Mother’s Day 2017
By Stan Schroeder
In honor of Mother’s Day May 13, I dedicate this column to Jewish mothers everywhere. Last year I wrote about the most well known of Jewish mothers, the one glorified and honored by Sophie Tucker starting in 1925 when Jack Yellen and Lou Pollack wrote My Yiddishe Momme for Sophie following the death of her mother.
My own mother was the most important person in my life and personified the Jewish values I cherish and live by. She was born Sally Greenbaum, the oldest of three sisters, in Boston September 11, 1906. The family moved to Los Angeles in the mid 1920s and my mother married my father, Leopold Schroeder in 1929. His family had made the journey to Los Angeles from Detroit about the same time. Leo’s father Solomon had been driven out of Asbury Park, New Jersey by the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s. He had owned and operated two ice cream parlors and the Clan frightened customers away from Jewish businesses.
In any event Leo and Sally met, fell in love, and married. I don’t know if my mother knew, or had reason to suspect, that Leo was a gambler who was always out to make the next big score. He landed in prison for bad checks or a variety of other illegal schemes – spending most of his adult life behind bars. My mother and my two younger sisters and yours truly, went to live with Leo’s parents and we lived with them from my earliest remembrances until my bar mitzvah. My grandmother had died shortly before that.
When my grandfather sold the house and remarried, we lived in a rented house in which my mother rented rooms to make ends meet. She had worked in different jobs ever since my sisters were born. My grandfather and his new wife (Aunt Bebe to me) bought a larger house and we went to live with them again until I was 16. At that time my mother was able to buy a house where she again rented rooms and started a “nursery school” in a small back house.
My mother had a difficult life – she contracted colon cancer in her 40s and had colostomy surgery, back in the 1950s. She lived until she was 88. She never complained and instilled in her children an ethic of working, education, and helping others.
My sisters and I all worked while we went to high school, giving Mother the money we earned, and receiving what we needed. I lived at home while attending UCLA (my sisters were in high school at the time) and continued to help support the family.
My mother didn’t drive and the three of us took her shopping and made sure she had what she needed. I would often take her to Ralph’s where she bought groceries using coupons she had clipped from papers and advertisements. Then we would go to Green Thumb Nursery where she would buy plants on sale and we would plant them in her garden. She lived in her own house and valued her independence. Our lunches at Four ‘N 20 Restaurant were a real treat, especially sharing her favorite lemon cream pie for dessert. The waitress took the meringue off the lemon meringue pie and squirted whipped cream on top just for her.
The memories I have are of loving, caring for one another, and being an extended family with my maternal and paternal aunts and uncles and cousins. Thanks, Mother.
Please see the right hand column for the poem I wrote for her on Mother’s Day 1990.
Board Meeting Dvar Torah Shemot (January 7, 2015)
by Stan Schroeder
This week we start the Book of Exodus, the core story of the Jewish people. In Hebrew, the books of the Torah and the weekly portions are named after the first significant word therein. So, both the book and the parsha are named Shemot, meaning “names”. The parsha starts by telling us, “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob…” The names, starting with Reuben and ending with Asher, are then listed. We are then told that Joseph dies and eventually a new king (Pharaoh) arose who didn’t know about Joseph.
What he did know was that the Israelite people had become numerous and prospered. He told the Egyptian people that they must deal shrewdly with the Israelites, so that they will not be able to fight with our enemies against us in the event of war. The Israelites were forced into hard labor overseen by taskmasters to oppress them. However, the Israelites continued to increase in number. The Pharaoh decided to instruct the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the boys born to Hebrew women and allow the girls to live.
We are then told the classic story of a birth of a boy to a Levite couple. The mother hides him for three months and then places the baby in a basket and puts the basket in the reeds near the Nile. She tells her daughter to watch and see what happens. Wouldn’t you know it, but none other than the daughter of the Pharaoh goes down to the river bank to bathe at that time. She spots the basket, has it fetched by her handmaidens, and arranges with the baby’s sister to have his mother be his wet nurse. And the rest, as they say, is his story. At this point, all the characters in the story are unnamed.
Some commentators say that the fact they are unnamed signifies how dehumanizing life had become for the Israelites. I think it teaches us that any Israelite family at the time could have had this experience. And, moreover, each of us could have a profound impact on what God, later in the parsha, calls “My people”.
The Pharaoh’s daughter names the boy Moses (Moshe), meaning to draw or pull out of water. Names and naming are an intrinsic part of the Torah. Going back to the Creation story in the Garden of Eden, Adam named all the animal species, and established dominion over them. Names have significance and are often symbolic of achievement, such as Abram becoming Abraham and Jacob becoming Israel. We name our children after loved ones, attempting to perpetuate their memory and the qualities they embodied.
Our congregation’s name is also significant, Shir Ami, Song of My People. As I mentioned, Exodus 5:1 relates that Moses issues the command in the name of the God of Israel to Pharaoh: Shalach et-ami v’yakogoo lee bamidbar – Let My people go that they may hold a festival to Me in the wilderness. God is declaring the people of Israel as His people according to His covenant. Each of us must have a covenantal relationship with the Jewish People, so that I, for instance, can say my People.
Shir means song. What is a song? Words set to music, meant to be sung. Later in Exodus we read the Song of the Sea (Shirat HaYam) sung by Moses and the Israelites after crossing the Sea of Reeds. The Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim), attributed to King Solomon, extols the virtues of erotic love and/or a second interpretation of God’s love for Israel. Today we also have Hatikvah (The Hope) as the national anthem of Israel and symbolic of the relationship of the state of Israel to the Jewish people: in other words Zionism.
We can choose whatever song that gives meaning to our Jewish values. Many of us sing for the better part of two hours at our Contemporary Shabbat service. Our Social Action Committee, with song leader Claire Silverman, sings at the West Valley Healthcare Center. We had a delightful program of Jewish song by Cantor Mike Stein last October.
Congregation Shir Ami gives us the opportunity to live up to our name.