Mother’s Day

Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor was fortunate to host Dr. Amy K. Milligan, Batten Endowed Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Women’s Studies and director of the Institute For Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding, as our scholar-in-residence this weekend.

Leah and Amy met at their alma mater, Elizabethtown College. Amy did considerable research at Degel Israel in Lancaster (the Orthodox shul where I often davened) on head coverings and other things.

4118ifwcIuLHer talk on The Jewish Home Beautiful was simply amazing, and a good theme for the Shabbos prior to Mother’s Day.  If you don’t know, there were 13 editions of this book, printed between the 1940s and mind-1970s, published by the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.  It was perhaps the most famous and successful of all their publications.  The book was primarily recipes for traditional Jewish foods, but it also included how-to guides for Jewish holiday tables.  We take the home-centric view of Judaism for granted today, but the authors, Betty Greenberg and Althea Silverman, as Amy reminded us in her lecture, practically invented this lasting approach to American Jewish home observance.

As my daughter, Amelia, might point out, it sounds like it’s straight out of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The subject reminds me that while many things change about the condition of women in the Jewish and non-Jewish world, an abiding constant is maternal love.  Yes, there are toxic mothers, but there’s a reason why a mother’s love is still a universally understood truth.  I hope we never get away from that.  I love watching Leah in unguarded moments.  She’s spent the majority of our marriage extending a warm blanket of loving, maternal protection to Amelia, and now, with our daughter Nezzie.  All the things on the periphery, like career and finances, fade into background, and the care, the appreciation for home and Judaism, are transmitted to Leah to our children.  I do it, too, but not like Leah does.

It all reminds me of one of my favorite Yiddish poems, one by Itzik Manger, that I won’t bore you with anything but the English.

Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boym

By the wayside stands a tree;
A bent tree
All the birds of the tree
have flown away.

Three toward the west, three toward the east,
and the rest toward the south,
and the tree is left alone
astray, in front of the storm.

I say to momma, “Listen,
If you don’t stand in my way,
I’m going to, Momma, one-two,
become a bird…

I’ll sit in the tree
and I will lull it
and comfort it through winter
With a lovely tune.”

Momma says, “No, child,”
and weeps wet tears.
“G-d forbid, in the tree
you might freeze.”

I say, “Momma, it’s a waste
of your lovely eyes,
Because before you know it,
I become a bird.”

And Momma cries, “Itzik, my crown,
as G-d would want,
take a scarf with you anyway,
Lest you catch cold.

“Put on your galoshes,
a severe winter is coming.
And take your hat.
Woe is me!

“And wear your winter jacket,
put it on, foolish child,
Lest you become a guest
of the dead.”

I life my wing, but it’s hard,
too many, too many things
has Momma put on
her weak little bird.

I see myself sad
in my Momma’s eyes;
Her love did not allow me
to become a bird…

On the road stands a tree,
it stands bent and deserted,
All of the birds of that tree
have flown away.


Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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