I knew I was giving up a lot of things when I moved from the United States to Israel. But I didn’t realize I’d be giving up Mother’s Day.
Israel wasn’t always Mother’s Day-deprived. Once upon a time, for quite a while, in fact, there was an Israeli Mother’s Day. Then, in an irrational bout of political correctness in the mid-1980s, it was transformed into the lackluster “Family Day.” The change, in my opinion, was utterly unjustified. While the focus of Mother’s Day certainly needed to evolve with the times and recognize Mom’s contributions outside as well as inside the domestic sphere, the time for “Family Day” has not yet come. Maybe when household duties are equally divided, when there are not so many mothers raising families on their own, Dads will deserve equal billing. But not yet.
Israeli mothers have been robbed, declares Nehama Biederman, the 72-year-old woman whose suggestion first sparked the creation of Mother’s Day in Israel back when she was a young girl. Interviewed about the holiday for an article in Haaretz, she told the reporter to write that “the lost dignity of Mother's Day should be restored."
Amen. And if fathers feel overlooked, certainly nobody’s stopping them from creating Israeli Father’s Day as well. I’m all for it.
But at the moment, I’m not holding my breath for any changes to be made. Our nation’s leaders are far too busy making backroom political deals to create new Hallmark holidays. For the foreseeable future, Israeli mothers are denied a special exclusive day of recognition: no breakfast in bed, no flowers, no cards scrawled in crayon for us, no lazy spa days or weekend coffee dates with girlfriends while Dad looks after the children.
That’s a shame, because Israeli moms deserve it. Motherhood in Israel is no walk in the park.
There’s been a great deal of talk in the U.S. media about the Generation Y ‘teacup generation’ - kids have mothers who hover and intervene in their lives throughout their childhood and adulthood, defending and protecting them from any disappointment. As a result, some complain, they grow into young adults who are so fragile that when they encounter their first hardship, rejection or failure - they shatter. Israeli moms know from the outset, that while they try to protect and nurture their kids, the reality of life in this country can be tough, and kids have to be resilient enough to handle it. Israelis can’t afford to be teacups - with the knocks they take, they need to be cast-iron skillets.
Mothering in Israel doesn’t seem so unique when children are small. Like babies and toddlers everywhere, the routine seems about the same - feeding, walking, talking, toilet-training and learning to play nicely with others. Mothers have similar concerns as their counterparts around the world: they debate the work-life balance, embrace or reject the various parenting trends that come and go, as experts preach higher or lower levels of attachment, structures and discipline.
But then kids get older, and the ambivalence hits. You want your kids to feel secure and safe - yet how can you really do that when missiles are falling and they have to spend the night in a bomb shelter? How do you reassure them when the talking heads on news broadcasts every night discuss the likelihood of war with Iran? Or when their father heads off to reserve duty for weeks at a time?
Ultimately, it’s the transition to adulthood that really makes Israeli motherhood truly different - and difficult. The knowledge that your kids aren’t heading for a leafy college campus or into the workforce, but for the discipline and discomfort and danger of serving in the Israeli army colors their adolescence.
I’ve seen mothers change when their children do finally become soldiers. At a time when mothers are supposed to let your children leave the nest, protective instincts makes them want to cling on more tightly. Busy career women rush home to do their children’s laundry and cook their favorite meals, so eager are they to do anything they can to make the army experience easier. Mothers are often desperate to know what their children are experiencing in the army, but some aren’t allowed to reveal the details. And many of them return home too exhausted to really share what is happening to them. They aren’t the only exhausted ones. My friends say, in a matter-of-fact tone, that after they sent their sons to combat units in the army, they essentially didn’t sleep for three years.
The experience of the Israeli mother is brilliantly described in David Grossman’s masterpiece To the End of the Land. Her son comes home and “a strange boy with a strange smell sits at the kitchen table. Long threads untangle behind him all the way to a place that is difficult to see and hard to think about.”
In the novel, Grossman’s heroine, Ora, wrestles with how army service defines and transforms her relationship with her sons, and how she wrestles with her desire to help them preserve their humanity and sensitivity as they participate in conflict, even as her maternal instinct and fear of becoming a bereaved mother makes her want them to stay alive at any cost.
This is not what most women in the world bargain for when they give birth to children, but it is what Israeli mothers know will be their fate. If this isn’t a group of moms who deserve a day of unadulterated appreciation and tiny bit of glory once a year, I don’t know what is.
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