A Mothers’ Day Tribute to My Mom, Florence Fuchs

My sister and I owe my mother more than we can ever repay. When Rochelle wanted to become a Bat Mitzvah back in 1955-–and she became only the second Bat Mitzvah in the history of Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, NJ–it was my mother who stood up for her when my father didn’t “see any reason for a girl to do that.”

When I developed every illness known to man on Sunday mornings to get out of religious school, I can still hear Mom say, “That’s too bad, dear. Get in the car.”

After my Bar Mitzvah when I absolutely knew that my career as a tennis, hockey, basketball, football or baseball player was the only important thing in my life and that I simply had no time for Confirmation classes, my Mother would not hear of that either. I often wonder what I would be doing today if Mom had let me become a “Bar Mitzvah Fade Away.”

I owe my mother so much, but when my father suffered through a long battle with kidney failure Florence Fuchs emerged as the greatest hero of my life.

In those days, when I was off studying, my bedroom became the “Dialysis Room.” My mother set up and operated an elaborate (and it was a much more complex matter in 1969 than it is today) dialysis machine, which along with the bed took up almost the entire room. She ran that machine faithfully, skillfully and lovingly for several hours three times a week, and prolonged both the length and quality of my father’s all too short life.

It is one thing for children to love their mother. It is more remarkable for people to love their spouses’ mother the way Jack and Vickie loved Mom. She delighted in ‘Chelle’s 50-year marriage to Jack and was always grateful for the scrupulous and loving way they have looked after her finances. Vickie treated Mom as a second Mother who was wise, kind, loving, and fair — and who never interfered.

I think of her often especially when Mother’s Day and her birthday, May 15 come around. When the little obstacles life places in my path seem to mount up, I remember how my mother handled the obstacles life placed before her, and my problems suddenly become less overwhelming.

As a rabbi, my life work is to teach that God created us human beings to be in charge of and responsible for this world and to use our talents to create a just, caring compassionate society. I am blessed that my Mother exemplified those ideals for me since I was old enough to remember.

When the company for which Dad worked went out of business when I was eight years old, I never knew that money was tight. It was a year before Dad and his partners set up their own business and some time after that before things became comfortable.

Now that I look back on it, we did not go on vacation or go out to eat in those days, but I never really noticed. She kept adult worries out of my childhood. I am so grateful for that and for so many other things:

She schlepped to the wilds of Arkansas, Maryland, Nashville and West Hartford to be wherever I was during the Holy Days and other special times.

She showed me the joys of Judaism and opened my eyes to its depth:

By lighting Shabbat candles,

Cooking a special and delicious Shabbat dinner each week,

Bringing me to services, and making me feel important for being there,

And teaching me to respect the religions of others the way she taught me to love my own.

The way Mom took care of Dad during the years when he was so sick showed me what to look for in a life partner, and in a few weeks Vickie and I will celebrate forty-six years of marriage.

It is hard to believe she has been gone almost fourteen years. I will always admire how she never stopped trying to do for herself even when the time had long arrived to let others do for her. At the end she moved slowly, saw poorly, and took so many medications that I often lost count.

In my mind and heart, though, she will always be young, vibrant, beautiful, and a shining example of what a Mother should be.


Shavuot: A Perfect Example of Ancient “Reform” Judaism

One of the great examples of Reform or Progressive Jewish thinking–some 2000 years before there was anything called Reform Judaism– regards the Festival of Shavuot.
In the Torah, Shavuot was strictly an agricultural holiday, a celebration of both the first summer fruits and the barley harvest. Our ingenious Rabbinic Sages reformed (and I use that word purposely) the festival into the anniversary of when our biblical ancestors received the Torah at Mount Sinai. We cannot be sure of exactly how it happened, but I imagine a scenario much like this:
A group of concerned rabbis was discussing the state of Jewish life. One Sage mused, “You know, Shavuot just doesn’t attract the great crowds to celebrate in Jerusalem that it once did.”
A second Rabbi answered: “That’s true, but it’s understandable. Times have changed!”
A third participant: “You are absolutely right! When we were primarily an agrarian society, first fruits and the barley harvest were compelling reasons to celebrate. Now, that we have become more urban, those occasions don’t mean so much to many people.”
First Sage: “What can we do?”
A fourth participant spoke up: “I’ve got it! If you look at the Torah, Shavuot comes 50 days after the first day of Pesach. That’s just about the same amount of time that it took our ancestors to travel to Mount Sinai after they left Egypt! Even though the Torah does not make the connection explicitly we can make the connection. From now on we can celebrate Shavuot—in addition to its biblical significance–as a joyous celebration of when we received Torah at Mount Sinai”.
A fifth Sage asks: “Can we do that?”
The fourth responds: “Not only can we, we must!! If we want our precious Jewish heritage to endure, we must be skilled interpreters of biblical texts so that they speak meaningfully to the present and future realities of our people.”
In this way, I imagine, the rabbis of the Talmudic period took a fading festival and gave it a historical underpinning and new life for future generations. In similar fashion, our early Reform leaders made Shavuot the time when ninth or tenth grade students celebrate Confirmation.
The example of what our ancient Sages did with Shavuot should continue to inspire our thinking as Reform or Liberal Jews today. If we want our precious heritage to remain vibrant and relevant, we must always be eager to embrace opportunities to make our traditions and celebrations speak more meaningfully to our children and grandchildren!
When we do, let us rejoice that the process of continually “reforming” Judaism is wholly consistent–not at odds–with the process by which our Rabbinic Sages reformed biblicalJudaism to speak to the realities of their time and place.