תרגום ולשון

Exploring the space between Hebrew and English

Honor thy father & mother

Written By: merav - Jun• 03•13

These days, between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day – which could actually be any time of the year – bring to mind one of my strongest childhood memories about my parents. I never shared this memory with them because it revolved around a lie I had told them.

Six years before the bread experiment

It was the year before they divorced. The family had recently moved from Jerusalem to Chicago, temporarily. We children were enrolled in a Conservative Jewish day school, even though we had only known secular Israeli Judaism (as taught to children in 1960s Israel). But our parents did not want us to forget our Hebrew or our heritage during the one year that turned into two while we were away.

It would have been well into my first semester of third grade. The novelty of the new country and school would have worn off. The constant community of our Jerusalem neighborhood was missing, and I was probably bored. I wanted to do something, a scientific experiment, and in raising the topic somehow I let impression form that this experiment was a school assignment, a status that I confess I knew would give it more weight. My mother’s enthusiasm overshadowed any concerns I might have had at first about misleading her. She fed me ideas, we talked them through, and the topic that captured my attention was Pasteur and the discovery of penicillin. To be sure, it was my experiment, but she was free to pose informative questions and suggest reading material. She became my community for this project because I was used to doing everything, even and especially things like my first scientific experiment, with a community. My experiment focused on the different ways and rates by which bread molds when subjected to varying conditions: sun, shade, salt, water, milk, other things I don’t remember, and various combinations of these. Trays of bread soon filled our windowsills, countertops, and other available surfaces: slices or sponges of different and ever-changing colors and consistencies.

Eventually the question of reporting my findings arose. The molding process had been explored and observed, and our windowsills and countertops had other purposes. Again I don’t remember the details of how exactly I provided a date for delivery of the findings to my school, but apparently I did because this memory – the clearest, starkest snapshot of this entire story – is imprinted in my mind: There is my father. In one hand he is carefully balancing a tray of meticulously selected specimens of moldy bread, and with the other hand he is holding the car door open for me. And there’s me, climbing into the car – in my book bag a daily log of the rates and patterns of bread in the process of molding and a short biography of Louis Pasteur – wondering how I was going to explain this to Mrs. Edelberg.

Thank God for “Show and Tell.” That day I had every reason to praise the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah and Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School for incorporating the American elementary school tradition of Show and Tell, encouraging kids to bring something interesting from home every now and then – something to show to their classmates, then tell them why it is interesting. My experiment slipped into Show and Tell so seamlessly that I have no memory of the details of my presentation. Instead I remember being grateful for my father and his singular, attentive focus on ensuring the Safe Delivery of Merav’s Experiment. He was not yet a professor but clearly he already had the makings of a professor – that laser-sharp focus that anyone who is not the object or beneficiary of the focus calls absent-mindedness. He would not have noticed the absolute absence of any other experiments, luckily for me.

My mother eventually became a professor too, of another kind. She died young but left a legacy that has continued to inspire. Had she delivered my experiment, she would have been eager to see the other experiments, to admire and inquire and only indirectly and for my later benefit, to compare. She shone when it came to making connections. She was a fierce competitor, mainly with herself and for the sake of those she loved or the students she sought to encourage. She broke down barriers and paid a steep price for the trails she blazed. My sister, brother, and I, our mother’s students, and the students of her students continue to benefit from these trails, some of which have become well-worn paths and roads and routes to new academic terrain.

My father and my mother shared a powerful love of learning, but how different they were. No wonder they were so drawn to one another, and no wonder their union did not last. This memory stays with me because in retrospect it explains everything. My lie was of biblical proportions: it violated a commandment, but rather than being dishonored by it my parents honored the lie and made it a truth – the fact of my first experiment. They trustingly believed and even encouraged my lie precisely because I am their creation. It’s as simple and as circular as that. Even during that last year before their marriage ended, when the seeds of dissolution had already long been sown, they could not help but collaborate completely and unquestioningly in expanding their children’s education and cultivating our curiosity. This is honor.

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One Comment

  1. Tamar Datan says:

    That is so beautiful and poignant a story – and of course it made me cry! I actually REMEMBER the bread molding on all those windowsills in that Chicago apartment. But what really matters is that I, like you, deeply cherish the love of learning that our parents instilled in us. And one more thing. I hope you can forgive yourself for the lie. Sandy says it’s not that big a lie. I agree. Have you thought about the reasons why you felt you needed a “school sanctioned” excuse to do something crazy like waste perfectly good bread 🙂