In one of the several self-portraits my mother, the artist Shirley Moskowitz, drew or painted, she used collage material to enhance a print and tell autobiographical stories. The materials include old photographs of her family, snippets of old paintings and drawings, writings and other imagery evoking the memories of a lifetime. Prominent among them is the representation of Sabbath candles in silver candlesticks, placed on a white tablecloth. The image is slightly surprising, as I don’t recall ever seeing Mom light the candles on a Friday night — but she grew up in a home where they were part of the Shabbos routine, and many of the snapshots used in the collage date from those early years.
Self-Portrait, Shirley Moskowitz. Collage
My latest “Ruthless Cosmopolitan” column for JTA.org is about the web site we have set up to honor my mother, the artist Shirley Moskowitz Gruber, who died two years ago.
Mom is buried in a municipal cemetery shaded by palm trees. Like most of the other grave markers there, a simple, flat plaque rather than a standing tombstone denotes her resting place.
All that is written about her is her name and the years of her birth and death. And there’s a menorah, following the tradition of marking Jewish women’s graves with depictions of candlesticks.
But there is no epitaph. Nothing that tells about who she was, where she came from, how she lived or the way she was regarded.
The fifth commandment enjoins us to honor our fathers and mothers.
This year, as the second anniversary of Mom’s death approached, my brothers and I joined the growing ranks of children who now choose to honor their parents online, creating a Web site to celebrate our mother’s life and commemorate her. Also, since my mother was an artist, we wanted to share images and information about her work.
Essentially what we did with the Web site was to etch an epitaph for Mom in cyberspace, picking up on an age-old tradition of personifying the deceased through words chiseled into solid stone.
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