While it might not be the most dramatic of biblical stories, the Book of Ruth has an interesting variety of characters and fates that can relate to any modern-day literature. There are Ruth-like scenarios in which the ingredients of the original story are rearranged to form a new story that draws from the original plot. In the timeless book or megillah, there are raw emotional circumstances that seem very current as loss of life and money, the humiliation of falling from grace in social status. You are following a princess to pauper, a matriarch to malnourished, a death of family to the birth of Mashiach.
It’s the topic of unnatural family members that lead to a highly unusual relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law that moves past mutual grief into eternal devotion. In the book, we are informed that the once grand dame of Israel, Naomi, has lost her husband and sons in their move to Moab. Leaving her poor, with two ex-princesses who are her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, is all that remains from a once well-established and important family.
It’s Ruth who chooses to cling to her mother-in-law despite common sense. These are her famous and haunting words from the text:
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you. For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d. Where you die, I will die; and there will I be buried.”
These words speak to me loudly and very personally, as I am blessed with a story of a mother-in-law of my own.
My real (maternal) mother abandoned me after my parents’ explosive divorce when I was just 18. She left me a scribbled note on our kitchen table, and I had no contact with her ever since. Starting at the age of 12, I struggled at my relationship with her, never understanding how G-d chose this particular mother for someone like me.
Thirty years later, I met Donna Schneier and became her daughter-in-law. Unfortunately, the marriage to her son ended abruptly, but a Ruth-like story actually began to take shape. Since the nature my public divorce took a very bad toll on me, it was Donna who nursed me back to life. She took charge of her position as mom, therapist, and fairy godmother, making quite certain that every detail of my life came back together after it was broken to pieces. All along the way, she taught me the true meaning of courage, self-worth, and perhaps most important of all, unconditional love. She became my MamaDonna.
Like Naomi, she taught me how you can start over with dignity, even when everything precious has been taken away from you. Like Naomi, she provided the matriarchal strength in the worst of times and in the best of times. Like Naomi, she was practical, calculating, and encouraging when involving finding a Boaz (again).
Like Ruth, I clung to every word and advice she gave me, because I knew that she had only my best interest in mind. Like Ruth, I knew I had only loss behind me and love in front of me, no matter what the circumstances would become. Like Ruth, I was certain she was reshaping my future.
As a child, I used to close my eyes and wish very hard enough for a different mommy; I probably manifested Donna’s arrival as an early exercise of “The Secret.” To me, she is the most stylish, spectacular, creative creature I’ve ever met.
She has taught me the appreciation, significance, and worth of creativity, craftsmanship, love, and truth in art, as well as humanity. There is an entirely other article I could write about her accomplishments and standing in the world of art and jewelry. Her personal art craft jewelry collections can be viewed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and other first-rate museums around the country. Her effortless and stylish influence is felt with family and friends alike. Her prestigious company, Donna Schneier Fine Arts, is highly respected by art forums, events, shows, galleries, collections, and museums worldwide. I know that I seem as if I’m gushing, but I’m always struck by her range of appeal.
It’s almost humorous when I read about the natural hate between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in the Gemara (Y’vamos and Shabbos). Yet, I struggle with the biblical mitzvah of Kibud Eim, honoring one’s mother. I do realize that it’s even more complicated, as I am an ex-daughter-in-law and she is my ex-mother-in-law. However, G-d, in His infinite wisdom, has untwisted a harmful chain of mother and daughter to a straight line of a meaningful happiness.
I realize that it’s an unbelievable story, so I’ll just let MamaDonna explain it in her own words:
“In keeping with the story of Ruth and Naomi, a favorite of Jews by choice, I have been blessed with a daughter by choice, my daughter-in-law Tobi, who has stood with me, sharing life with all its joys and sorrows. From sadness, a Phoenix arose to brighten my years.”
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.