That my mother was driving me to the airport that brisk autumn morning in October of 1976 was already curious – my father was the standard driver to the airport. My father at the wheel, meant traffic laws were optional and that speed limits were a matter of interpretation. My mother, at the wheel meant keep quiet and allow for concentration.
But this morning things were different. I was on the way to Israel for a year of study after high school. 1976 was way before the elongated umbilical cord of cell phones that keep us attached to each now. I began to understand that my mother wanted this time together with me; this was to be a big goodbye. Who knew? I was focused on roommates and adventure.
Holding that wheel steadily, my mother turned to me with deliberation and began to speak. It was then that she told me that I was about embark on an experience that she had dreamed of but never had — a year of studying Torah. Where did this come from? The words struck me deeply. My mother and I had never ventured into this kind of a discussion.
There was something that my mother had wanted and never had?! My mother seemed to be to be the paragon of a persona of perfection; regal bearing, a bit aloof, reading the New York Times every day, solving each day’s crossword puzzle, fiercely discussing politics, cooking and baking Jewish holidays into memory – a sisterhood meeting here, a book review there. Who knew of a longing for Jewish study? This unexpected sobering moment did not last long. It was cleared quickly away for pressing matters of boarding passes, take-off times and luggage. I filed it away for later examination.
I believe in Jewish women studying Torah; in Jewish women being given the opportunity to taste the peppery passages and the sweet narratives, to contemplate the subtle nuances of text, to wrestle with meaning and to fall in love with the beauty of our inheritance.
I believe that for generations Jewish women have yearned for an intellectual rendezvous with Talmud, longed to experience the mental gymnastics that comes with rigorous Torah study and ached to feel the breath of eternity that can only come with the turn of a page.
We must never ever take for granted that we live in a time when there are no barriers for women’s study. That every text is laid open before us and that they can serve as the palette for our most essential of conversations is a gift.
My mother passed away seven years after that conversation – we never did go back to it. But something about it stayed with me when I made my choice for a life in Jewish education and claimed a portion of what was previously bequeathed to the males of the tribe.
I believe that there are no small conversations between mothers and daughters and that drives to the airport can last a lifetime.
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