My mother sits in her living room and contemplates the unfinished house across the street. Home construction here goes pretty quickly, but not this house. The exterior was finished a long time ago. We hear loud Arabic conversations from a few construction workers on the roof and a van pulls in and out of the adjacent alley, and then everything goes quiet. It’s been this way for over a year.
My mother contemplates the big unfinished house through the large picture window of her living room..
“The students are coming in any day now,” she announces. “I’ve asked for their list of classes. I, too, will give a few talks.”
“About the Holocaust, mom?”
“Forget the Holocaust, about other things.”
“What things, mom?”
“About how we treat each other. It’s impossible to go on the way we do. I want to tell them to stop caring about making money so much. Money, money, money, that’s all we hear about.”
Another day the house across the street becomes a synagogue.
“They made me the manager,” she informs me, “so I’m going around talking to people about what kind of prayers we should have there. I tell them we shouldn’t fight about the prayers, we pray to the same God after all. Most important, I talk to the mothers.”
“About what, mom?”
“I tell them that instead of just bringing their own children to the synagogue, why don’t they bring the neighbors’ children, too? Maybe your neighbor has an infant at home and she’s up all night with the baby and can’t bring the other children to the synagogue, she has to stay home. Help her, for God’s sake! Bring her children, too, not just your own. Tell me, what’s more important than that? Do you think God cares about anything else?”
“Just be a mensch, Bernie used to say,” I tell her.
“I think you should be a rabbi, mom.”
She ignores me. “What’s nicer than inviting the neighbor in for some coffee and a piece of cake, talking about all kinds of things, helping people out? Believe me, when your life is over, you will realize how happy you were when you did that.”
Day after day, my mother worries that children go hungry, mothers don’t have enough help, and that all anyone cares about nowadays is money.
“And the way couples talk to each other! They knock on my door asking for my help and you know what I tell them? I tell them that nothing is as important as peace in the home. I tell them that they fight about trivial things, that even if some nasty words come to your mouth, restrain yourself. Swallow them back; one day you’ll be so glad you did. And they’re happy to hear this, they say there’s nobody like me because I help them so much.”
She continues to place herself in the center of all the action. She’s the one teaching at the university across the street, she’s the one directing the synagogue across the street, making sure that it serves the neighbors and that all children are taken care of. She has lots of money from donors.
“Come work for me,” she tells me. “I’ll pay you well.”
“I’m retired,” I tell her.
“Mom, how old do you think I am?”
She hesitates for only a moment. “You should work till you’re 100, don’t stop.”
We have long conversations like this day after day. It’s hard to listen to, obsessive and repetitive as it is, and after an hour my ears are ringing and I walk into the bathroom for some quiet. Her Indian caregiver shrugs; for her it’s the rantings and ravings of a demented woman.
I think of the talks I will have with other people the rest of the day: How’s the coronavirus doing here?—You’re moving to Jerusalem?—Look at the price of gas!—Do they have money for this new project?—I don’t have any food at home except yogurt—It’ so warm today you don’t need your jacket—So far, no tourists for Christmas because of the Corona—She fell, hit her head, had a brain bleed and is now in the hospital—My son just split from his girlfriend!
And wonder what all this sounds like in God’s ears.
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