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My Mother and Her Judaism

Her obituary definitely mentions a host of hobbies, interests and activities, but it leaves out something that was very crucial to her life, Judaism.
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Let’s start with the official obituary.
Spiegelman, Shirley
Shirley passed away at age 88 Saturday June 15, 2013, in Tempe, AZ. Born in Brooklyn in 1925, she moved from Great Neck, NY, to Arizona in 2010. Devoted to her family and community, Shirley had a lifelong passion for dance, theater and the arts, making the most of the cultural offerings in New York and wherever she traveled. She put her experienced eye and mind to work for many years as a docent at the Nassau County Museum of Art, on Long Island. She was pre-deceased by her parents and eight brothers and sisters.  She is survived by her adoring husband of 65 years, Sidney, her loving children, Vivian, Hal Thomas Spiegelman and Batya Medad, seven grandchildren, four great grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews. All will treasure her spirited love, beauty, warmth, fairness and good cooking. A service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 18th, at Sinai Mortuary, 4538 North 16th Street, Phoenix, AZ. A graveside ceremony will take place at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday June 19th at the New Montefiore Cemetery, 1180 Wellwood Avenue, West Babylon, NY.

It definitely mentions a host of hobbies, interests and activities, but it leaves out something that was very crucial to her life, Judaism.

Like many of her generation in the United States, my mother’s parents, who had emigrated from the Ukraine and White Russia to New York before World War One, were Torah observant, kept Shabbat, kashrut, the Jewish Holidays and more.  My grandfather had been a great lover of chazanut, the “artisitic,” operatic singing of Jewish Prayers and she would accompany him on Shabbat to the large synagogues to hear the great cantors of that generation, such as Koussevitzky.

As a teenager, she was friends with the kids in her high school who were in Hashomer Hadati, and renewed friendship with a couple whose elderly mother lived in our building in Bayit V’gan, Jerusalem.

My mother was the eighth out of nine children in a poverty-stricken “his, hers and theirs” family.  By the time she was in her teens, her elder siblings were adults and were no longer religious.  She once told me that it was expected that she would follow their lead and she did.

My father, although always a proud Jew, wasn’t from a strictly religious home and didn’t believe it was important to keep kashrut, Shabbat and Jewish Holidays.  But as a Jew, it was important to him to be a member of a synagogue.  They were founding members of the Oakland Jewish Center, Bayside, NY and then joined the Great Neck Synagogue when we moved.  My mother was always active in the synagogues’ Sisterhood and Hebrew School PTA’s.  In Great Neck, where they lived for decades, she took an extremely active role, being President of the Sisterhood for many years, helping to organize the “Kiddush,” provide food for mourners and ran the gift shop.

When I announced that I was Orthodox, she joined my father in trying to stop me, but later on, when I began college she agreed that I should have my own kosher dishes, so I could come home for visits and eat.  I remember going off with her to a local “five and dime” and buy a slew of pots, pans and dishes for my personal use.  A couple of years later, after I became engaged they got instructions on how to kasher the house.  That made it possible to socialize with the more religious members of the shul and have us over with the kids.

After my sister and I moved my parents to Arizona, they joined a Conservative shul they had liked to frequent during visits to my sister.   My sister has made an effort to take them there whenever possible.

In the New York neighborhoods of their childhood, Judaism was the dominant religion.  It was the culture and the food.

About the Author: Batya Medad blogs at Shiloh Musings.


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