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Remembering My Mother’s Hands on Mother’s Day

Her hands caught me, prevented me from falling, and pushed me towards a goal.

Tarr Pichet / Shutterstock
Tarr Pichet / Shutterstock

Remember those handprints you made in nursery school for your Mom? Sometimes they were a paint print on a big red construction paper heart. Or maybe you made a hand imprint out of plaster.

Hand in hand with my Mom, that’s how it was. She held mine when we crossed a street when I was a child. We sometimes held hands as we sat in synagogue. Her hands caught me, preventing a fall and they pushed me towards a goal. Her hands bandaged a scrap and they tried to teach me needlepoint and solitaire – both to no avail. Holding hands walking together, no matter my age. Our hands made rugalach together for Rosh Hashanah and our hands lit Shabbat and Chanukah candles together. Her hands were strong and together we lifted and carried a china closet down stairs to our den and they were gentle, rubbing my forehead lovingly or smoothing my brow.  Her hands were magic, they could do anything.  

I would love to hold my mother’s hand this Sunday on Mother’s Day. But Mom passed away in 2004. Today, I look at my own hands and sometimes, I see hers. Same thumb shape and both well-used sets of hands. The narrow wedding band I chose and don’t take off, is the same type as she wore.  

Sometimes, I compare, as a joke, my hands with my daughter’s.  We hold them out and I ask, “can you tell which are older?” We laugh and she says, “they look the same.”

There’s an expression we use in Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, the organization I have volunteered with for decades.  We describe the work we do as “the work of our hands.” I guess that came from the fact that we are practical Zionists – building two hospitals in Israel, taking care of at-risk children at villages – that kind of thing where you figuratively are “hands on” and to do that work in Israel, we raise funds and awareness and educate here in America – very “hands on” – in communities.  

My Mom, Alyce Unger, was a Long Beach, New York Hadassah Chapter President and my sister Leslie and I, also both Presidents, stood side by side with her and our grandmother, Gertrude Mandel, also a President, every year at the bazaar raising money for Hadassah Hospital in Israel. The work of our hands. Five generations of Hadassah women with our daughters and Leslie’s granddaughters! Today, my hands carry on that Hadassah work. You could say it was “handed off” from Gram to Mom to us. (See how I did that?!)  

And then there was the time when I was President of Long Beach Jr. Hadassah (I told you it was decades of volunteering).  We were having a mother daughter tea where everyone brought something. Mom and I made an angel food cake, my favorite. 

We made one most Fridays together after school.  Well, anyway, Mom parked the car, we got out and, you guessed it, I dropped the cake. I was really upset.  Mom zoomed around to my side, reached down and swooped up the cake in her hands. She said it hardly touched the ground as her hands brushed it off. (It had fallen on a very clean spot – remember the 10-second rule?) 

I’m sorry for all of you who can’t sit at the same Mother’s Day table with your Mom this Sunday because of COVID-19 stay at home rules.  It’s not the same on Zoom because you can’t touch. When I see those photos on TV where the young grandchild stands outside the window and the grandma is sitting inside the house and they both put their hands on the windowpane – boy, that one is a tearjerker for sure. My father once said to me shortly after Mom passed away, “It’s so hard because you can’t touch.” I know just what he meant. And if anyone is reading this – I am sure you do as well, particularly in this moment in time in today’s world. 

So, do hold your Mom’s hand on Zoom on Sunday and when this is all over, hold your Mom’s hand for real – as often as you can. And don’t let go. And If you are living with your kids and or grandchildren during this difficult time, take their hand in yours when they kiss you happy Mother’s Day. Hand in hand – heart to heart. Happy Mother’s Day to us all.

Alyce Unger and Frieda Unger Rosenberg

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