I have now been a mother in Israel for 3 months. But this phrase has actually been part of my life, in different forms, for as long as I can remember. My earliest association with ‘Mother in Israel’ is the AMIT campaign by that name. I come from a long line of AMIT Women — in
fact, my children are 5th generation AMIT members.
Growing up, I remember being confused by the Mother in Israel drive that they had. Who was the mother? What did it mean that my mother, who lived with me in Houston, Tx, was a mother in Israel? I soon understood that it meant that my mother, and my aunt and my grandmother and many other women I knew, were supporting children in Israel who didn’t have a mother in Israel. Or at least needed more than their biological mother in Israel. The AMIT children needed someone to support them and love them. Someone to tell each and everyone that they were special. That’s what a mother does, and in the absence of the ‘real’ mothers, this has been the mission of AMIT.
As I grew and started to learn Tanach, I came to a new understanding of the phrase. After the battle with Sisera’s army in Sefer Shoftim, Devorah sings a song to praise God for delivering our enemies into our hands. In her song (chapter 5 of the Book of Judges) she refers to the fact that up until now, people had been scared to walk in the streets, fearful that they would be attacked by their enemies. Until, sings Devorah, ‘I arose as a mother in Israel’. What the people needed in that time of vulnerability, uncertainty and fear, was a mother. They needed te calming voice of a mother telling them that everything would be okay. That they were safe and that Hashem was with them.
And now, being a mother in Israel means something entirely different for me. It is a complicated mix of emotions that I could never entirely explain in writing, yet I feel the need to try.
It means feeling so proud of my children as they go off every day to school and sit through a whole day of classes in a language that is familiar but not known. It means laughing together with my kids as we realize that we bought the wrong item at the store because we didn’t know the right word, and hugging my crying daughter when she forgot how to say ‘i only want cucumber on my falafel’ in Hebrew. It also means being scared every time they leave the house. Scared that they might get lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and scared that something ‘bad’ will happen.
But unlike in the days of Devorah, we do not cower in fear. We do not stay inside our houses and hide. Because we are not lacking for mothers in Israel. We have a whole country of them! Just ask anyone who has ever had a crying baby in a supermarket or government office. Within minutes, five mothers in Israel will offer to soothe the baby for you!
Thursday’s news hit like a ton of bricks. Because I am not only a mother in Israel, I am also a teacher in Israel. And Thursday’s news was every mother’s and every teacher’s worst nightmare. Before I say anything else, my heart hurts for the families of the victims from Thursday’s senseless blood bath. I can not even fathom the depths of sadness which has fallen on the families, communities and friends of those who were killed.
As I looked at the news, and the Facebook comments, and the Twitter feeds, I was reminded of another mother in Israel. The Prophet Yirmiyahu tells us that Rachel’s voice was heard crying on high. She wept bitterly for her children who were taken away, beaten, killed. And she could not be comforted for her sons were gone. But the prophecy continues. Hashem heard her crying and promised that there is yet hope, That from the tears of mothers will come joy. That Rachel’s sons will one day return. ושבו בנים לגבולם Chazal tell us that while many of our ancestors pleaded with Hashem to return Bnei Yisrael from exile, it was not until Hashem heard the cries of Rachel — the weeping of a mother — that the promise was made.
The last few months have been hard, at times almost unbearable. Thursday hit closer to home for many of us than anything that has happened so far. Now is the time for the mothers in Israel to be strong. Our children look to us for comfort and security. It is our job to provide it.
For so many years, “Mother in Israel” meant that mothers in America were helping children in Israel because their mothers were not available. Now, we need to turn it around. We mothers in Israel need to be there for our children here, but also for all the children who come to Israel
without their mothers.
Each year, thousands of mothers around the world do the hardest thing in the world — they send their kids away. They let them spend a year in Israel with the hope that their sons and daughters will come back enriched and inspired. But for the year, they need a mother. Because theirs are not here. And so I ask my fellow mothers in Israel, if you have connections to gap year programs here in Israel , find a way to offer them comfort during this difficult time. Ask yourself, what do I do for my kids when they are scared? Bake cookies? Hug them? Just let them know I am here? Let’s remember Devorah’s song. Sometimes, the only thing that can bring comfort is a Mother in Israel.