Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lech L'cha, The Mums

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Temple Emanu-El, Edison, New Jersey

Lech L’cha, God said to Abram. “Go forth from your native land to the land that I will show you.”

This parasha was my mother’s favorite, and although I don’t know exactly why, I suspect it was because it spoke to her unlike any other.

Bronx born and raised, she cherished the promise the American dream held for her own parents who, like Abram, went forth from their native lands to places unknown. As a first generation American, she spoke often of her strong ties to the immigrant experience – embodied in her love of the Statue of Liberty and all it represented -- and how “only in America” could such a promise be fulfilled.

Indeed, as she too went forth in the world, she was, like Abraham, a paradigmatic traveler on a spiritual quest. Her journey was deeply rooted in Torah, avodah and deeds of lovingkindness, with huge doses of tzedakah, tikkun olam and her signature smile thrown in for good measure.

But many of you already know all that…

So, I want to tell you some things about my mother that you may not know.

For starters, my mom was a diehard Yankees fan. From the time she learned to use a scorecard as a little girl, she spent lots of time in the House that Ruth built where she knew the game so well that she could have written the rule book herself. She always knew the season’s roster of players, and just a few weeks ago, my parents and I spent time together watching the Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox on the set in her hospital room.

A Hunter High girl, she retained ties to a small group of junior high and high school classmates who, after more than 65 years, still gather regularly to share their lives, their memories and endless delicacies from Zabars.

Upon graduation from Hunter, she went forth to Cornell at a time when girls were required to wear skirts in the dining hall and men – including her own father – could not visit in her dorm room. She remained a proud Cornellian her entire life and treasured always the days she spent far above Cayuga’s waters.

She began her career sitting on the floor singing the intsy-wintsy spider with pre-schoolers before enjoying stints as a newspaper writer, a communications director, a synagogue administrator and, after she retired, a graduate student who earned distinction as the valedictorian of her class.

An avid bridge player, a game she learned in college, my mom was deeply devoted to “the bridge ladies,” as my father always calls them, and the group’s regularly scheduled Monday night game. More recently, Amy and I refreshed my mother’s mah jongg skills -- a game she played as a child -- and last August at a beach house in Point Pleasant, she gleefully cleaned us and a few of our friends out of our spare change and then some.

Staunchly committed to public institutions and civic affairs, she spent many years involved as a leader with both the League of Women Voters and the Franklin Township Public Library. As a longtime president of the library’s board of trustees, she was intimately involved in the construction of the town’s new library building and the beautiful addition that came a few years later.

Although she made her own tallit – not once, but twice – my mother, by her own admission, didn’t have a Martha Stewart bone in her body. When browsing cookbooks, if a recipe had more than five ingredients, or required that you “sift the flour,” she quickly turned the page. And yet, she reveled in the annual seder preparations, in my parents’ yearly Sukkot festivities on the back patio, and always, always, always, in setting the Shabbat table in preparation for a much needed day of rest.

And now, as my mother goes forth to her final rest, she has done so – as she did everything that came before – with grace, with dignity, and with God’s countenance shining brightly upon her.

Lech L’cha, The Mums. We love you.