Francine Chermak

November 28, 2007
Dear Friends,

Of the many things I’ve learned since my mother’s death, the sweetest lesson has been the discovery of what it means to be a blessing. Every person who took the trouble to call, write, or show up revealed our power to bless one another.

Being remembered and cared about in these last two bitter weeks has been strong, good medicine. I have felt your embraces across the miles and look forward to seeing you soon. Thank you, HaMakom, in particular for the healthy and delicious food you provided. When friends feed us, we are consoled for the first one who fed us.

Thanks also for the contributions in my mother’s memory. She was the one who taught me tzedakah. Cindy and Atma, God bless you for being at the funeral. You brought the whole community to me at a time when I needed it most. Many of you who have walked this road before have offered wise words that console me. When a parent dies, death becomes real. We are now the head of the family, and we pray that we will be worthy.

Very few reading this knew my mother. When Rabbi Schulweis asked me to describe her in one adjective, I agonized for a moment and went with my first thought: creative. Another sister independently came up with the same word, and the other sister said, “Patient.”

A mother is everything, a different parent to each of her children. To me, her firstborn when she was not quite 21, she knew everything, had done everything, and could do everything. What is more godlike than creating? She didn’t disabuse me of this, knowing by the time I was thirteen, I’d have a different opinion. Her patience was really a tolerance and willingness to accept who her children were. She was never smothering nor controlling. She let us be creative, too.

As children often do, I see my mother in myself. She was a writer for television, but she began in the magazine business. She didn’t write for The Saturday Evening Post or The Ladies’ Home Journal; her articles appeared in Ammo and Male. My mother, who didn’t hike or swim wrote two stories I remember, “Whirlpool of Terror”, a story about being attacked by barracudas in the Caribbean, and “I Climbed the Matterhorn.” I was eight and full of righteous indignation when I asked her, “How can you write these stories? They’re not true!”

She looked at me with her hypnotic green eyes and said, “That’s what it means to be a writer. It’s your imagination.” I thought of her being home every day working in comfortable clothes near the refrigerator. This was good work, I thought then, and I still believe it. She went on to write for Ironside, Chips, and even created a show, “Amy Prentiss” starring Jessica Walter, about the first woman police chief on TV. It won an Emmy.

My mother was not a religious Jew but one who loved God and her Judaism. Her father taught me the Four Questions, my first lesson in liturgy. Another story: when I was four, I noticed that the art in our house was nothing like my friends’ houses. They had pretty pictures, we had pictures of suffering peasants painted by Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco. When I asked her who these people were, she told me about the Mexican Revolution. I grew up on Howdy Doody, Joe McCarthy, and Adlai Stevenson. My mother taught me that the world wasn’t fair and it was our work to make it fairer. That’s what I understood Judaism to be for a long time.

If you talk to others who knew her, they might remember her grand parties with celebrities, her quick wit and passion, or her astute perceptions. Some of us will never forget her divine matzah balls. I’ll confess that I still long for her linguine with, God forgive me, clams.

I’ll remember her singing “Baby Face” and my young satisfaction of feeling adored; her asking me with affection and amusement as I played with baby Solomon, “So how does it feel to be a grandmother?” And most of all, how much of me is because of her.

A mother is everything. Of course I remember more than sunlit days of laughter and hugs. All that matters, however, is this: if we can love, and we can be loved, we owe our parents enough gratitude to remember their best and to become it.

I took the seven days of sitting shivah seriously albeit somewhat ineptly. I’ve never really seen it done and it’s my first time. I kept forgetting to take off my shoes, I found actually sitting for long periods impossible, and remembering not to listen to music continues to be a challenge. Not traveling for pleasure nor seeing movies will no doubt teach me much. I’m not a person for whom mourning comes naturally. I like Rosh Hashanah better. So did my mother.

I look forward to seeing you at the sheloshim for my mother, the period that marks the end of thirty days since the funeral. Please join me and ensure a minyan for a brief Maa’riv service and kaddish on Sunday, December 9 at 5:00 pm at St. Bede’s.

Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker