Rabbi’s Corner: Celebrating the Women in Our Lives

On Sunday, we celebrate Mother’s Day in North America (it’s observed at different times throughout the world.) Many think it’s a holiday manufactured by greeting card companies. However, it’s true origins were to celebrate the sacrifices of mothers and women, since most holidays at the time celebrated the achievements of men:

The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner named John Wanamaker, in May 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. That same day also saw thousands of people attend a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis—who remained unmarried and childless her whole life—resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood.

By 1912 many states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. (Source: History.com)

In Jewish tradition, we too, traditionally honor women in our unique way every Erev Shabbat. On Friday evening, when we recite our Shabbat blessings and before we eat our Shabbat dinner, it’s traditional for women to have a special blessing – Eshet Chayil – recited over them by those with whom they share their lives (traditionally, it was their husbands): So today, on this Shabbat of Mother’s Day weekend I offer a modern, liberal rendition of this blessing:

Eshet Chayil: A Woman of Valor

A mother of generations
a woman of valor,
she is precious in the gifts that she has given to our family.
Her children have found trust and truth in these gifts.
We follow in patterns that she taught.
She is robed in strength and dignity,
and she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
We benefit and learn from her wisdom.
May she always be credited
for the fruit of her labor and her achievements.
May she live on in glory.
(Blessing by Pat Barr z”l, Rabbi Fredi Cooper, and Lori Lefkovitz. Originally published at Ritualwell.org.)

I think of these words every day when I look at the portrait of my late mother, Judith Rosenthal Sobel, z”l, that sits on my dresser. In the photo, my mother sits with the beautiful Shabbat tablecloth and challah cover she embroidered, and the brass candlesticks from her grandmother from the “old country” (which she bequeathed to me). My mother imbued within me a strong sense of my Jewish identity, my Zionist ideals, my independent spirit and so much more. My mother did not have an easy life and yet she was a survivor. She found ways to always volunteer and give back to the communities in which she was involved on so many different levels. She studied Torah and taught Torah. She planted groves and groves of trees in Israel. She bequeathed to me not just candlesticks and material things, but my deep sense of spirituality. My mother tried to affirm the words Torah with every fiber of her being. She was a true “eshet chayil”.

Each of us has been influenced, inspired and loved by many different women in our lives in so many various capacities. Each of us has/had a mother, perhaps grandmothers, or aunts, or sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, rabbis, cantors and others who mentored us and helped shape us into the people whom we are today.

At Temple Beth Sholom, we are also very blessed by the many special “women of valor” (and the men too) who make things happen here whether in the office: Jill Weinthal who has been with us for over 30 years, Mara Lazenby, Pam Uber, Susie Amster, Tamara Levin, Cindi Dubrow, and Lena Shupper or through our tireless volunteer and leadership efforts (there are so many wonderful volunteers – too many to list).

By working together to create sacred community, build friendships, feed the hungry, study and learn, pray and observe holy times, and strengthen and grow our community – each of you exemplifies the characteristics of an “eshet chayil – a woman of valor”. Each and every one of you helps bring a level of k’dusha – holiness – to our congregation. We are so grateful for all that every single one of you does for  our beloved TBS community on an ongoing basis.

On this Mother’s Day Shabbatmay we be inspired by each and every one of our N’shei Chayil – Women of Valor, past and present.

May we continue to be enriched and blessed by the gift of your presence, the deeds of your hands, the love of your hearts, the ideas of your minds, as we strive to enrich, strengthen and grow our Community of Valor.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom

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