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Mothers and Mentches

April 29, 2010 | by Judy Gruen

Looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift? How about a phone call once in a while?

Unless you live in outer Uzbek, you have probably been coping with the relentless barrage of advertising for Mother's Day gifts that we face every year. Despite this gifting mania, I'm still not getting excited. With few exceptions, you can hardly find anything for Moms today that hasn't been pulled from a Dumpster and recycled, slapped with a "fair trade" label that cannot be removed under penalty of law, or made from "banana byproducts." I've seen tote bags advertised for Mom that have solar panels attached, as if we don't have enough to schlep around. You call these gifts? Here's a tip for those still shopping for that special Mom in your life: I would not want to be on the receiving end of a dinner prepared by a woman who had just received a composting starter kit for Mother's Day. Just sayin'.


The really serious business of Jewish mothers is the business of raising mentches.

Not only am I allergic to gifts that have political agendas attached, but honestly, what gift could possibly come close to expressing thanks for the towering contributions of the Jewish mother? Think about it: Can you name any other group of mothers anywhere who are genetically wired to make a soup that doubles as penicillin? Didn't think so. And don't underestimate the soaring market value of a Jewish mother's homemade chicken soup as co-payments for antibiotics begin to skyrocket. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if a black market emerged for this wondrous invention, with a premium paid for batches that include fluffy matzah balls. If there were more equity in this temporal world, we Jewish mothers would have been awarded a collective Nobel Prize in medicine for our chicken soup alone.

Naturally, we were too busy raising our remarkable kinderlach to have had any time for frivolous pursuits, such as lobbying for prizes on our own behalf. That's okay, darlings, we'll stay in Chicago or Queens or Herzaliya and kvell from a distance as you jet off to Oslo to collect your own Nobel Prizes, which you would not have won unless we had reminded you to do your homework. It's hard for us to resist the temptation to indulge in a little cock-a-doodle-doo over the prodigious feats of Jewish children. After all, we hardly add up to a fraction of one percent of the entire world's population, yet wallop every other ethnic and religious group (not naming any names) by winning approximately one quarter of all Nobel Prizes. On behalf of all of your mothers, you Nobel Prize winners, you’re welcome.

Now, we Jewish mothers have remarkable perspicacity. We know all kinds of things that you don't think we know. Our radar whispers to us when you are dating someone we don't approve of, when you are wasting time on Facebook, and when you are about to step out into the elements without a sweater, even if it’s a nippy 72 degrees. That's how I know what you are thinking right now, which is, Please, spare me the kind of Jewish mother whose kid won a Nobel Prize! Those kids probably also spent years on a therapist's couch, complaining about their guilt-tripping mamas who pressured them to become glorified nachas-generators. Those kids were fodder for the next ladies' lunch out, where the mamas' maternal engines were revving on high, eager to burst with the latest brags to lord over their friends.

True, some of those "assertive" moms have given the rest of us a bad rap. But we don't need no stinkin' Oslo judges or highfalutin' job titles to affirm our children's worth. We can be proud of our kids even if they never rated a "My Child Was Student of the Month at School" bumper sticker, let alone a Guggenheim fellowship or appointment to conduct the Boston Philharmonic. The really serious business of Jewish mothers is the business of raising mentches – the few, the proud, the brave – who will stand up and help make a minyan, but avoid buying filet mignon (it's not kosher); give tzedakah, deal honestly and kindly with everyone they meet, and of course, call their mothers on a regular basis.

Frankly, raising a kid who might win a big old honking prize is a snap compared to the skill and wisdom required to raise a “mentch” who will do our people proud. So, getting back to the problem of finding the perfect Mother's Day gift for the wonderful Jewish mom, here are a few ideas:

1. Buy a sweater for yourself and show it to her, promising that you will always wear it if you go out in any inclement weather lower than 72 degrees.

2. If you are single and over 30, get married to another mentch. If you do this, you won't have to worry about gifts for Mom for the next 20 years.

3. Call her and ask her advice, even if you don't really want it. You will add years to her life. Besides, could it hurt to ask?

4. If you have kids (and if you don't, why not?) ask her for her recipe for chicken soup. It did wonders for you, didn't it?

See? You don't even need to spend a lot of money to please your mother. And even though this is a totally made-up holiday, just play along and humor her with a little something. After all, she's your mother. If not for her, you would have never won 1st prize in that 7th-grade science experiment.

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