Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Lifetakes: Generations

Beth Rachael Shapiro

I am the official matriarch of our family. Too young for the job, in my mind, but it is mine nonetheless

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

 Mishpacha image

Photo: Shutterstock

T here’s a photograph taken just after my oldest daughter was born. My mother and grandmother had flown from New York to Ohio to visit us, and we were standing in a local bagel store. I can still hear my mother’s voice catch as she said, “We are four generations of Jewish women in our family.”

This picture was nothing to take for granted. My grandmother, who married at the spinsterly age of 34, was 89 at the time, and among the last of her friends still alive. My mother had already survived two cancers, the first when I was a sophomore in high school, the second during my senior year of college. She had worried that she would not see me graduate from high school. The fact that 13 years later she was cancer-free and holding her newborn granddaughter in her arms seemed unfathomable to her.

I was different. I liked the picture but didn’t understand its significance. My mother’s illnesses did nothing to connect me to the fragility of life. Instead, they convinced me that my mother was invincible. I never saw her sick — she sent me to summer camp during her first treatment, and I was on a semester abroad during her second treatment.

She didn’t like to talk about it. It came out more in a Jewish mother guilt-trip sort of way: “How could you do X,Y, or Z?” she would say. “Don’t you know I had cancer? You should be happy I’m alive.” And I was. I just didn’t think she wouldn’t be, so it didn’t really concern me — much like I don’t worry whether the sun will rise in the morning.

Fast forward 12 years to that daughter’s bat mitzvah. This time I hired a professional photographer to document the event. We got out our hair done and purchased matching dresses for the occasion. But the picture will be different. Instead of four generations, there will be just two.

My beloved grandmother died peacefully in her sleep at age 95. As for my mother, her one goal when the cancer came back was, “I need to get well because I want to be at Naomi’s bat mitzvah.” Apparently, I was wrong about her invincibility. Just because you survived cancer doesn’t mean you can keep doing it. After two more bouts of cancer, my mother died in August 2011.

When I stand next to my daughter, the sole woman at her momentous life passage, I think to myself, I’m so proud of you, of the girl that you are, the woman you are becoming. Do I, the lone surviving woman in our family line, have it in me to bestow upon you all of the blessings and love these women would want me to give you?

Related Stories

Inside Job: Graphic Designer

Rachel Bachrach

Three graphic designers dish about the impact of the Internet, their favorite colors, and what they ...

The Great Jewish American Novel

Leah Milstein

I opened a new document and hit ‘File, Save As’: The Great Jewish American Novel 1.doc. Success cour...

Lifetakes: Tea Anytime

Esther Mendelsohn

A quintessential Brit, my mother loves her tea: a simple Earl Grey, left to brew for the perfect few...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Evolution vs. Revolution
Shoshana Friedman I call it the “what happened to my magazine?” response
Up, Up, and Away
Rabbi Moshe Grylak What a fraught subject Eretz Yisrael is, to this day
Where Do You Come From?
Yonoson Rosenblum Could they be IDF officers with no Jewish knowledge?
Heaven Help Us
Eytan Kobre Writing about anti-Semitism should rouse, not soothe
Work/Life Solutions with Chedva Kleinhandler
Moe Mernick “Failures are our compass to success”
An Un-Scientific Survey
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Are Jerusalemites unfriendly? Not necessarily
Out of Anger
Jacob L. Freedman How Angry Lawyer was finally able to calm down
5 Things You Didn’t Know about…Yitzy Bald
Riki Goldstein He composed his first melody at eight years old
When the Floodgates of Song Open, You’re Never Too Old
Riki Goldstein Chazzan Pinchas Wolf was unknown until three years ago
Who Helped Advance These Popular Entertainers?
Riki Goldstein Unsung deeds that boosted performers into the limelight
Your Task? Ask
Faigy Peritzman A tangible legacy I want to pass on to my children
Are You There?
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Emotional withdrawal makes others feel lonely, abandoned
A Peace of a Whole
Rebbetzin Debbie Greenblatt Love shalom more than you love being right
Seminary Applications
Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald, as told to Ariella Schiller It’s just as hard for seminaries to reject you