Breakfast at Miriam’s
When I was 35, I moved to Israel. I lived in my in-law’s home in the beginning. Having been a product of a middle class, suburban family in the suburbs of Chicago, I was used to everyone having their own “space” ? Not only was most of the space shared, but it was my in-law’s house! Enough said!
My first challenge was the language. The next was the culture. Or, should that be the other way around? The language was conquered! Not in a day or a week. But in 5 months of intensive studies and many hours at my beautiful mother-in-law’s table. Not only was the language conquered but so much of what I know about life was learned there!
Wait a minute! That sounds terrible. My poor parents. It’s not to say that they didn’t have a lot to do with who I am today. In fact, it was their steadfast love, strength and encouragement that gave me the confidence and courage to make this move. But this story is about what happened after I made the move. In this story, I wish to pay tribute to the woman who entered my life when I was at my most vulnerable and taught me a different kind of love.
“Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired. It need not be deserved.”~Erich Fromm
Her name is Miriam. She was born, we believe in 1934 in a small village near Casablanca, Morroco. When she was 15, she was wed. When she was 17, she was widowed. By 18, she was, somewhat reluctantly, remarried to her brother-in-law. They had a baby boy who only lived about a year and then had a healthy boy in 1954. Miriam was now 20, illiterate and on a boat to a new land, Israel. I won’t go into the details of this move but suffice it to say, she got acclimated and raised 10 children in a predominately Morrocan and Tunisian village in the south of Israel.
Enter the fairly well educated, not quite “poor little rich girl” but halfway to “Jewish American Princess”. Totally lost, totally alone, gripping tightly to my babies and at the same time attempting to give them wings. The wings won and I found comfort in Miriam, my new mother, my new friend. In the beginning, we had to communicate with hand gestures. She would pantomime “Eat?” I’d nod yes. There was a lot of smiling and nodding! Then we’d go through the motions of preparing a simple breakfast together. You can learn a lot about a person when you prepare a meal with them. Are they slow, are they patient? Will they teach you, or just keep secrets? I learned to cook in that kitchen. I learned Hebrew in that kitchen. And I learned so very much more. In that kitchen, I learned about life.
I learned that my, up until then, insular life, WAS insular. I hadn’t really known that. I learned how to raise my children and I learned how to speak to G-d. I learned how to thrive in a big family. How to prepare meals for 60 people. How to honor the dead and rejoice the living. I learned how to love, really love people that were very different from me. And I became lovable to them. My father-in-law was a small and powerful man. He worked hard and prayed hard. He scared me a little but taught me much. I learned to respect his tenacity and even began a somewhat precarious friendship with him not long before he died. I wish my children had known him better because he had so much to teach them. Eventually, we moved to our own home but the breakfasts and the cooking lessons didn’t end! We moved down the street, I found a job, we continued to raise our children and at every opportunity, I stopped at my mother-in-law’s house. Our breakfasts were a source of comfort I think, to both of us. they were peace and quiet in a busy, day, week or month. They were for the most part, undemanding and we both looked forward to it. They were a break in the routine and a few moments to breathe.