top of page

My First Jewish Teacher

There’s no time you don’t need your mother. Not at 18 when you’re getting ready to leave the house, Or at 28, when you’re settling into your career, Or 38, when you’re managing your own family. Or now, at 43, when I have to part with my mother. You may temporarily think you can do without your mother, but There’s no time you don’t need your mother. Mila tells me, she calls me Abba, because she got to pick her Abba. And I take everything Mila says as truth. And if Mila’s correct, there must have been a time I got to pick my Ima, and I chose a pretty darn good Ima. Growing up, my Ima would tell me: Ein Ka-moni, Yesh li, Roni. אין כמוני, יש לי רוני There’s none like me, I have Roni. But the truth is there’s none like me, because I have my Ima. My Ima’s love language is unlimited supply of schnitzel and couscous, not (only) when we were kids, but at the present with my kids, Lev & Mila. Over Covid, my mom would regularly show up at my door and say: “The news says I’m not supposed to be here right now, but I made you guys schnitzel.” A constant worry that may paralyze the average human being, does not paralyze Jewish mothers, instead this perpetual worry was somehow my mom’s fuel to ensure we didn’t worry, and definitely not about food, and also, not about paper towel, couscous, popsicle sticks, toys, games, balloons, markers, but especially my mom made sure I don’t have to worry about Lev & Mila continuing what she loves most which is teaching Hebrew, Israel and Hillel.

As a once-analyst sometimes I view the world as sets of information, collecting and making sense of information, and my parents as spies transferring me their most important information. My mom was the first person to put a backpack on my back so I can begin collecting my own information in school. Along my life’s journey, and long after completing formal school, I shared personal information with my mom about my gender identity and concepts that were maybe newer to her. There’s no information that can be shared with mom that would stop making her my Ima. Nothing breaks the bond between my Ima and me, especially not new information.

Life makes you question, why did this happen to me?

Why must we experience this?

And when you dwell on it twice 11 years apart you eventually derive it must be because now I must be the guide, the earthly spy to pass along the information to my children and anyone experiencing grief.

Three years ago, in 2019, my mom faced a terrible prognosis requiring the support of multiple medical machines (6!) and seemingly impossible circumstances that seemed to test the limits of her body, and any human body battling Leukemia. Over a miraculous 24 hours, when all of my mom’s vitals rapidly declined, we received the news that my mom is reversing the trend on each and every vital and is recovering. Miracles are strange in a way, that even having witnessed what must have been one, the witnesses are left wondering how it happened?

That year on Chanukah me & Lev & Mila made art for my mom and learned a new meaning of my mom’s name Noga [נגה] that a Nes - Gadol - Haya, that maybe even my mom, my first teacher didn’t know to be an acronym of her name. Americans and Israelis differ on the 4th letter of the dreidel, here, or there [פה or שם], but here, in America, it happened here, and we all agreed my mom’s turnaround was miraculous.

In the 3 years following our local miracle my mom returned to her normal routine, worrying about us, cooking for us, trips to Israel, visiting all of her grandchildren, and attending family events at Hillel. She would regularly insist on picking up Lev & Mila from school, or halving my parental burden, when one child at a time got to stay with Savta. To Lev & Mila, Pine Lake is known as Savta’s beach, and Savta, who didn’t necessarily have a passion for the beach itself, enjoyed everything else that goes along with this activity which is providing snacks for the beach, toys for the beach, and feeding all of us after the beach. And nurturing Lev & Mila with abundant care and love that only Savta could provide.

I caution to only say what I know, or not say what I don’t know, so I do not how to describe where is my mom? But I do know that if I once experienced a space in time before being in the same world as my mom, and I feel the void of being in two separate worlds for the first time in my life. I know I can say she is out of this world, and maybe through us, in this world at the same time. Lev told me he is sad Savta is gone for two reasons:

1) Because he loves Savta, &

2) Because now there is noone to make Savta’s Levivot

Mila says she misses Savta’s hugs, and says Savta returned to her true love, her husband, my Abba, and that she isn’t actually gone, she turned invisible.

Maybe a memory is invisible too, and Mila continues to speak the truth. I am fortunate and grateful for receiving my first teacher for the entirety of my life, and I love you Ima.


bottom of page