Planning to offer brief remarks before the Mourner's Kaddish for my mother, I was surprised to find it much harder to summarize her life than it had been for my father four years earlier.
Proud of his role in the world and in our lives, I had said:
"My father. Born Etz or Etzhu in Simleul Silvania, Romania. Immigrated as Isac Braunstein. Died as Howard Braun. Truly an American success story, he served his country and his profession. Loved his family. Sought always to think deeply, to make the world better."
On the surface, my mother’s life was simpler and should have been easier to capture in about 50 words. She was a housewife, mother to three children, grandmother to seven. Great-grandmother to the baby she met only over Facetime. My mother dropped out of college, worked until she married, moved for my father’s career. Loved Broadway tunes, folk music, and the American Songbook.
Her life sounds like a 1950s and 60s stereotype.
All true. But insufficient.
My mother returned to work briefly to support a business my father started, and again when her youngest child reached high school. She led the sisterhood at one synagogue and was a founding member, president, and occasional service leader at another, years before women were rabbis. She was Cub Scout den mother, president of her local Hadassah group, and, with several other women, baked and sold thousands of lokshen kugel (noodle pudding) slices at a local arts festival to raise money for my youth group activities.
My mother read the books assigned to my sister so they could discuss them and sent her to the nascent school for the arts. She made sure all her children and grandchildren could go to college. She gave up a life-long passion for knitting 10 or more years ago as her hands became too arthritic but bought new needles and yarn when her grandchild was expecting the first of the next generation. After all, new babies require new hand-knitted sweaters.
None of this explains why people in their 20s, 30s, and every decade through their 90s attended her funeral and shiva, why she was described as “big sister” and “stand-in grandmother,” or why my classmate from 40 years ago still remembers the Passover seder he attended at our house. My mother was not a muckity-muck, nor a community macher (big shot). She was a terrific listener and a caring person.
She taught me how to clean, sew, knit, crochet, embroider, balance a checkbook, and follow a recipe. One day, she told me, “anyone can follow a recipe. The real trick is getting all the food on the table at the right time.” A good host makes it look easy.
In about 60 words:
My mother: Dorothy Braun, born Friedman in Brooklyn, New York. Raised on Stone Avenue, in the Brownsville section, surrounded by dozens of cousins. Married to neighbor Howard Braun, she inspired friendship and caring for 91 years. Like the biblical Sarah preparing the meal Abraham offered to visitors, she practiced audacious hospitality, welcoming guests and making friends across the generations.
I hope that my family and I can carry forward her inspiring legacy, making my mother’s memory a blessing to us and to all who knew and loved her.