Israel’s version of Mother’s Day is quickly approaching. For some, the day means wrapping paper and brightly colored ribbons. For others, it means headaches and indigestion. Want to take a wild guess into which of these two groups I fall?
It might be because in 1934 she became the director of the newly created Youth Aliyah agency that rescued thousands of Jewish children and youngsters from Nazi Germany and other European countries that Henrietta Szold became the symbol of Israeli motherhood. Or maybe it’s because she was the founder of that great Zionist organization, Hadassah. No matter, really. For one reason or another, the lady’s Hebrew calendar birthday, Shvat 30, has been designated as Israel’s Mother’s Day. Or, rather, Family Day, as it is now called. And while the soon-to-be celebrated day here (this year, February 9) is not nearly as big as its American counterpart, it nonetheless provides an opportunity for jewelry, flower and candy merchants to bolster a mid-winter slump in sales.
Not everybody, though, looks forward to this day with relish. Gift giving, to be honest, is not something I’m overly fond of. In fact, Ronald Reagan was president the last time I bought my wife, Tzippy, a gift – an experience I still have nightmares from. Since then, we’ve agreed to abstain from buying gifts for each other. On those occasions when presents are usually given, we exchange nods. This may not be as festive or romantic as opening a gaily wrapped package, but it does prevent hurt feelings and groans of exasperation over time, energy and money wasted.
Not that I’ve never tried to renege on this agreement. Some years ago, on our 20th anniversary, I figured a gift was in order to celebrate this very special milestone. So, sneaking out of work early one day, I went to a nearby mall to get “a little something” in recognition of the many years my wife had to put up with me.
Tzippy had mentioned that she needed a new robe, so I beelined over to a rather capacious ladies’ apparel store. Robes, I was told, could be found just past foundations, and I was rewarded with a very queer look when I expressed surprise that building supplies were being sold together with ladies’ clothes. Once I arrived there, I realized why.
I happily replied “yes” when a nice saleslady named Vered asked if I needed assistance. She positively glowed when I told her what I was looking for. Well, until that moment I had no idea of the covert intelligence required when buying a robe. Overhead or button down; solid colored (from a choice of five or six) or pastel; short sleeved, long sleeved or three-quarter sleeved; cotton, wool, or polyester; to be worn indoors, outdoors, or both; with a collar or without – it went on and on. And my response to each question was, in essence, nothing more than a stab in the dark.
“Forget it,” I said to myself. This was one multiple choice test I hadn’t a chance in hell of passing, so I figured I’d play it safe and look for something a bit less iffy. Not far from the entrance of the shop, I spotted and went into a stylishly decorated perfumery which boasted in the window, in English, the pretentious sign “Fragrances.” Never in my life did I feel so out of place. In vain I looked for a landmark – something familiar that I could use as a starting block or point of reference – but there wasn’t a baseball glove, scrabble set, or Playbo-, er, collection of Shakespeare to be found. In response to my request for a really special gift, a saleslady took me to a graceful display case that probably had more locks on it than Fort Knox, and shoved something called Passion – which she referred to as “a unique, one-of-a-kind scent created by one of the great masters of the craft” – under my nose. I smiled and said it was very nice, although to be honest, I found the aromas coming from a nearby shawarma shop far more alluring. But if she said it was elegant, hey, who was I to argue? The bottle, though, couldn’t have been much larger than a shot glass or two, so not wanting to appear chintzy, I figured I’d get Tzippy this with a box of chocolates or something. “Okay,” I said, “it’s a deal. How much?” I have no recollection of it, but I apparently started to wheeze uncontrollably when she told me.
I was tempted, once my head cleared, to pick up a copy of the newly released biography of Mickey Mantle but wisely thought better of the idea. Homer Simpson, I recalled, once bought Madge a bowling ball for her birthday, with disastrous results. So after flirting with some other possibilities (including a Sunday morning lox-and-bagels breakfast in bed until I remembered that there is no Sunday morning in Israel), I decided to stay with the nod. Better to be thought of as an unsentimental clod than to remove any lingering possibility or doubt that I’m otherwise.
Tzippy, therefore, won’t be expecting a present this coming Mother’s Day, at least not from me. But she’ll know the appreciation for the love and effort she gives to our family is there, as it has been from the day that our first daughter was born.
So here’s to the memory of Henrietta Szold, a truly great lady whose name will forever be associated with the history of Israel and the Jewish people. And to all the mothers throughout this country, you more than deserve to have a day set aside in your honor. Believe me, the rest of us couldn’t get by without you.