Midrash on an Answering Machine, or, a Three-Part Blessing

“So make it a good life-Have a happy day- Shalom."

These three phrases are familiar to many who called my mother, Faye Fischman's answering machine during a certain period in her life. I remember thinking at the time,

"What a very MOM thing to say!"

Little did I know that these words would come to frame my recollections of her, and in effect, be her lasting message to us all; her family, friends, former coworkers, caregivers and shul family,
indeed, anyone who knew my Mom for any length of time, in any capacity!

So, let';s begin with the first sentence of that answering machine message,


We DID have a good life, first in Penn Hills, then in Squirrel Hill, largely due to her example.

I have been said to possess “relentless positivity" but I learned it from my mother, who had it in ABUNDANCE. No matter what hardships we were going through at the time, whether as a family or
as individuals, she would somehow manage to give us the feeling that everything would eventually turn out OK. Being knowledgeable Judaically, a lover of Biblical stories, and an EXCELLENT storyteller herself, she would always remind us of times when the Jewish people,or one figure in particular, was in a dire situation, and the DIVINE PLAN would ultimately turn things in their favor. So, faith was clearly part of having a good life, in her opinion, but if YOU
believed differently, or not at all, as long as you were a decent human being, a "mensch" as we say in Yiddish, THAT counted as leading a good life, too.

What went into being a mensch, a decent person, according to Faye Fischman?

1) Putting things back on the shelves when you were shopping and decided not to buy them,
rather than making the already underpaid worker do it ( One of my daughters called me out on
this the one time I didn't")

2) Always being kind to people who perform services for you, such as ringing up your groceries, helping you to your car, or, later, when she was living at JK House of Grace in MD , thanking those who helped her to live in a community of friends. She could have had the attitude, as SOMEpeople do, that,

"Well, that's what they're PAID to do, it's their JOB,"

and not have shown any respect
or appreciation, but then, she would not have been so BELOVED by her many "adopted daughters"  in addition to her daughter by marriage, Rona, and by me. Mom showed us how to "MAKE IT A GOOD LIFE.

In this way, by little but meaningful acts of lovingkindness, she ALSO had a "HAPPY DAY",  her second message to us, because people would light up when they saw her, and vice versa.
Moreover, she knew the importance of daily self-care before it became a fad: she made time to read every night, even when we were young, snatching a few precious minutes for herself before
heading up to bed to be with her very passionate husband, my father Mel.

She also maintained her love of art and classical music, becoming an usher so that she could hear free concerts back when she was a teenager. A teenage Faye Chosky even convinced a young,
skeptical Mel Fischman that classical music was "Alright", especially certain pieces, such as Ravel's Bolero, and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition." All of us kids grew to appreciate music: from classical to jazz, to the Grateful Dead and classic rock, though it wasn't yet called that when we were growing up!

Another talent that got her through her life was needlework, whether it was crochet, crewel, "just" sewing or embroidery, every trip to Lake Erie found Mom with a project to work on.
Whether it was the Shabbat tablecloth from "the mansion" at 6340 Darlington Rd.,(which my husband Yoni and I have used for many years now), to the gorgeous tallit (prayer shawl) that she made for each of us, whether for a Bar Mitzvah, wedding, or entrance into the cantorate, we were, to quote a Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle writer, "Wrapped in a mother's love."
She made herself happy through her artwork, and she made the recipient feel happy, special, and loved.

Now to the final statement of that three-part blessing on her answering machine; "Shalom."

As I wrote this in the airport on my way back to Pittsburgh for her funeral) I realized that,,

"Duh, of COURSE it was a blessing and of COURSE it was three-fold: she WAS the daughter of a Cohen, the priestly tribe, after all !  

Faye Fischman truly was a peacemaker, a descendant in spirit and by lineage of Aharon ha Cohen, Aaron the High Priest,
who was said to have loved peace and to have pursued it; loved all of God's creations,and drawing them nearer to the Torah. Not by being preachy; just by being...herself.


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