Mother’s day. Flowers, chocolate, breakfast in bed?
This past Mother’s Day, after a fleet of 700 deadly missiles bombarded Israel, an 80 year-old mother from Hof Ashkelon celebrated with her family by lying in a hospital bed, with shrapnel wounds in her chest. A woman who chose to live in her land in peace, and was attacked by vicious people who want to destroy her, her people, and her land.
This woman, and many other Jewish mothers, were struck with terror two weeks ago when rockets flew with deadly speed over the Gaza border and into Israel.
Jewish mothers are tough, though.
Every mother who ran with her children into a bomb shelter, who kept watch in the night, who smiled and distracted her children in the day as they asked “Mommy, why can’t I go to school now?” – these mothers have hearts of steel. These Jewish mothers will never give up. They will never give in. They will protect their families forever, together.
It’s in their blood. At the birth of our nation, our history pivoted around a fateful choice. Our matriarch Rachel gave up her chance to marry Jacob in order to save the honor of her sister. That archetypal sacrifice, sister protecting sister, bound Jewish women to each other through heart and spirit. That connection binds our communities, and our nation, together for eternity.
“Strong families need strong women,” says Einat Shpitz, Ofra resident and Mom2Mom coordinator for the Benjamin region.
“Strong meaning happy, energetic while understanding that it’s okay to get support from family and friends.”
Mom2Mom is an organization which connects new mothers to veteran mothers, countering the trend of our modern and lonely times. Benjamin Regional Community Center, run by Yael Cohen, includes a Family division which is run by Miri Har-Shoshanim. This project, lead by Smadar Brand, is part of the Family division. Once a week, experienced mothers visit new mothers, to help them transition into the transcendent world of motherhood. Additionally, Mom2Mom helps communities organize “New Mother Groups” – social centers which help young mothers connect with their community. There are already 30 such clubs across the Benjamin region.
“Giving birth is giving life and we need to understand how much of a big deal that is. I really believe that it’s even bigger than building another street in our community. You need both: you need the physical development of our communities, and you need strong, healthy families to build them up…I really believe that this project fulfills the commandment of settling the Land of Israel, because it is making the families here into strong families.”
Einat’s voice quivered as she explained the unique difficulties mothers of Judea and Samaria face: According to statistics, one in four women in our communities suffer from postpartum depression. The national average is one in five.
While musing over the reasons for such a drastic difference, Einat realized that one of the reasons is that young mothers in the region often lack support. In some cases, some families will not visit their relatives in Judea and Samaria, leaving these young mothers to struggle without the support or guidance of a wiser generation. There are also many women whose families live abroad, which also leave them somewhat isolated. Women of Judea and Samaria want to raise as many children as they can in the Land of Israel, but often lack the supportive network they need to help them through the unique challenges they face.
“I really believe that women have a lot of power, definitely out in the world, but also for each other…And I think that if there is something that we believe in, then we have to find a way to support it. It’s not like ‘Okay, we believe in living here, and everyone should deal with it alone.’ We don’t say that, we want to be there for each other.”
Our matriarch Rachel lived for her sister, her husband, and her children. She suffered death in childbirth, and seemed destined to spend eternity alone, buried “on the road to Efrat, that is Bethlehem.” (Genesis 35:19) But once again, she demonstrated the love of a true Jewish mother: the Midrash tells us that when the Jewish people were exiled in chains to Babylon, they passed her tomb, a bastion of final salvation. Weeping and screaming, her children begged her to intercede in Heaven, for G-d to allow them to come home. The Midrash records the essence of her plea:
“I performed kindness for [Leah], and was not jealous of her, and I did not allow her to be shamed…You have exiled my children and they have been killed by the sword, and their enemies have done with them as they please!”
Immediately G-d’s mercy was aroused, and He said: “For you, Rachel, I shall return Israel to their place.” (Eikha Rabba, petichta 24)
Rachel, a true Jewish mother, is constantly looking out for her sister, her children, and for her people, even generations later. Today, the spirit of Rachel continues her holy work in Judea and Samaria, as mothers go out to each other to heal, strengthen, and care for each other.
“In our culture, we take childbirth for granted…giving birth, we see it as something very natural, and as if it happens by itself. But it really doesn’t happen by itself: pregnancy, birth, and raising children- it doesn’t happen by itself! You need a lot of energy and I think today, we’re starting to understand that we need to support women so that they have enough strength to take care of their families, and to be happy.”
Thanks to Mom2Mom, mothers across the country have been lending each other their hearts and helping hands. Similarly, since last week, amazing stories have been emerging from the bomb shelters: neighbors singing and playing together, while missiles and sirens wail a deathly tune overhead. Women have been forging communities under amazing pressure, and their current heroism is just another sign of how resilient and genuine the heart of every Jewish mother really is.
May G-d call out as he called to the impassioned spirit of Mother Rachel: “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded…They will return from the land of the enemy.” (Jeremiah 31:16)
Our Jewish communities are stronger than ever before. Shaped by the iron forge of struggle, the Jews of Israel love each other as only family can. But there are still many Jews wandering the Earth, lost and alone in an island of absent family. This year, may the people come home, and be welcomed by the Jewish mothers who have upheld their families, their people, their land.
This Mother’s Day, I hope you hugged your mother and thanked her for continuing the unending chain from our Matriarch Rachel down through the generations.
Jewish mothers have shaped the future of Israel, and continue to welcome its people home. Because of their strength, Am Yisrael Chai – the People of Israel live on.