December 16, 2021, Israel
Our only martial arts photo together...
There are few blessings in this world equal to a mother's love. We take it for granted for a long time. Some of us learn to appreciate this gift while there is still time. To appreciate this gift, this blessings, is to multiply its effects on our happiness, well-being and understanding of the world. For truly there is nothing that can give us such security and confidence in the world as the love of a mother and a father.
I was fifteen years old when I first began to understand this lesson. I will never forget the moment. We live in Hollywood, Florida and our school was in North Miami Beach. We had a daily carpool. One of the drivers, the parents, was a Mr. Halperin, father of Sarah Halperin, a quiet red-haired 12 year old girl. Mr. Halperin too was very quiet and rarely spoke to us kids. I recall he had a heavy European accent.
One day the children were talking about their parents; my mom is such a nerd, my dad is such a dork, they are so uncool, such an embarrassment, etc. Mr. Halperin did something very unusual; he stopped the car and pulled over. He wanted to tell us a story, a lesson. He said, "Children, I want to tell you something. No one will ever love you like your parents. Not your siblings, not your friends, not even your own children. You can get married, you might get divorced. Your brothers and sisters might get a job in Californian or Beijing, they will write, they might visit occasionally but you will not be the focus of their lives. Your children will love you, but for them too you will not be the focus of their lives. They will grow up, get married, move away. They will call, visit, but they will move on with their lives. But your parents! They will love you from the moment you are born until the moment they die, unconditionally. But children, listen to me, parents are a limited gift, they do not last forever. When I was just 11 years-old the Nazis came to our home. They took my parents out to the front lawn and shot them dead, right in front of my eyes. So please, I do not want to hear anyone complaining about their parents."
I have never forgotten these words, though many years have passed. These words became like a motto for me and I have lived my life accordingly.
My mother passed away from this life on November 24, 2021, just before the holiday of Chanukah which she loved so much. A couple of weeks before she passed she made her last phone call, ever. It was half an hour past midnight. After a long day with her in the Hospice I was back at home, asleep in my bed. I keep my phone on 24/7 in case she needs me. When the phone rang I grabbed it, caller ID said "Mom", that would be the last time I would be privileged to see this word on my phone. I anxiously picked it up, perhaps she needed me, what could it be?
She was clear and lucid, she was worried about me. She said she had a premonition that something bad might happen to me, she wanted to know where I was and if I was safe. I assured her that I was at home, safe in my bed, all was well and there was no need to worry. She said she was worried that something bad might happen to me, that I might be in some danger.
That is a mother!
My mother has never been a "spiritual" or psychic type person. She was a religious woman but not one who felt that God was speaking to her directly (as far as I know), she never claimed to have visions or premonitions, in fact she actively discouraged such behavior. She did not believe that our ancestors communicated with us, or that people have supernatural abilities. As such, this phone call, this premonition, was highly out of character for her. But then, when one approaches the end of life, all sorts of unusual behavior take place.
Yet, this call showed her deep concern, her love, her protectiveness for her son. It was not a logical thought, she had no reason to worry about me. In all my years of living in New York, or traveling the world, she never expressed a fear for my wellbeing, she knew that I could handle myself. Yes, she was always concerned about driving, all her family members knew that as soon as they arrived home safely, from a drive, or a flight, the first order of business was "call Grandma and let her know you are home safe". But this phone call, past midnight, was of a different nature.
It was not born of a logical fear. I told her I am fine and would see her in a few hours, in the morning. In the morning when I returned to the Hospice she remembered the phone call but could not explain why she was concerned. She was already...not fully there.
But I think I know. Deep inside she was expressing her concern for the future, for all future travel, for all future events, she wanted to know that I would be OK, she wanted me to know that she would still be looking out for her son. A mother is a protector. A mother wants to know that her children are safe.
My mother took no interest in martial arts. I believe she attended only one event that I hosted, a Hatsu Geiko event many years ago. But a mother understands the need to protect her children and believed in what I was doing: a parent has certain obligations.
The Talmud enumerates this quite clearly...these are the obligations of a parent towards a child, these are the obligations of a child towards a parent. (Tractate Kidushin, page 29A) The Talmud states...."A father is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him (if he was taken captive), to teach him Torah (moral values, to be a good citizen), to marry him off to a woman (insure the future of our people), and to teach him an occupation (so he can take care of himself, not become a thief, or a burden on others). Some add, also to teach him to swim."
The reason for teaching one to swim is very important; the lesson here is one must teach their child to survive, under all circumstances. This includes all forms of self-defense. This is a parent's obligation towards their child, and it extends beyond the passing of the parent: Teach your child survival skills, teach them self-defense. "To teach to the sons of Judah the art of the Bow" (Book of Samuel Two, Chapter 1) Raise your children to be proud, confident, productive individuals. This is a blessing that a parent gives to the world: to leave behind individuals who will contribute to the world and make a positive difference.
My mother is gone now, and she leaves a huge emptiness, but her lessons are with me always. I recall the words of the Talmud, Ethics of the Fathers; Leave the world as a creditor, not as debtor. Leave the world having given more than you took.
May her memory be a blessing, to us all.