have a part time or regular career, such as community commit-ies or hospital work. It doesn’t need to be payable.

Andrea S. Age 10

A Jewish mother should participate in temple activities. She should also help the temple. She should care about things. She should be understanding, and shouldn’t get mad easily. She should work hard at what she does and should do it right.

Marie S. Age 10

…Jewish mothers raise their children Jewish and to care for the world….

Jessie S. Age 11

The Jewish mother is probably the most important member of the Jewish family. My mother teaches me about my religion… The Jewish mother through history kept the Jewish Family from falling apart, through thick and thin, through war’s, death and hard ship. Without them the Jewish religon would surely die.

Alan F. Age 11