Mother’s Day by Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas


Mother’s Day is this Sunday and my social media is filled with friends sharing their Mother’s Day memories from years gone by. The memories shared are funny, frustrating, warm, or pained; they capture longing, they capture solitude and sadness, they capture profound joy.

The New York Times Well section has had several articles and illustrations about motherhood this week. This one, called The Birth of a Mother, is about matrescence – the process of becoming a mother, both physically and psychologically and the identity shift that takes place when one becomes a mother. Generations of choices, good and bad, are bequeathed to us through our mothers: their presence or absence, their love or their wrath, their attention or their apathy. Imagine if we paid as much attention to the development of healthy mothers as we do to healthy children?

We each exist in some relationship to the concept of motherhood. We are mothers. We have mothers. We long to be mothers. We have known the love of a mother. We have been damaged by our mothers. We have lost pregnancies. We have lost children. We have lost mothers. We have never known mothers. We have felt loved, we have felt loss, we have felt abandoned, and we have felt secure.

One of my son’s preschool teachers died this week, Liye Yusufova. Liye taught at the Charlotte Jewish Preschool for almost two decades. She was a daughter, losing her own mother earlier this year, and mother to her own children and grandchildren. She was a trusted teacher and caregiver to hundreds and hundreds of our community’s children over the years. She was beloved and she is terribly missed by so many in our community. If we are lucky, women like Liye come in to our lives and the lives of those we love and we are enriched, the fabric of our own motherhood narrative strengthened through such love.

Motherhood is part of our universal story. It is one of the themes that can, if we are open, enable us to build that tether to our human story, binding us to Creation and grounding our future. We are all touched by motherhood, some of our ties are strong and positive and others need to be cut and re-sewn carefully over time. May we each have the strength and courage to do the work that will make us whole and help us take our place in the narrative. I wish you all a Mother’s Day that brings more joy than pain, more healing than hurt, more shalom – wholeness and peace.

Of all of the pictures on facebook this week, the most poignant was a three-year-old photo of my friend Anna and her two children. It is a corner booth. On the bench is the new baby in the carseat and his older sister standing (on a bench in a restaurant!) facing the wall, turned away from the camera. On the table, a large pile of individual jellies and jams, the precious plaything of any child out to brunch. And Anna sits beside them, head in hand, an exasperated and loving smile peaking out from behind her fingers. Boy, have I been there.

Ode to the Tiny Jellies

I remember you
in a wicker basket on the table
as I waited for pancakes
with syrup

You were small
like me
and so many colors

You could make towers
or be sorted
but not eaten
because syrup is for pancakes
and not jelly
that would be wasteful

But just one?
Can’t I taste just one?
Of course, dear.
Just one.

And you were mine
grape or strawberry
or orange marmalade

Years. Years. Years.

I am the gatekeeper
Tiny Jellies
or jams
Little treasures

Of course, dear.
Just one.

One thought on “Mother’s Day by Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas

  1. Janet Grossman Thomas

    This is a sadly beautiful and meaningful essay. Your poem made my lips smile, my eyes water, and my heart remember.

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