I refer to this as ONE of the best Mother’s Days my mother ever had because I am certain each of my siblings orchestrated equally special days honoring our late mom. The Mother’s Day I speak of was the one in which New York City, specifically Brooklyn took front and center in giving her a day she spoke of till her dying day.
I honestly don’t know what year it was other than to know, by mere mathematics alone and the fact that it was after my married days, the fact that my father was still alive and where I lived at certain times in my life, that it was between 14 and 18 years ago. My parents came to visit me and would spend this mother’s day with me in my apartment in Forest Hill, Queens. I asked my mom if she would allow me to take control of the day’s itinerary, and since she was just happy to be spending the day with her favorite child (kidding guys), she happily agreed. I decided to make the theme one in which I would show my parents, specifically on this Mother’s Day, my mom, proof that Hitler didn’t win. In what better place to do that than Brooklyn?
I’ve avoided openly criticizing the Orthodox communities of New York for some unfortunate displays during the COVID-19 crisis. While the public gatherings that took place, specifically for funerals was irresponsible and wrong on many levels, including Jewish law, I didn’t join the mob in excoriating them. Other than mentioning it in this piece, something I do because of the relevance to the points I’ll be making, I’ve stayed away from public criticism for their actions. The reason is a very simple one. While it is unlikely I will ever choose to live like them and often think very differently than they do, in some ways I and every other Jew on this planet owe them a sense of gratitude and respect for their undying devotion. A devotion very much part of why the Jewish world has survived for centuries. So on this Mother’s Day, in an effort to offer some evidence to the fact that Hitler was not successful in his quest to wipe us out, I began the tour of what is really only parts of Jewish Brooklyn.
The first stop on our trip was Williamsburg. Williamsburg is the center of Satmar Chasidism. The Satmar’s are widely known as being an insulated Ultra Orthodox community and one known for being close minded to the ways of the modern world. Travelling through the Jewish sections you primarily see Chasidic Jews, Jewish shops, schools and places of worship. If you are a very modern Jew or person of any other faith, or someone who does not believe in any religion at all, you likely will not relate at all to how the people of this community live. That’s fine. I neither was on that day nor am I today trying to sell their way of life. However, as a Jew, specifically one born to survivors of the Holocaust, I remember driving through there thinking, welcome to Hitler’s worst nightmare.
We then traveled to Flatbush. Flatbush was interesting for me personally because at that time I worked for a company in Brooklyn where quite a few of the employees, including my boss at that time, lived in Flatbush. I had willingly spent some time there over the years, more often than not thoroughly enjoying myself. In Flatbush what you were able to witness was a very significant presence of Orthodox Jews, many of which clearly lived in nice homes. You once again saw a thriving Jewish community, this one where the community primarily had a higher standard of living than what you saw in Williamsburg, while being one more very clear example of Jewish life and survival.
Our final stop was Borough Park. While being more diverse than Williamsburg, it has more of a ghetto feeling to it than Flatbush. Part of Borough Park’s diversity is within the Orhodox Jewish community, one that is rich with both the Chasidic contingents and the Haredi ones. I am no expert on Borough Park, but for me there is one street that represents it above all others. That street is 13th Avenue. This is a street filled with shops, many of them highly affordable, large crowds of people walking up and down either browsing or shopping. Somewhere in one of these shops I brought my mother a Star of David necklace that she was to enjoy often in the coming years and always helped her remember that day. This was also somewhere rich with places to eat, of which a significant percentage are Kosher. By this time my brother Marcel had arrived from Philadelphia to join us in what was to be remembered as a delicious dinner in a Kosher Chinese restaurant somewhere along 13th Avenue.
This was a good day. Mostly for the joy it brought my mother. Hearing her refer to it as one of the best Mother’s Days she ever had is something I will always remember happily. As I think of her today, while I miss her, I am grateful that she doesn’t have to witness what’s happening today. While I am not comparing what we are going through today to what she and so many others went through during Nazi-occupation, I am grateful she did not have to spend one more day of her life living in isolation and risk.
I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, specifically to those I know and love. Enjoy your day, enjoy your kids and families, and stay healthy and safe.
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