My Mother was the Center of our Jewish Universe


by Drew Steinberg

Jewish values and the importance of family are engrained in me because of my mom. Because of her, we celebrated Shabbat every Friday night as our family of four, at a minimum, while I was growing up. High Holiday meals and Passover seders had full tables of extended family (blood relatives and friends who are equivalent to family). The din of stories of the holiday intertwined with family kibbitzing encapsulated my parents’ home, holiday after holiday, year after year. My mom made sure of it. When COVID hit, we were fortunate to be in close proximity that we were able to continue to have Shabbat and holiday meals together. Although it was not the large family Jewish celebrations we were all used to, it was still Judaism mixed with family. 

Our Passover this year was out of the norm, more so than COVID out-of-the-norm. A few days prior, my mom had her tenth procedure in four months, and we were anticipating another hospital discharge. The procedure and hospitalization were timed so that Mom would be home with all of us for our Passover seder. What we had hoped would be a morning discharge so that my mom could oversee the decorating of the table, ended up being a late afternoon discharge where we were rushing against the clock to get her home and situated in time for seder. Keeping the kids calm while getting my mom comfortable back in her house and also trying to prepare for the sacred holiday was overwhelming but manageable. The kids and my mom were so excited that they got to sing the “Frog song,” “Dayenu,” and others together. My mom got to watch her two older grandchildren (Pre-K students) sing the “Four Questions” in Hebrew. We got to have a new version of a Passover seder for my family this year. We were scared it would be our last seder with my mom, but we also somewhat knew how likely that would be the case. We wanted to make sure my mom got her holiday with her family at her home. She deserved that. As my family is still in the first weeks of my mom’s passing, everything feels raw and uncomfortable. I anticipate Jewish holidays going forward will have that uncomfortable feeling, especially Passover since it was her last holiday with us.

Losing a loved one is challenging. Losing a loved one while having young kids is a different challenge; then there is losing your person, who has been your loved one while having young kids. When my mom entered comfort care, she shared with her rabbi that her greatest sadness was that she was not going to get to experience her grandchildren growing up. She was not going to get to see them become of Bar Mitzvah age and use the tallit bags that she needlepointed. Her not being here to celebrate with my children and their milestones has already been so devasting for me. I am so grateful for the time she had with all of us, but especially her last visit with my boys.

During my mom’s time in comfort care in the ICU, the Palliative Care team wanted to make sure that she felt at home, as much as possible. They asked us to bring things to decorate her room. Immediately my sister and I thought of bringing family photos and the grandchildren’s artwork, things my mom had decorating her bedroom since she got sick this last time. In addition to the decorations, my mom felt most at home having family nearby (immediate and extended). With that in mind, I wanted to figure out how to have my sweet young boys visit with her one last time. I am sure like many, I am not comfortable in an ICU room. The fact that you can see other patients through the glass walls/doors with their illnesses and ailments, which sometimes involve tubes or ventilators, is not something I enjoyed seeing. I did not want my boys to share my fear of ICUs, especially at such young ages. 

I was extremely grateful when the Palliative Care team offered a patio visit where family could visit with my mom outside of the hospital room setting. It was both a way for the young kids to visit her as well as have a larger group visit since we were outside. Due to how she was doing, the patio visit got moved to a time where only my boys, my dad, sister, my husband, and I would be able to attend. That final visit for my boys with their grandma was something special. It was a time for my boys to be themselves. A time for them to see Grandma one last time and share their feelings with her. A time for me to see smiles on all their faces together for the last time.

My mom’s absence is already so palpable. Unfortunately, there were celebrations so close to her passing where the void was felt. I know the void will continue to be there. I just wish it didn’t have to be there at all. 

The following was said in the handful of memoriams, both written and verbalized: My mom truly achieved greatness in all aspects of her life. Her life was tragically cut short when she had so much more to give to her family, her community, and the world. My mom was loved by many, respected by more, and admired by all. May her memory be a blessing.

תהא נשמה זו צרורה בצרור החיים
T’hei n’shma zu tzrura b’tzrur ha-chayim

May the soul of their loved one be bound up in the bond of life.

May the memory of this loved one be for a blessing.

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Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Ellen Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries and six continents. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she worked on cruise ships for seven years and backpacked for three years in Asia. She is the founder of the website WeSaidGoTravel which is read in 235 countries and was named #3 on Rise Global’s top 1,000 Travel Blogs. Niver is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, Inc. With more than 150,000 followers across social media, she has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best, is verified on Twitter and listed on IMDb, and is the Social Media Manager for the Los Angeles Press Club. You can find Lisa Niver talking travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, Satellite Media Tours, The Jet Set TV and Orbitz travel webisodes as well as her YouTube channel, where her WeSaidGoTravel videos have over 1.6 million views. After three months on TikTok, Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels and YouTube Shorts, she had over 500,000 (1/2 million) views. As a journalist, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors and been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. She has been a judge for the Gracie Awards for the Alliance of Women in Media, and has run 15 travel competitions on her website, publishing over 2,500 writers and photographers from 75 countries. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty times.   Niver has published more than 2000 articles, in more than three dozen magazines and journals including National Geographic, Wired, Teen Vogue, HuffPost Personal, POPSUGAR, Ms. Magazine, Luxury Magazine, Smithsonian, Sierra Club, Saturday Evening Post, AARP, AAA Explorer Magazine, American Airways, Delta Sky, enRoute (Air Canada), Hemispheres, Jewish Journal, Myanmar Times, BuzzFeed, Robb Report, Scuba Diver Life, Ski Utah, Trivago, Undomesticated, USA Today, TODAY, Wharton Magazine, and Yahoo. Awards National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards 2021 Winner: Book Critic: Ms. Magazine “Untamed: Brave Means Living From the Inside Out” 2019 Winner: Soft News Feature for Film/TV: KTLA TV “Oscars Countdown to Gold with Lisa Niver” 2019 Finalist for: Soft News, Business/Music/Tech/Art Southern California Journalism Awards 2022 Finalist: Book Criticism 2021 Winner: Technology Reporting 2021 Finalist: Book Criticism 2020 Winner: Print Magazine Feature: Hemispheres Magazine, “Painter by the Numbers, Rembrandt” 2020 Finalist: Online Journalist of the Year, Activism Journalism, Educational Reporting, Broadcast Lifestyle Feature 2019 Finalist: Broadcast Television Lifestyle Segment for “Ogden Ski Getaway” 2018 Finalist: Science/Technology Reporting, Travel Reporting, Personality Profile 2017 Winner: Print Column “A Journey to Freedom over Three Passovers” Social Media Presence YouTube Channel: We Said Go Travel (1.6 million views) Short form video:TikTok, Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels, YouTube Shorts Twitter: lisaniver (90,000 followers) Instagram: lisaniver (24,000 followers) Pinterest: We Said Go Travel (20,000 followers and over 70,000 monthly views) Facebook: lisa.niver (5,000 followers); We Said Go Travel (3,000 followers) LinkedIn: lisaellenniver (9000 contacts)

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