As a teenager, when I wanted to go along with the crowd and do what my friends were doing, my mother would say something like, “I don’t care what your friends are doing. If they jump off a cliff, will you jump too?” The question annoyed me. Why did she have to be so melodramatic? Why didn’t she understand? I only wanted to buy a pair of Jordache jeans! After all, that’s what all the other girls were wearing.
My mother didn’t get it. She never succumbed to peer pressure or to the social media concept of “trending.” She always interpreted situations her own way and made her own decisions. So she wasn’t sympathetic to the plight of a teen.
Mom married at nineteen and gave birth to me when she was twenty. She was mature, serious, and focused. She and my dad moved a lot during their first decade-plus of marriage. His jobs may have been the driver, but she determined the “go – no go” result. They left Boston for New York…Queens, then Red Hook, then Poughkeepsie. From there they returned to the Boston area (Randolph) and then on to Potomac, Maryland. After that, they moved to Israel for three years later. Finally, they returned to the States and settled in New City, New York. Those were a busy fourteen years with four kids!
No matter what, when, where, or how, Mom embraced each opportunity and made it her own. She decorated each new home with enthusiasm, found new jobs, made new friends, and raised her kids without trepidation or hesitation. Despite starting from scratch each time (in the pre-internet and pre-cell phone ages), she seamlessly moved from one gig to the next without looking back and without indecision.
This week’s parasha is Lech Lecha. It’s the beginning of the story of monotheism; the start of a movement. It was a movement that required a unique call to action and a brave daring leader who would pave the way.
God tells Abraham, “Leave your land, your birthplace and your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). And why does Abraham heed the call? Why does he pick up and leave all that is familiar for a land with unknown challenges? Because he has a vision of what’s possible, along with the confidence and drive to create a new reality. He wants to lead the creation of a world governed by collective values of compassion and justice.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, as part of his weekly “Lessons in Leadership” series, talks about the “The Courage not to Conform.” Going along with the crowd and conforming is easier to fall into than most people realize. It’s the path of least resistance. Having the conviction to set oneself apart requires inner strength and fortitude. Abraham, and subsequently the Jewish people, managed to challenge conventional norms of the times by stepping up, speaking up, and daring to be different.
I don’t know if my mother’s attitudes and behaviors were drilled into her by my grandparents or were of her own disposition. (I really must discuss this with her!) But, because of her, I learned the values of trying new things, following my own gut, finding my own path, intentionally not conforming, and avoiding naysayers. I like challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries. I also much prefer focusing on what may lie ahead over looking in the rearview mirror.
Mom turned eighty on Monday. When one hears a large number like that, assumptions and preconceived notions about the condition of an eighty-year-old come to mind. Thankfully, she doesn’t conform to those stereotypes either. She is fit, feisty, fashionable, funny, and a formidable force in the family. To this day, she lives where she chooses to live and does what she wants to do, regardless of what others think or feel. I commend her. My mother’s parents lived until they were ninety-nine and one hundred, but I’m sure she’ll make it to one hundred and twenty (B”H!).
Mom, Jordache is long out of business (and now I only wear leggings anyway). But the core of who I am – developed from birth – is still here because of the examples you set for me. I love you with all my heart and cannot thank you enough for being you.