In honor of Mother's Day, Jewlarious would like to pay tribute to four extraordinary Jewish mothers in our history who made their world a better place and inspired us to finish the food on our plates because of the children starving in China. I hope those children appreciated our sacrifice. Happy Mothers Day to all the wonderful mothers out there.
To Jewish mothers who inspired us to finish the food on our plates because of the children starving in China.
Rebekah was Bethuel's daughter. She was the wife of the patriarch Isaac, who was Abraham's son. She was the mother of Jacob and Esau. I have all this on a flow chart for you, so don't kill yourself trying to memorize it. Abraham had sent his servant to Haran to find a suitable wife for Isaac, since this was years before JDate. The servant prayed to the Lord for help in finding a wife for Isaac. And the Lord guided him to find Rebekah. The servant and Rebekah returned to Canaan.
Rebekah was very beautiful. In fact, Isaac told a Philistine king that Rebekah was his sister, rather than his wife. He did this because he was afraid that people might lust so strongly for Rebekah that they would kill him if they knew he was her husband. Unfortunately, the king immediately asked him, "You don't mind if I date your sister, do you, dude?" (This was the first recorded use of "dude" in history.) Isaac of course did mind, so Isaac and Rebekah high tailed it back home. And no, "home" wasn't "Boca."
Soon after, Rebekah gave birth to twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was Isaac's favorite son. Rebekah, however, favored Jacob, which lead to the first documented use of the taunt, "Mom always liked you best." She helped Jacob to deceive Isaac and to get Isaac's blessing that had been intended for Esau. Esau later learned about this and vowed to kill Jacob, posting his threat on www.KillYourNoGoodBrother.com.
Esau vowed to kill Jacob, posting his threat on www.KillYour
To protect Jacob, Rebekah sent Jacob to live with her family in Haran. This was the first documented time a Jewish person had to stay with an annoying uncle. Jacob's uncle was named Laban, but substitute your uncle's name – Heshy, Morty, Saul – and you get the picture.
After Rebekah died, she was buried in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron. This is the place where most of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried and the land was purchased in a legal transaction between Abraham and Ephron. Immediately after the purchase, Abraham rezoned the Machpelah and its property value increased tenfold. Yes, the first documented case.
Deborah was a great prophetess who served as a Judge of the Jewish people. She found her first prophetess job on Monster.com and the rest came through word of mouth and various contacts on LinkedIn. When Israel was being attacked, the Jewish General Barak refused to wage war unless she joined him. She agreed and mobilized a huge army to defeat the enemy. And to this day, General Barak's ancestor is the U.S. President...or the Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak...or anybody with the name "Barak" or a name that rhymes with Barak like "Jarak."
Deborah was also known for making the wicks for the torches in the Temple in order to encourage Torah learning. In the Bible she is called "Deborah, woman of torches," because this support of Torah is considered an even greater contribution to the future of the Jewish people than her military victories. Although if you tried calling her that, she'd always protest, "Please, ‘Debbie' is just fine."
With all her accomplishments, in the famous "Deborah's Song," she referred to herself as a "mother in Israel," because she saw motherhood as her greatest role—even greater than her crowd-pleasing cheese blintzes.
Bruriah was a brilliant woman who is said to have learned 300 Jewish laws a day. This seems extraordinary until you realize that she had no YouTube or Twitter back then for distractions. One of the most famous incidents concerning her is a sad one. Her two sons died on Shabbat, but she did not want to burden her husband Rabbi Meir during the joyous holy day, and so she delayed telling him. After nightfall, she asked him: "Sometime ago I was given something to enjoy, but now the one who gave it to me wants it back. Must I return it?"
Surprised by the simple question, he responded affirmatively. Bruriah showed Rabbi Meir their dead sons. He began to weep and she asked, "Did you not tell me to return what was loaned? God gave, and God has taken away, blessed is God."
DONNA GRACIA MENDES
The persecutions in 15th century Spain left hundreds of thousands of Jews dead and many more homeless and wandering. Many became conversos, outwardly leading Christian lives while secretly practicing Judaism. They even disguised their matzoh balls as Swedish meatballs. Discovery was extremely dangerous.
Donna Gracia was born into such a family and was in charge of a large banking empire and one of the first Beanie Baby collections. The Belgian king tried to confiscate the bank's holdings by claiming she was a hidden Jew. She, in turn, claimed that Belgian waffles were no better than non-Belgian waffles. She then cunningly avoided the charge and managed to get her family and her wealth into the Ottoman Empire. There she shed her Christian exterior and became a valiant leader of the Jewish people, using her wealth to provide for the needy, build synagogues, and give stipends to Torah scholars, enabling them to focus completely on their studies. The king, however, never got over the waffles remark despite many years in group therapy.
When the Christians in Ancona burned 24 Jews at the stake, Donna Gracia organized the first modern boycott to punish the city by playing Yoko Ono music non-stop for day after day until the city begged for mercy. This set a precedent that inspired much community action for future generations. Through her piety, meticulous observance of Jewish law, and leadership, she won the respect and admiration of the entire Jewish people and became known as the "Esther of her time."
Finally, I would just like to take this opportunity to add my own mother, Diane Newell, to this list of extraordinary Jewish mothers. Hey, come on, if you can't suck up to your own mother, to whom can you suck up, folks?