Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stealing Mom

Upon returning from a pre-emptive Passover pilgrimage to Mom’s house in Massachusetts, prior to Mother’s Day, it dawned on me how the symbolism of Jewish motherhood has gotten yanked from us over the ages.

Along with so many other notions now inherently part of Christianity and Islam, motherhood, too, got morphed into Mary.

Perhaps it was my own wish fulfillment, but it seemed everywhere I looked in my old hometown, there were statues of Mary with her arms stretched out in adoring fashion. In front of churches, on top of them and amongst the shrubbery in front — she was ubiquitous in the largely Portuguese enclave of southeastern Massachusetts.

How did Mary, a nice Jewish girl, become so dominant a figure by paradoxically embracing motherhood and virginity at the same time?

She’s part of an ongoing pattern. First there was Jesus. He was our guy and then … they stole him.

Then the Sabbath got moved from the seventh day, Saturday, to the numerically dyslexic seventh day of … Sunday.

But taking a Jewish mother, saints that they all are, and, with a strange Midas touch, mass-producing them into plastic ornaments, statues and collectibles is like downloading music for free without attributing the rights to the original artists.

In many forms of Christianity, the venerated symbol of Mary has assumed so much power that she casts a shadow over her son. Right there, it would seem to me we have a direct patent infringement.

And while the impact of a Jewish mother has weighed heavily on sons like myself, their presence in pop culture has dissipated.

Who can still remember Nancy Walker as Rhoda’s mom? Or Mrs. Goldberg? If you can, is there a top-of-mind, contemporary icon of such Q-rated strength today?

Motherhood isn’t just another holiday either. We all understand how Christmas eats Chanukah’s lunch. And the movie isn’t called “Passover Pageant,” but “Easter Parade.” Admit that we’ve come to accept a certain level of defeat while still celebrating our historic victories and making what we have as awesome as possible.

But motherhood is where we need to draw the line.

They say when a brand is lost it should go back to its roots. Some do and are revived (think Apple) and others veer off and don’t (think Cadillac, which combated sagging sales with muscle trucks).

During the Amidah in our shul’s new prayer book (Siddur Eit Ratzon), there is reference to not only our patriarchs, but to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah as well.

Perhaps if more shuls incorporated this approach and showed our youth that we have some pretty mighty matriarchs of our own, they would realize their song, in its original form, was pretty cool too.

A lot of us today look back at our rich maternal heritage as if staring at a phonograph record wondering, “What is it?” and “How does it work?” It’s time we raised our matriarch’s profiles to their rightful place.

As Mother’s Day approaches, and as a Jewish son whose mom is a plucky 90 and living in the house I grew up in, her oomph has inspired me to hang on and fight for that last piece of Mother Earth we own.

Flying back from our Passover visit, the inescapable linguistic irony wasn’t lost on me; I flew on Easter weekend between Mass. and home to Maryland; after we touched down, my children ran into their mother’s arms.

As a husband who has played Mr. Mom on many occasions and with an economy creating even more of us, perhaps it’s God’s way of giving us a lesson on how the other half lives. Now it’s time to embrace how they live, and love them ever more for it.