Sisterhood Blog

Mothering My Jewish Mother

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Sarah Seltzer

Last week, a few days before Mother’s Day (and my mom’s birthday, which always falls at the same time of year), I stood on the street near Morningside Park in Upper Manhattan with my mother, venting and kibbitzing. I was on my way home from work, she had biked up to say hi. I was cranky, she was eager to see her daughter. It had been a warm day but a breeze was beginning to blow in, and she looked at me. “Let’s keep walking,” she said. “You’re getting cold.” “I’m fine,” I replied. “Mom you’re getting cold! Just say it!”

“Fine,” she said. “But it would make me feel better if you zipped up your sweatshirt.”

So it goes with Jewish mothers. I never thought of my adventurous, athletic and artistic mother as typically Jewish, but when she presses a sweater on me, or she wants assurance that her lasagna is my brother’s favorite food — or when, during the period when my building had a receptionist, she would drop off a loaf of bread in the lobby — her rich cultural heritage as a Jewish mom is impossible to not see.

Neither is it as I make my way through the essays in The Jewish Daughter Diaries, edited by Rachel Ament, laughing and cringing at so many of the anecdotes– fretting, feeding and “over-loving” are the big commonalities that bridge all the divergent personalities described by the essayists in the book.

I loved the book, but my Mother’s Day epiphany, perhaps even more appropriately for our era, came from a listicle. During the run-up to Mother’s Day I was struck by another, shorter, testament to the power of Jewish motherhood that circulated through my office (at a Jewish women’s org): “25 signs you’re becoming your Jewish mother.” We were all reading the list, by Amanda Scherker, and laughing. And so were our mothers.

Not all of the items on the list rang true to me, but some did. And the last one encapsulated how I’ve been talking to my mom this year with such precise accuracy that I felt humiliated about becoming a cliche myself.

“Suddenly, the tables have turned. She really just should be seeing her doctor more, and if she thinks power-walking is going to keep her healthy into her eighties, she is just NUTS. One day you’re going to have kids and you’d really really appreciate it if she stuck around.”

Yes I’ve been using the final line, the old “I’d appreciate it if you stuck around to help me with my kids” line, quite a bit. More than she’s been guilting me about having grandkids. (My mom doesn’t just power-walk, she runs, and bikes, and skis… too much in my opinion! Relaxing is healthy, too! You can’t fall or break a bone on the couch!)

My destiny awaits me. I’ve always been a fusser over my friends and family, but I’ve noticed my emergent yiddishe mama side take shape upon entering my 30s. Suddenly, every time my husband leaves the house late, I say, “Keep your wits about you.” And the instinct to mother reared its head that day in the park, as my mom and I parted ways and the temperature dropped. “ Mom,” I suddenly said, horrified, “You’re not dressed warmly enough! You’re going to catch a chill!” “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m wearing a fleece… and I’ll call you when I get home.”

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: women, mother, Jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.