13 Heart-Warming Jewish Stories about Moms for this Mother’s Day

Adult hands cupping a childs hands holding a red plastic heart atop a blue wooden table

Throughout the years, we at ReformJudaism.org have been honored to publish countless essays about families, many of them with a focus on motherhood. We’ve shared stories from mothers, about mothers, honoring late mothers, and hoping for motherhood.

This Mother’s Day, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite stories about moms to share with you. We hope you’ll read them, enjoy them, relate to them, comment on them, and maybe share stories of your own mothers. Happy Mother’s Day!

1. “Rings and Things: Remembering Loss, Moving Toward Life”

Esther Kustanowitz writes about a piece of jewelry she inherited after her mother’s death and how it helps her feel connected to both her late mother and her late grandmother – as well as to her Judaism. “Remembering how it was on my hand instead of my mother’s, how she wouldn’t touch my hand again, the tears would return,” she writes – but there’s a message from her mother at the end of the story.

2. “My First Time Praying at the Kotel’s Egalitarian Prayer Plaza”

Jacob Kraus shares how it felt to pray at the Western Wall with his mother instead of separating from her: “As we approached the plaza together, I remember feeling grateful and hopeful… I also felt hopeful that the establishment of this plaza would not mark the end of the journey toward increased recognition of progressive Judaism in Israel.” His mother, a Reform rabbi, likely felt the same.

3. “Honoring My Mom’s Legacy, on Mother’s Day and Every Day”

Jane E. Herman writes about how, even after her mother’s death, she continues to celebrate Mother’s Day: “Just as I honor my sister and my aunts on Mother’s Day for the roles they play in my life, I use the occasion – and every day, for that matter – to honor my mom.” She shares language from her late mother’s ethical will and explains how it inspires the way she lives today.

4. “Making Soup, Making Shabbat”

Stacey Zisook Robinson shares memories of her mother making chicken soup for Shabbat – the smells, the tastes, and the memories that linger with her, long beyond her mother’s time on earth. “The soup was Shabbat,” she writes, “in the same way that going to synagogue and being part of my community is now.” She even shares her bubbe’s recipe for chicken soup.

5. “My Jewish, LGBT family: Normal but Not So Nuclear”

In an essay written before the legalizatoion of marriage equality, Leah Dawson writes about growing up in a two-mother home. While some aspects up her upbringing may have been different from those of her peers who had heterosexual parents, she says, “My emotional development –my feeling whole and loved, cared for and accepted (the true qualifications of parenthood) – have never been for want.”

6. “Seven Shiva Lessons from My Mom”

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein shares seven “mourner’s tips” – one for each day of shiva – in honor of her mother’s Jewish life. “She touched thousands of lives and inspired not just me but hundreds of other kids to become rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators, synagogue presidents, and involved, passionate Reform Jews,” Rabbi Goldstein explains.

7. “A Letter to My Mother on Her First Yahrzeit”

Cantor Sheila Nesis writers about how Psalm 23 reminds her of her late mother on the anniversary of her death. “Although this psalm talks about God,” she writes, “I think about it this morning and see it under a completely new light. Today, I think it talks about you.”

8. “Growing Up with Parents with Disabilities”

Howard Lev shares his experiences as the child of two parents who both had disabilities; his mother used a wheelchair after contracting polio as a child, and his father had a pronounced limp due to scoliosis. “I desperately wish my parents were still alive today to see the strides made for people with disabilities,” Lev writes after discussing the challenges they faced – and overcame – together. “I know they would’ve loved the opportunity to take part in communal life without the many barriers they faced.”

9. “What Has Your Mother Taught You?”

Rabbi PJ Schwartz shares the many lessons his mother has imparted upon him and how they have impacted his character. “My mom never has just been a mom,” he says. “She has been someone who I have looked up to, someone who has been proud of me for my successes and failures, and someone who never has given up on me.” That’s what so many mothers strive for!

10. “How My Mother’s Organ Donation Changed My Commitment to Social Justice”

Rabbi Bradley Solmsen talks about how his mother’s extraordinary act of selflessness – donating a kidney to a stranger – influenced his worldviews and his own commitment to tikkun olam (repair of our broken world). He pledges: “I will donate blood more regularly. I will write, vote, and advocate to prevent gun violence. I will build on the work of the NAACP to respond to racial injustice in our communities.”

11. “The Best Gift My Parents Ever Gave Me”

Sean Carlin writes about the decision that his Jewish mother and Irish-Catholic father made to send him to Jewish summer camp as a child. “I cite my parents’ decision to raise a Jewish family as my gift of a lifetime because of the astronomical impact it has had on my life thus far,” writes Carlin, who went on to work for URJ Camp Harlam.

12. “Trying to Please Mom: A Son’s Labor of Love”

Deborah Rood Goldman tells the story of restaurateur Peter Gethers, author of My Mother’s Kitchen. “He regales readers with the history of Ratner’s and its famous customers, but that is only one facet of his story. My Mother’s Kitchen is Gethers’ clear-eyed assessment of his mom, Judy” – and a gift to her for all she has given to him.

13. “4 Things I Learned From My Catholic Mother that Have Made Me a Better Jew”

Allyson Zacharoff shares the top four things she’s learned from her background and her mother’s Catholic faith that have strengthened her Judaism: “Through this lens,” she explains, “I learned about love and about respect for all people, regardless of their beliefs.”

What’s your favorite story about your own mother? Leave us a comment and let us know! Don’t forget to check out this Prayer for the Shabbat before Mother’s Day, too. 

May Birthdays!

5/1 Brian Hendrickson

5/1  Rick Tanenbaum

5/2  Marilyn Litoff

5/3  Benjamin Brough

5/3 Susan Goldman

5/3 Sylvia Rex

5/7 Ralph Berger

5/7 David Blumenfeld

5/8 Jay Kaplan

5/8 Larry Ostrower

5/9 Andrew Poliakoff

5/9 Alane Russell

5/9 Jane Shapiro

5/13 Steve Garrell

5/18 Rebecca Greenfield

5/19 Norma Mortge

5/21 Alexander Freedman

5/23 Lianne Wood

5/24 Rex Russell

5/31 Robert Lyon

Enjoy Podcasts!

5 Jewish Stories for National Tell-a-Story Day

Book glowing as letters fly off the page

Friday is National Tell-a-Story Day in the United States, and you know who loves telling a good story? The Jewish people! So much of what our rabbis, cantors, and educators do can be described as storytelling, from sharing divrei Torah (literally, “words of Torah”) about the weekly Torah portions to teaching Midrash (story-based commentary about Torah and Jewish values).

A year ago, we celebrated National Tell-a-Story Day by announcing the launch of our new podcast, Stories We Tell. Rabbi Leora Kaye, our podcast producer, wrote of the new project, “This deep and rich tradition of storytelling – of passing down stories from one generation to the next – is a beautiful part of Judaism… Each [episode], we hope, will transport you to that place where you are a king or a queen, a merchant or a buyer – perhaps a young child or someone who is very, very old. And each one will offer you the chance to think about the choices you make and how you make them.”

And indeed, it has. We’ve been bowled over by the positive feedback to the podcast and are thrilled to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Stories We Tell by sharing with you our top five most popular episodes.

  1. The Wooden Bowl: When a wealthy older man decides to retire, he gives his business and home to his son. The son is so grateful, and it shows in his actions. But when he has a son of his own, and grows busier with work, his actions start to change. Does he ever make time for his father again? Cantor Ellen Dreskin tells the story that teaches an important lesson about expressing gratitude and caring for those who care for us.
  2. The Bird Trap: A happy little girl sits with her mother, but her mother is confused: why is the girl happy, even though she knows her brother did something that upset her? The girl’s answer teaches an important lesson about the difference between praying for something, and taking action. Rabbi Leora Kaye retells the story.
  3. How to Give a Blessing: A man wandering the desert grows thirsty, tired, and hungry, but for miles, all he sees around him is sand. Finally, he comes upon an oasis: a puddle right next to a big, lush tree. After relaxing for a bit, he gathers some branches for building fires and fruit to sustain him for the rest of his journey. Before he leaves, he wants to offer the tree a blessing in return for what the tree has given him. What kind of blessing can he leave for a tree that is already tall, grounded, and lush? Rabbi Marc Katz of Congregation Beth Elohim retells the classic story.
  4. The Shabbat Candlesticks: Rabbi Yechiel had a pair of candlesticks, and they were his most prized possessions. Every Shabbat, he would shine them until they sparkled and place them on his table. One Shabbat, the candlesticks weren’t there! Rabbi Yechiel looks all around town for them, but when he sees his candlesticks through the window of a poor family’s home, what does he do? Rabbi Leah Berkowitz tells the story.
  5. Banquet in Heaven: A righteous person was invited by God to see a preview of the world to come. He entered a celestial palace and saw a large banquet table filled with delicious food, but nobody around the table was eating. They were obviously hungry, so why weren’t they touching the food? In another room in the same palace he sees the same table piled high with food, but in this room the people around the table are joyous. What happened differently between the two rooms? Find out in this story, retold by Cantor Ellen Dreskin.

What has been your favorite episode of Stories We Tell? Is there a story you hope to hear us tell on the podcast in the future? Leave us a comment and let us know!

April Mensch of the Month!

 

Nancy Rosenberg has been a familiar face in synagogue activities since she was 3 months old. Her parents, Seymour and Linda Rosenberg relocated from Niagara Falls, N.Y. to Spartanburg, S.C. for work, an active life within Congregation B’nai Israel, and to raise their four children.

For Nancy, childhood in the congregation meant growing up in “one big family.” Adults were called “aunt and uncle.” Her friends from the synagogue were also her friends at school and in social events. The Synagogue was the center of both religious and social life. Nancy remembers how well-attended services were and very large Onegs.

One of the happiest and proudest moments in Nancy’s life was her Bat Mitzvah. She conducted Friday night service and chanted her Haftarah.

As an adult, Nancy enjoys being involved. She serves on the care committee with Sandy Smiley.

Her participation includes visiting people in their homes bringing candy and baked goods to brighten their day. Nancy has served in sisterhood activities throughout her adult life and is past president of our local chapter of Hadassah. Her lemon and almond pound cakes are famous sellers at the Sis- terhood Annual Bake Sale for which Nancy bakes 12.

Judaism with its prayers, customs and traditions means continuity for Nancy. The continuity brings her a great deal of comfort in her spirituality as well as reaffirmation in life.