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Laurel Herman
Chef Instructor, Culinary Storyteller, Ancestral Foods

In Praise of Jewish Mothers, A Tribute to Jewish Mothers Everywhere

My mother Charlotte Silver at her 96th birthday. Photo by Laurel Herman

We have been called many things, overbearing, overprotective, even nosy. We are often the subject of jokes, but always lovingly told, because if you know, you know.  If someone plays My Yiddisha Mamala, I will be bawling my eyes out by the end of the first bar.  Jewish mothers are the strong thread in the comforting blanket of Judaism. They are who and what holds us together.

We have anecdotal stories.

I remember 13 years ago, going through my divorce and my ex-husband had a girlfriend. “Is she Jewish?” My mother asked, not an unreasonable question at all, though I was thoroughly appalled.

That seemed to be the most important question in all my extended huge family. My father was blessed with 9 brothers and sisters; thus, my brother and I were also blessed with 18 first cousins on that side of the family. The answer needed to be yes. And now I know why.

The time my grandmother (Bessie Friedman) went to visit my other aunt and my mother, and her sister tried to make “the soup.” I think they put 15 parsnips in the soup, it was dishwater without my grandmother.  So many stories, so little time.

Her favorite guilt trip line was” do what you want to do. ” That always left me feeling like grrrr, she got to me again. How on earth did she know to do that? I’ve heard that your parents know your buttons to push because they installed them. Fact.

We are ALWAYS prepared for an emergency.  My friend is down with a cold, and I just dropped off a “how to have a cold Jewish Mother kit”, zinc lozenges, vit C (no soup, but I did ask), tissues, thermometer, lip balm and a few other bits. But more importantly, my daughter is trained in “the art of Jewish mother.” When I was sick, she brought me what I needed too. Even though these things are not unique to our culture, what makes ours stand out is that they come with questions.

Here we go with the questions.

Are you warm enough?

Do you have enough food?

Are you sure you don’t need anything?

I can do this, I can do that…There is nothing we wouldn’t do for our children, and our mothers and grandmothers wouldn’t do for us.

ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE SURE?

Repeat questions at least two times for maximum impact.

Even though our kids will make fun of us, eventually they see the wisdom of repeated questions, trust me on this. I have even received a few “you were right moms.” We live for those.  Invariably, my mother was usually right, especially with her 6th sense about people. My mother had a BS meter that was 99 percent accurate. I believe I inherited this. 

Antisemitic attacks

When I was no more than 5 or 6 years old, I will never forget my first experience with antisemitism. I was walking to school and my neighbors’ kids came out of the house yelling “Dirty Jew”. I asked my mother, “am I a dirty Jew? She flew down to the neighbor’s house and told them we were not going anywhere, and they better get used to it.

There is now a Facebook group, Mothers Against College Antisemitism, M.A.C.A., the brainchild of Elizabeth Rand who virtually in a few days amassed a huge following of over 54.000 followers and contributors.  These ladies dig in deep to research, call out and protect our college kids from antisemitic violence and harassment. They are boldly going where no Jewish moms have gone before. Jewish Mom Power! The power of Jewish Moms is love. We have plenty of it. We are Lionesses.   Just don’t mess with our kids, young or adult. Don’t do it.

Jewish Penicillin

The first ingredient is always love. Kosher chicken, lots of carrots (my grandmother always said it added sweetness, but I think it was HER that added the sweetness.). A whole onion, a few celery ribs (cut course) a parsnip, and “soup greens.) My grandmother used dill.  I remember the kosher meat market in Bay Shore, New York. I remember the sawdust on the floor and how embarrassed I was at her “feeling up “the chickens. But the soup was legendary. We have continued this. My grandmother lived with us for 24 years. 

The videos, the memories. Take plenty, You’ll want them later.

Oh, my mother was larger than life. She gave her opinion whether you wanted it or not. She was her own woman.  Last week I awoke in the middle of the night remembering her making me soup (split pea) and meatball sandwiches. I felt her in the kitchen with me.  She would be delighted at receiving Kasha Varnishkas( her favorite) at every holiday. She loved Jewish food, especially Gefilte fish. (I did not inherit that ). And chocolate. She lived a full 96 years and I believe it was the chocolate that kept her motivated. Not much of a cook herself, my mother with her damaged knees, crawled up the stairs to take care of me. She was the best. We laughed daily, sometimes argued, but she was always there. No matter where we lived, Tucson, England, Colorado, she came.  She adored her grandchildren, and they adored her back. Best grandmother ever. It would take volumes to recall everything and anything she would do for us. She was and is my role model.

In later years, every holiday was a movable feast, I had to bring to her. It was exhausting, but now I’m glad I did. She was wonderful in every way, and an example of being her own person. Her birthday is January 20th. Year two without her, but they live on in us. She left me her Hamsa, bought in Israel about 50 years ago. It keeps me connected to her. Jewish mothers are indeed the thread that holds us together as a people.

Concluding this post in Praise of Jewish mothers, I add this prayer and hope you will pray too for every family of hostages, for the hostages’ safe return and the healing of Israel. May Hashem speedily return their loved ones, safe and whole into their arms.  Amen.

About the Author
Laurel Herman is a Chef Instructor, Culinary Storyteller, and Culinary Medicine practitioner, residing in Richmond, Virginia. A classically trained chef in the European style( Thames Valley University, London, U.K. and The Institute for Integrative Nutrition) Her style is anything but classic, its fun, and relaxed. Laurel's passion is bringing people together through food goes back to growing up in a home which welcomed everyone. She has taught at various venues throughout the Richmond area. Now retired, but never from the love of food, active on Instagram Laurel also loves doing her podcast Chai talk with Laurel on Spotify. Her books, The Blissed Out Chef was published in 2015 and the Inner Kitchen, Balboa press in 2011.
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