What I’m Thinking About This Mother’s Day

May 1, 2016

Here I am at 7 months old with my grandmother.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m thinking about my new book, Lily of the Valley—An American Jewish Journey, just published in March. It’s about five generations of women pursuing the American Dream and what happens to their connection to observant Judaism as they do so. The book is dedicated in memory of my father and in honor of my mother, both children of Ellis Island immigrants who imparted their faith in the American Dream to me.

This book is not autobiographical, but there are certainly parallels in my own family’s story. There was my paternal grandmother, who came here as a child and was put to work in a sweatshop at the age of nine. She would go on to have six children, and all of her grandchildren would go to college. There was my maternal grandmother, who survived a pogrom and literally kissed the ground at Ellis Island. She never tired of telling me, in her broken English and with a catch in her throat, how much she loved this country, how America had saved her. I remember all through my childhood watching her, bent over her kitchen table, braiding the golden cords that would decorate American military uniforms.

Then there is my mother, who sewed all my clothes when I was young, up to and including my wedding gown. She and my father didn’t keep the Sabbath—it simply wasn’t part of their upbringing—but they did keep a kosher house, and my mother always lit candles on Friday night. I was the Baby Boomer who came back to observant Judaism, with the confidence, shared by so many of my peers who did the same, that we could return to living a Torah life and still participate fully in the American Dream. My husband and I raised our children that way, as they are raising their’s. And as it happens one of my daughters is a dress designer and stylist, paralleling the dream of Lily’s family.

So this Mother’s Day as I think about Lily and her family, I’m also thinking about mine, and about how my grandmothers came over in steerage so we could live a life they could barely imagine, in this Golden Land we call America.