The term “supermom” is usually used in reference to a mother who is able to combine a dazzling career with dedication and devotion to her children. We admire and think highly of this woman of valor who is able to juggle so much with such competence.
On this Mother’s Day, however, it is important that we pay special attention and give recognition to a different kind of supermom – a Jewish supermom who is astounding in her own special way: the Jewish single mother.
While this admiration is due all Jewish single moms, it applies all the more to those who are Orthodox. These women live up to the double responsibility of caring for both the material and the religious needs of their children in a way that can only astonish those who are aware of it.
Jewish single mothers – a growing demographic in our community – often find themselves facing a unique situation unparalleled even in the challenging world of other single moms. Responsibilities for which they have not prepared, scenarios they never imagined, and social settings that are not their natural turf – all are all tackled with skill and competence by so many Orthodox single mothers, and in a manner so humble and successful that it often goes unrecognized.
In the Orthodox community more than any other, single moms find themselves filling roles predominantly assumed by men and they do it in environments that are dominated by and filled with men. They find themselves helping their sons with Judaic studies homework that may require a yeshiva background; teaching them to say Kiddush, HaMotzie, and other prayers; and actively engaging in religious matters that traditionally have not been part of a woman’s domain.
Time and again I witness mothers in our community whose husbands have passed away, left due to divorce, or simply disappeared going to extraordinary lengths to make sure their children are brought up as upstanding Torah Jews. I know mothers who take the time to research the learning style and atmosphere at a given yeshiva; mothers who make sure to get their sons a solid bar mitzvah or Talmud tutor; mothers who make endless sacrifices to ensure their children get a quality Jewish education.
I have seen single moms making sure that their children get seats in the synagogue for the High Holidays and that their sons, who of course are seated in the men’s section where mothers can’t be present, are seated next to someone who can help them navigate the prayers. I know moms who arrange for their sons to participate in prayers throughout the year or whenever their dad is not around to take them to shul.
Probably the most difficult aspect of Orthodox life in America is the cost of Jewish education. Who assumes the responsibility of paying tuition for the growing number of boys and girls whose parents are divorced? Yes, in many cases fathers invest their fair share in the children’s education, but what about when, for whatever reason, this does not happen?
This is yet another responsibility Jewish single mothers quietly attend to, assuming the full burden for their children’s well being.
In his book Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion, David Zweig explores those who make a critical difference in this world with little or no recognition. This category might include interpreters at the United Nations, skilled diplomats, those who tune the instruments for famed orchestras, and others whose work is essential while they are not noticed. As Zweig puts it, “the better they do their jobs the more they disappear.”
As we reflect on this Mother’s Day and thank all the different moms, it’s important that we take special note of our own “invisible” heroines; those who quietly and diligently raise committed and dedicated children in the face of incredible hardship and difficulty. Often never acknowledged, these mothers stand up to incredible challenges and raise beautiful Jewish families in dignity and modesty, with no bells or whistles.
Happy Super mother’s Day.