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How a Rabbi Celebrates Mother’s Day

My mom, my dad and our kids
A card to my wife. A call to my mother. Plans for an early dinner with my wife’s family. And then…
As I drive to a downtown temple to watch our former intern Ilana Mills be ordained rabbi, my thoughts turn again to the congregation. I remember…
Mother’s Day is bittersweet when illness and brokenness touch the family.
This one just learned she has breast cancer. 
That one prepares to care for her husband as he begins chemotherapy. 
Each of them faced Mothers Day with might have been complex emotions as the joy of being a parent was tempered by the challenges brought forth by the vicissitudes of life. As they seek balance between brokenness and wholeness, each resides within my heart; their pain is our community’s pain. This is what it means to be part of a community; this is what it means to be a rabbi. 
So before the ordination ceremony and after, I call. 
This one visits her husband at the convalescent home. 
That one mourns the recent death of her life partner. 

Lots of messages are left; sometimes we actually speak in real time. I say that I was thinking of her, that I thought that this Mother’s Day might be bittersweet, and that I wanted her to know that we at Congregation Or Ami were holding her in our hearts. In those times our conversation is thick with appreciation. 
Dinner is with my wife’s side of the family; bagels and lox and a delicious spread. Halfway through I change into a suit to head over to a reception for our Mishpacha Coordinators Sarah Lauing and Lisa Berney, as they prepare to graduate with Master’s degrees in Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education. There I present them with words of thanks from our congregation; I make it a point to pull aside their mothers so we can kvell privately about each daughter’s unique gifts and talents.  
More calls on the way; more people to say henaynu (that we are here with them, for them) during these bittersweet times. This one spends Mothers Day still recovering from surgery. 
That one breathes with relief as her child recovers from surgery. 

Rabbi Shy Zeldin once taught on Mother’s Day that a mother is at her root a woman. The Hebrew word for woman is isha – written aleph-shin-hey. The word isha (aleph-shin-hey) combines the word eish (aleph-shin) or fire with Hashem (hey-shin) meaning the Divine Name. Women, and mothers particularly, he said, weave their passion of nurturing into the holiness of everyday life. To this, we add the teaching of the RiPiK, who explains that the last two letters of woman (shin-hey) combine into Sha!, the universal sound meaning “be quiet, listen, in Hebrew, sheket“. A mother is one who quiets herself to hear the yearnings of her children and family.
A Mom is Divine Passion Focused on the Yearnings of Her Family
Today, around the country, families celebrated their unique personification of motherhood, the woman/women who bore (or adopted), nurtured and raised them.
And it becomes the unique responsibility of a rabbi to reach out religiously, to mark the most difficult days with a call. That’s what it means to be part of a community; this is what it means to be a rabbi on Mother’s Day. 

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