From the Rabbi's Bunker
Population: 9.19 people, of whom 6.8 million or 74% are Jewish, 1.93 million or 21% are Arab, and 454,000 are Christian non Arabs, or other faiths, some of whom are Russian. Birth Rates: Jewish women, 3.15 births, Arab women, 3.14 births. (Do you remember the dire warnings of the Arab birth rate overtaking the Jewish rate, resulting in an Arab population outnumbering Jewish population, warning that if we didn't "settle Peace with the Arabs we would lose our state?) What is interesting is that as Israeli Arab women became highly educated, in many of the medical professions especially, resulting in later marriages and later births, almost the same as Jewish women. Remember, this is only Israeli Arabs, not any residents of the West Bank. Immigration: Over 3.3 million people, mostly Jews, have immigrated since 1948, 44% of whom came after 1990. This includes the great Russian immigration as well as the smaller Ethiopian immigration. Average Age: Israel is a young country still. 28% of the population are children under 14 years old; and the over 65 years old is only 12%. Compared to other OECD countries who have an older population of 17%, this shows the results of the high birth rate compared to Europe., with its aging population. And at present, 45% of the world's Jewish population now lives in Israel.
So that's a picture in time of May 6, 2020, a lovely, cool May afternoon.
How am I? Proud and happy to live here. Worried about our unemployed population, as you are in the States, but since we are so much smaller in population, we should recover faster. The govt is not as generous with payments to unemployed as you are, but there are so many non-profits stepping up with food, temporary loans, donations, etc. that most people are covered in one way or another. I'm quite healthy, and I've never felt "cabin fever," probably because I always have the sea in my front windows, and apartment neighbors to stroll around with on our large front patio. Everyone has gone to Zoom: synagogues, business, family celebrations, etc. and I'm trying to catch up and stay current, but I don't like it much.
My future plans: I had organized a reunion with my 3 grandchildren, my niece and her husband, and my nephew. First it was to be over July 4 week on Cape Cod. Now we're trying to move it to the last week in August. El Al is not flying yet so even if I wanted to come for July 4, it can't happen. Like everyone else, that reunion is still a question mark, but I have hopes that it will happen. At age 88, even healthy, I feel time creeping up on me and I don't want to lose any of it.
A slight modiﬁcation gives us the Jewish Mother's Cardinal Rule:
"Let your child hear you sigh every day; if you don't know what he's done to make you suffer, he will."
Once you've mastered that, you are ready to move on to the "Technique of Basic Suffering."
To master the Technique of Basic Suffering you should begin with an intensive study of the Dristan commercials on television. Pay particular attention to the face of the actor who has not yet taken Dristan. Note the squint of the eyes, the furrow of the brow, the downward curve of the lips-the pained expression which can only come from eight undrained sinus cavities or severe gastritis. This is the Basic Facial Expression. Learn it well. Practice it before a mirror several times a day. If someone should catch you at it and ask what you are doing, say:
"I'm ﬁne, it's nothing at all, it will go away."
This should be said softly but audibly, should imply suffering without expressing it openly. When properly executed, this is the Basic Tone of Voice.
The book is still very funny, in part because ethnic stereotypes like the Jewish mother are making a comeback, even though Jewish mothers have long since stopped being "Jewish mothers," and all the guilt that came with the rapid assimilation of that post-immigrant generation has long since melted away. We have plunged fully into the Melting Pot, but nostalgia is a powerful thing.
Mother's Day brings out some far more serious lessons that derive far more deeply from our Jewish cultural heritage. The rabbis spoke of a man named Dama, a serious one-percenter, from the Roman upper class, a jeweler who wore a gold-embroidered cloak and kowtowed with the glitterati. Despite all this, the rabbis held him up as a paragon of piety in one respect - how he honored his parents.
In one story, a precious stone has disappeared from the High Priest's breastplate in Jerusalem. So a Jew comes to Dama seeking a replacement. Dama goes in the back room, but his father is sleeping right on top of the key that would open the safe, so he tells the man that he can't sell him any jewelry today. When his father wakes up and hears what has happened, he gets angry at his son for not making a profit. His son responds, "I am not prepared to disobey the command to honor one's parents for any money in the world." A week later, the price of gems rises, and Dama sells the needed jewel at a greater profit than he would have made the week before - a happy ending for everyone.
In another midrash, Dama's mother, evidently peeved that her son didn't go to medical school, rips off his gaudy garment and spits in his face. Despite this, Dama does not shame her, instead referring back to the Torah's command to honor one's parents.
The word for "honor" "kabed" is nearly identical to the word "kaved," which connotes a heavy burden. It's not always easy to honor our parents.
As Mother's Day approaches, my mom, 93, is in a nursing home, struggling to live a life of dignity, despite the ravages of Parkinsons and related afflictions that have robbed her of much of her ability to communicate. Although her memory remains relatively sharp - or maybe because of that fact - there is very little that brings her joy at this stage. A lifelong pianist, her tremors forced her to give up piano a few years ago. The burden of filling her days with meaning only increases for both of us, and I now can say that I completely understand what the fourth commandment meant to convey. To honor a parent really is to bear her, to hold her up, just as she once bore me, smiling despite the piercing pain. We bear our elders just inches from the earth to which they - and we - will return, and we do it not our of guilt but a profound gratitude.
So kids, I'm not asking you to love your elders. You don't even have to honor us, strictly speaking. The Torah makes it clear: all you need to do is bear the burden of us. Hold us up when we stumble, as we invariably do. Our lectures may be onerous, our use of technology embarrassing and our ideas archaic. But though we may fumble with Facebook from time to time, we do have some wisdom to share.
There are real dangers out there and enormous challenges that we need to face, and right now the only way to face them is together.
That's why need Mother's Day.