Life Lessons Learned from My Mom

I am the woman I am today because of all my mother has given me throughout my life. She raised me in a home filled with love and respect. She shared what she felt was important and helped me determine my own way. She guided me on a path of righteousness and doing the right thing.

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Stephanie Z. Bonder and her mother, Joan Zimmer
Stephanie Z. Bonder and her mother, Joan Zimmer

Every May, we start scrambling to figure out what we should do about Mother’s Day? Now that my mother, Joan Zimmer, lives down south, we don’t get to see her on Mother’s Day. How do I get myself to remember to order the flowers in time? It’s always a challenge.

I’m a teacher, and every year in class we work on writing skills. We start by asking the kids to write about what they know. Perhaps they could pick a favorite place, or a special person. Each year, the teacher needs to create her own example to share with her students. One year, I decided to write my example about my mother. I thought of all the multitude of things she has done for me throughout my life, and I tried to describe them in a way that would evoke feeling and share how much I deeply appreciated her.

With the pandemic this year, I haven’t been in the classroom. I’ve taught a different grade in a smaller setting and I have been in a new environment. To bring myself back to normal, I decided I would focus on writing an essay giving homage to and describing how special my mom is.

To begin, my mom, became a mom when she was only 22 years old. She came into the role with a jolt because she was lucky enough to have twins! She had to learn to manage taking care of not one but two tiny babies, with little help. She once told me a funny story about how tired she was all the time. She wanted to get back into shape and her doctor advised her to exercise when we went to sleep. Good idea, right? Well, she got down on the floor to do some sit ups when we went down for a nap, and in no time at all, she was sleeping! Trust me, she didn’t have to work out to get back into shape, just running after us was enough of a workout!

My mother exemplifies what it means to be a role model. She did it without trying, just being herself. She was a giver. Not just to her family and children, but to the people and world around her. Mom believed in getting involved. She would take projects on and make sure she did the best job she could. All her projects were successful! One of the most impactful places, she did this kind of work was in Hadassah. My earliest memories are of my mom getting together with her Hadassah friends. She would put together fundraisers to raise money for Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel. She would cook for dinner events with over 100 people in attendance, and she would act in shows even when it was nerve wracking! That helped make me, the woman I am today. I watched someone not only care for me, but care for others. The Jewish community was our community and whether it was in the synagogue, or the JCC, or Hadassah, my mother got involved.

She provided me with opportunities that I will never be able to repay. She took me to Israel for my bat mitzvah and helped form my Zionist identity. She sent me on a teen tour to Israel and then in college was proud that I chose to study in Jerusalem at The Hebrew University. Although these were not inexpensive trips, she and my dad made sure I had these opportunities, so that I would learn about Israel, tikkun olam, and being part of the greater Jewish community.

My mom showed me how to use my voice and stand up for myself. Like many young women, I faced sexual harassment from an early age. All the way back in junior high, a teacher was making unwanted and inappropriate comments to me. I shared that with her, and she made sure I navigated the situation safely and was able to assert myself to stay away from the teacher. Later in high school, while working at the JCC, an instructor again made inappropriate comments and advances. This time, my mother insisted I advocate for myself and speak to my supervisor. I did and removed myself from the situation. She protected me and taught me to be a strong, vocal woman, not afraid to stand up for myself.

I would say one of the most important lessons she taught me was how to be in a loving relationship. She and my dad are best friends. Granted, they don’t always agree, but they love each other. No one is perfect. This has guided me in my relationship with my own husband. They respect each other and only want the best for one another. My mother would give anything and everything to make sure my father is safe and healthy. She was tested this year when he got sick during the pandemic. Having a rare infection, that was NOT Covid-19, was something my dad experienced, and my mom had to deal with, in a healthcare system that was almost broken. She never gave up and persisted in talking to the hospitals, doctors, rehabs and all the people needed to help my father get through his illness. Incredibly, my father has recovered, and my mother continues to dote on him to make sure he improves and gets healthier each day. I can only hope that I will be as strong as she has been throughout this unbelievable year if ever, I have to deal with a crisis like that.

I believe that I am the woman I am today because of all my mother has given me throughout my life. She raised me in a home filled with love and respect. She shared what she felt was important and helped me determine my own way. She guided me on a path of righteousness and doing the right thing. She inspired me to stand up for what I believe in and be the best I can be. I truly couldn’t ask for anything more than that.

So, although I was not in time to send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day this year, I did order her dinner as a gift. She has to eat, right?

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