I started the Jewish Mother Project last fall with the declaration that, “My goal is not to become a perfect Jewish mother, but the ‘Best Carla’ I can be for my daughters.”
And then I confidently marched off in the opposite direction, following a path that had very little to do with who I am, and had everything to do with who I thought I should be.
Let me give you some examples: I set a goal to roast a chicken, even though I don’t enjoy cooking and have only a theoretical desire to learn how to cook. I decided to start being more observant in my Shabbat and kosher observance, and then proceeded to not follow through.
I’ve thought about these “failures” often. (The truth is that I don’t love that word at all. The thoughtful part of my brain doesn’t see any of this as a failure, but rather another step on the path back to who I actually am. But the dramatic, judgmental part of my psyche, who has a very tricky way of getting her hands on the megaphone far more often than I’d like her to, sees it as a failure, and I still haven’t quite figured out how to get her to hush up.)
I’ve spent so much time wondering why I didn’t follow through with my plans, and why I haven’t been able to write about this issue for so many weeks now. As I’ve already mentioned, I wasn’t being honest with myself about who I am, how I function, and what I truly want. In addition, and more insidiously, I was approaching the Jewish Mother Project from a place of “less than.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my underlying assumption in starting this project was that I wasn’t a good enough Jewish Mother, and that I wouldn’t be good enough until I learned all of the right things and could do all of the right things.
The moment I did that, I unknowingly set myself at the edge of a very steep precipice with a very slippery slope.
I was able to hang out there for a few months, but each time I set a goal for Jewish Motherhood—regardless of whether or not I achieved it—I was not only bringing myself one step closer to falling off that cliff, but I was also perpetuating a belief that I most decidedly do not embrace: that our worthiness as Jewish Mothers is determined by our level of knowledge or observance.
Good Jewish mothers speak Hebrew, keep kosher, observe Shabbat, and celebrate all the holidays.
That’s what I told myself.
But when I get quiet and calm, and come back to what I truly believe, well, I call bullshit.
Some good Jewish mothers speak Hebrew and observe Shabbat, and some spent Yom Kippur eating bacon cheeseburgers. Many, many of us are somewhere in the middle. And we are all good Jewish mothers.
And so there I was, balanced most precariously, making choices that I thought I believed in even as they pulled me farther away from who I actually am, and what I value.
At some point, the discomfort of the dissonance I had created for myself was too great and I just walked away from it. I stopped writing about Jewish Motherhood. I didn’t stop thinking about it, of course; but I went from a place of curiosity and interest to a place of shame, defeat, and ultimately, a desire to just not deal with it.
But by giving up the struggle, I made the least Jewish, least authentic choice of all. Embracing Jewish motherhood (and motherhood in general) isn’t about following every rule and winning the game. It’s about showing up and staying in the game, even when you don’t know which rules apply to you, or what it even means to win.
We are the mothers of Israel. Israel: One who struggles with God.
And so I’m back, my dear readers, I’m ready to get back in the game. I am no more enlightened than I was before I started this project, but here is what I do know: I’m ready to start asking the questions and exploring the answers again.
Meanwhile, Passover starts in just under a week. Time to figure out what my next move is.