On Being a Jewish Mother, Professionally
When I told my Dad the title, his response was, “Easy. That’s your mother.” And he’s right. Eppie was a classic Jewish Mother: never at a loss for an opinion, both smart and wise (they aren’t the same thing), funny, practical, blunt, businesslike, and compassionate. My Mom is like that. Probably your Mom is, too, whether she’s Jewish or not. Even I can be like that, when helping my friends talk through their problems (dealing with my own problems is a whole different story, of course).
I’m fascinated by the number of Jewish women who have made their living and their place in the world telling other people what to do: being Professional Jewish Mothers. Ann Landers, her twin sister Dear Abby (there’s a story – come see the show and you’ll hear all about it) Judith Martin, Dr. Ruth, Judge Judy, Dr. Joyce Brothers…those are just the recent ones that come readily to mind. What is it with them? Are they just busybodies? Yentas? What? I don’t think that they are just nosy. They all share the positive qualities listed above. And they also share the work of talking about the elephant in the room, telling it where to go, and cleaning up the poop after it leaves.
I think this speaks to the essential practicality of Judaism. Judaism, as a religion, isn’t really interested in what you believe. It’s what you DO that really matters. Do you do the right thing? Do you treat people with respect? Do you follow the important rules, and challenge the rules that do harm? Do you try to make the world a better place? Those are the things that count. Actions matter more than beliefs. And when you’re not sure what to do, you look at the facts, argue a lot, and then go to a Rabbi. If a Rabbi is a person with learning, good judgment, authority, and wisdom, then an Advice Columnist is a natural substitute.
I think this tradition carries over into secular life in a fundamental way. Being Jewish is the perfect breeding ground for advice givers. And who better to give advice than the person who really knows the score – the Jewish Mother.
Stephanie Clayman is an actress, teacher, voice-over artist, and Jewish Mother. She lives in Arlington, MA, with her husband and son.