No Mothers Day in Israel, but mothers have real clout

There is no Mother’s Day in Israel. There was until a few years ago, but then it was transformed into Family Day, during which, each February, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers are all honored.

It differs from Mother’s Day in the States, which falls on Sunday, May 9, this year, the same day as Lag B’Omer. It’s unlike Mother’s Day in both atmosphere and content. There are no sales of gifts for mothers (or other members of the family) and no crass commercialism. Instead, schoolchildren make things for presentation to their families, perhaps a painting or a new sign for the front door.

Even if they lack a specific day dedicated to them, mothers play a central role on all levels of Israeli society. Again in contrast to what is often the case in the United States, women who battle their way to the top are unwilling to forgo motherhood to get there. This was evident in a recent newspaper supplement on the top 50 women in the Israeli economy. Almost every woman on the list — starting with Bank Leumi head Galia Maor — has offspring. The same is true of leading women in universities, politics and other intellectually demanding spheres.

Mothers, as such, also have a lot of clout in the political sphere, particularly when it comes to lobbying. The Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon took place more quickly than it might have were it not for the Four Mothers group. The women were implicitly saying that they had a special stake in the withdrawal because their sons were on the firing line. This is an argument that even battle-hardened generals have difficulty in refuting.

Now, on the other side of the political spectrum, mothers are again playing a key role in a nationwide campaign. Many of those who went out to campaign against the proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip were head-covered religious women holding babies in their arms. It was hard for supporters of the Sharon initiative to withstand the emotional assault of these agitated mothers, who cried out: “We will not allow you to drive us from our homes.”

Army commanders have also learned to take mothers very seriously. It has become quite common for those with children in the Israel Defense Forces to obtain the cell phone numbers of their officers. And some of these women will call up the officers to complain that their son or daughter isn’t getting enough sleep or that the food he or she is given to eat is both insufficient and tasteless. The commander should probably slam down the telephone, but he is loath to do so because he, too, has a mother who is concerned with his well-being.

Even without an official Mother’s Day, the bonds between mothers and their children here are, I daresay, stronger than in most other Western countries. Their links with one another tend to remain vibrant, and important to both, for an extraordinary period of time.

Nechemia Meyers is a journalist who lives in Rehovot, Israel.