July 11, 2002
‘Mother’ of the Month
In an American Jewish community in which plaques, scrolls and other forms of recognition are freely distributed, I can lay claim to only one signal honor. Many years ago, when my youngest child was still a toddler, the marquee of the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Van Nuys sported, for a brief time, this bold announcement: "Mother of the Month," followed by my name.
It was a salute well earned. Since my writing schedule allowed for such an indulgence, I was the dropper-off and picker-up of Ariela, whose need for transportation continued even into grade school and high school, first in Los Angeles and later in Providence, R.I., where we now live.
This responsibility did not end, in fact, until four years ago when Ariela was accepted to Brandeis University.
Ariela is a young woman who has been raised in, and nurtured by, the Jewish community. Her long progression through Abraham Heschel Day School in Los Angeles and a final year at a Schechter Day School in Rhode Island, Camp Ramah and Camp Alonim in California, two visits to Israel and a budding career as an instructor of Israeli dance have all been documented in print by her father here in the pages of The Journal. She objected to most of the articles I wrote on grounds of public embarrassment but, I noted, she always took them to school to show her friends.
When Ariela was born, I was 53, the age of my wife's parents, and my older daughter dubbed me her "recycled father." In that exalted capacity, I was invited to address the Association of Jewish Nursery School Teachers in Los Angeles. Having already shared in the raising of three older children, I was full of advice ranging from no television in the house to the need for strict homework supervision. Needless to say, all of this wisdom evaporated as Ariela developed a mind of her own, becoming addicted to watching 1940s MGM musicals on television and, often as not, completing her homework assignments at breakfast.
Ariela's decision to apply for early admission to Brandeis was entirely her own. Her choice reflected, of course, the Jewish involvement of both her parents, as well as her upbringing in that community.
One of the reasons that Jewish parents send their children to Jewish environments is to try and ensure that they will marry other Jews. Man proposes and God laughs, as the Yiddish expression has it. It turns out that Jewishness is not the only trait Ariela has picked up from her parents -- she also has a well-developed sense of independence. So let me introduce you to Clayton, a computer programmer in Boston, the son of two retired Marine officers and, at 26, the father of Isadora, the 2-year-old of whom he has custody.
As you can see, complications arise. But here, too, the experience of Ariela's parents plays a part. My wife, daughter of two Latin American Catholics, originally converted to Reform Judaism when she was still in college and later, after we met and married, had a second conversion at the Orthodox Bet Din in Los Angeles. (She can, and occasionally does point out that she has written proof of her Judaism, while I can only rely on the word of my parents.)
Anyway, Clayton will soon embark on a one year Conservative conversion program after which, all things being equal, they intend to marry. And we? We are baby-proofing the house.
It is the fate of parents to view their adult children as they were when they were considerably younger, as if the intervening years of growth and maturing had never occurred. And, as Ariela walked up to receive her diploma, I had much the same reaction, tempered to be sure by another. At 21, I was in the Israeli army, having already been in the American Army and then involved with the illegal immigration to Palestine. People had lived or died according to decisions I made, sometimes the wrong ones. But the responsibilities I had were never for those I loved.
Ariela strode up to the platform exuding self-confidence, ready to take on the burdens of a new job, of a new household, of a child and a husband-to-be. Responsibilities such as those I did not assume until I was much older, and I don't believe I could have handled them at that age. But of Ariela's ability to do so, I have little doubt. Credit to those who reared her, yes, but credit also to a Jewish community that strengthened and sustained her through the years and, I trust, will do the same for her new family.