She came into my life in 2000, when I began dating her Jewish but unobservant son, whom I would marry.
She had hair the color of apricots, read a book a day, spoke three languages and (I claimed) survived on dust and tea. She organized massive tours to the Berkshires every summer, headed up the Hadassah group at her temple, gave monthly book reviews, had run a camp for young women for years, shook the hand of Eleanor Roosevelt, and was married to Joseph, a New York Police Lieutenant, the love of her life. I never got to meet him. He died on Christmas day, 1999. She maintained a kosher home, but ate in restaurants, choosing carefully from the menu to keep the spirit of the law.
When I had heart surgery, she would make a Mi Sheberach, a special prayer for health, at shul. When asked for my mother’s name (Mary), she would substitute Miriam. Close enough. She was, as my husband said, a big tent Jew.
She traveled from Brooklyn to St. Louis for our wedding. She comforted me that day when I talked to my dad on the phone. He had so wanted to be there, but he was too frail.
She was a cheek-pinching, eat, eat, eat Jewish mom. When I asked to accompany her to shul, she was thrilled. We sat in the front row. I became so enthralled with the reading of the Torah that I failed to realize that EVERONE else had sat down and left me, the tall Gentile, standing. I asked her why she didn’t poke me, she replied, “I wanted everybody to get a good look at you.”
If you think I am writing this because she has died, you are wrong. She is alive, at 95, with Alzheimer’s. Her bright, creative self, her sly sense of humor, her brilliant mind, are gone. But I was blessed to know her when she was her big tent Jewish mama, and she treated me like a daughter.