I am a mommy-in-the-middle: I have a mother and I am a mother. I get a lot of pleasure from both roles, but every year, Mother’s Day falls flat for me. I’m so busy being either mother or daughter that I never feel a personally meaningful or satisfying connection.
Yet, I certainly connect to being a mother. I just don’t connect to Mother’s Day.
So I decided that this year, rather than accepting and ignoring the hollowness of Mother’s Day, I would dig deeper until I discovered something that resonated with me in the way traditional Mother’s Day was supposed to, but didn’t.
Before discarding it out of hand, however, I thought I should learn more about Mother’s Day. It all started in the 1800’s when Ann Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian social activist and women’s event planner, created “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to help educate women about how to care for their children and keep them healthy. After the war, she organized “Mother’s Friendship Picnics” to encourage Confederate and Union loyalists to ignore their differences and remember their common bond of motherhood.
When Ann died, her daughter Anna wanted to celebrate her beloved mother. She organized an honorary event in West Virginia on May 10, which soon spread to a number of states. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, declaring that the holiday offered a chance to “[publicly express] our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
Anna’s idea was that children would spend the day with their mothers in appreciation of all they had sacrificed for them. When the day quickly turned into a retail gold mine, she was so disappointed that she spent the rest of her life fighting to have its holiday status revoked. She failed, and by 2014 Americans spent almost $20 billion on Mother’s Day goods and services.
While building personal bonds among mothers was a terrific legacy worth preserving, Anna Jarvis had correctly recognized that her original Mother’s Day had morphed into something commercial and trivial.
Many cultures and religions — including Judaism — have other ways for women to gather and pay homage to their unique feminine qualities.
We Jewish mothers are lucky to have Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Jewish lunar month, which coincides with the new moon. It is a minor festival that has long been associated with, and sacred to, women. Midrash (biblical legend) holds the holiday was given to women as a reward for their refusal to give up their jewelry to help create the Golden Calf.
Women’s Rosh Hodesh groups started springing up in the 1980s as a way to revive its observance in a modern, more meaningful way.
My own introduction to Rosh Hodesh took place soon after moving to Swampscott in 2001 when I was invited to join a Hadassah evening of study and community. The focus was Rosh Hodesh. We each received a copy of “Moonbeams”, Hadassah’s guide to Rosh Hodesh modern practices. It still calls to me, the enchantment of its watercolor cover and thoughtful readings undiminished.
The next year, my daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, which happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Rosh Hodesh and I had some sort of special bond, but the connection wasn’t yet clear.
Then, about five years ago, I learned to chant the Rosh Hodesh Torah parsha, which I have done almost every month since, always using my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah yad. Last week, at Rosh Hodesh Iyar, something felt different.
I felt a spark of kinship with the spirits of all women who ever stood where I stood, especially my daughter and my mother when the three of us shared the bimah in celebration of her Mother’s Day Bat Mitzvah 15 years ago. How had I forgotten?
That personal, spiritual way to connect with Mother’s Day I longed for was right in front of my eyes all along. All I had to do was to open them and notice.
This year, when I send that Hallmark card and buy that Mother’s Day gift, it will be with a full and grateful heart. Mother’s Day is my holiday too.