The Matriarch in Miami
By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 30x40, painted 2019
Original photograph taken - 1965
To my mind no conversation about Jewish identity can take place without acknowledging the power of the Jewish mother in shaping who we are as people and as Jews. The woman in this painting is not my mother. This is Shirley. I love this image of her, soaking up the sun. I can taste the soft rye bread with seeds on the plate next to her. A ‘nirvana day’ for just about anyone. Shirley passed away in December 2018. The thing that struck me most at her funeral was the sheer force of her will. Shirley’s children described her as a woman who existed to raise a close-knit family that fully embraced both the American dream and their Judaism. Women like Shirley got involved in community work, hosting Hadassah meetings, giving time and funds to Federation and building Temple sisterhoods. Shirley, like so many ‘matriarchs’ made important decisions like joining synagogues, sending kids to Jewish camp and Hebrew school, celebrating memorable Passover seders and inviting children and their mates to weekly Shabbat dinner tables. Shirley encouraged her children to achieve in extra-curricular activities, get part-time jobs and attend the best colleges to become all they could be. She kept her family together by arranging annual cruises and Fourth of July BBQ’s. Shirley’s price was definitely ‘far above rubies’. I can say the same about my own mother and mother-in-law who continue to play this role in my family. Who were the matriarchs in yours?