Jewish Mothers, in Just Six Words

Announcing the 12 Winners of Our Mother's Day Contest

Jewish Mother: Dorothea Lange snapped this 1936 photo of “Mrs. Cohen,” the wife of a Jewish farm manager.
Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress
Jewish Mother: Dorothea Lange snapped this 1936 photo of “Mrs. Cohen,” the wife of a Jewish farm manager.

By Larry Smith

Published May 08, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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With Mother’s Day around the corner, we asked you to share your take on the wonderful, complex, loving and occasionally crazy-making entity called the Jewish mom — in exactly six words. Why so few?

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a bar bet to write an entire novel in just six words. As the story goes, Papa wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” In 2006 I asked the members of the online storytelling community Smith Magazine to describe their lives in six words; I called it the “Six-Word Memoir.” I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out that the limitation actually catalyzed creativity instead of inhibiting it.

More than six years and 700,000 (very) brief life stories later, teachers and students, preachers and rabbis, veterans groups and speed-dating services have used the form to activate conversation, spark imagination or simply break the ice. In short, the six-word form has become a way to get to the essence of anything.

But can you actually sum up Jewish life using only six words? After all, we’re not only a wordy people, but a complex one, too. And yet, defining our relationship to Judaism in so few words has proved a great way to get to the essence of the Jewish experience, as I found out when I put together the latest book in the series, “Oy! Only Six? Why Not More?: Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life.” In a book that contains 360 personal takes on Jewish life, there is no topic more popular than family, and no family member mentioned more often than Mom. The next most popular topic was “chicken,” which, as we know, is the most reliable weapon in the Jewish mother’s arsenal.

Ultimately, the six-word constraint asks us to define both who we are at our core and what matters most. It’s clear from the hundreds of you who responded that we often need only one word: Mom.

After the jump are 12 of our favorite responses from Forward readers:


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  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
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