Glory to the Motherland

And to the mother that celebrates it.

On Sunday, May 13th, millions of Facebook users will voluntarily, gladly, and proudly post photos of their mothers. Many will boast that their own mom is the greatest on earth. There isn’t a committee that provides definitive mother rankings, so I’m not inclined to believe any such claims. Besides, they may not have met my mom.

Any halfway competent judge of motherhood would easily place my mom, Rita Feldman, squarely in the top 10,000 in the world. And any expert judge of motherhood, would throw away the rankings, look her in the eyes, and say “thank you” for her contribution to the mothering arts.

It would be wholly appropriate to devote an entire year’s worth of B-Metros entirely to anecdotes of her child-rearing prowess, but I’d like to devote this month’s column to recognizing her impact on the communities she serves.

My family immigrated to Birmingham from Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1993. Like so many others living in Central Asian countries, we came as political refugees, a result of ethnic strife between the natives of those former Soviet Republics, and the Russians who were there during the time of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union officially broke apart in 1991, native Uzbeks were free to express their displeasure at non-Uzbeks living in their country, and it got to the point where we had to leave.

Leaving wasn’t easy on my parents. Not only because we left with a total of $340 between four people (my maternal grandmother came with us), but because the richness of Russian culture that they enjoyed was starkly missing from Birmingham.

When we got here, my dad found some odd jobs, and eventually worked to establish himself as a professional photographer. My mother, who was practicing cosmetology in Tashkent, began working long hours in salons. Her talent and work ethic led her to start her own business, Rita’s Touch, in 1998. Not only did she do skin care, she also infused a number of energy healing practices into her services. Back in the Soviet Union, my mom studied meditation and Reiki, a form of healing developed in 1922. Reiki practitioners use their hands as conduits for an energy that is transferred to the patient in order to encourage emotional or physical healing. As an incredibly intuitive, nurturing, compassionate, and psychically aware person, my mom has grown her natural healing ability by training in a number of techniques that have brought peace and understanding to hundreds of people in Birmingham over the last two decades.

And as she’s spending time cultivating the skills to bring healing to the inner lives of Birminghamians, she’s also working tirelessly to sustain the culture that our family was so unceremoniously removed from in the early 1990s.

My parents’ generation grew up on a particular genre of Russian singer-songwriter music, whose performers we call “bards.” The music is lyrical and sweet and poignant, and almost universally known and loved. Like many children of my parents’ generation, I too grew up listening to bards.

My family came during a wave of immigration to the United States by Russian Jews, and many of us ended up living in the same apartment complex together. I was part of a cohort of little Russian kids who went to the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, and who took Russian language classes and put on Russian plays based on folk tales and Pushkin’s poetry.

In this little Russian community, my mom was able to begin organizing concerts for Russian singer-songwriters on tour in America. Over the last 20 years, she has almost single-handedly kept the Russian community in Birmingham alive and entertained through her regular organizing of concerts for Russian singer-songwriters and poets as they tour the United States. The work is seemingly endless, and she does it simply out of the goodness of her heart and her passion for Russian culture. I can’t tell you how many famous, iconic artists she has brought to Birmingham, none of whom would ever even think of coming here if not for their friendship with her. The concerts usually take place at either the Emmet O’Neal Library in Crestline, or at the JCC. The audience is comprised entirely of people that my mom has individually emailed and called. Each email and phone call is filled with immense detail and praise for the performer, and an earnest guarantee that the concert will dazzle and delight. 

I’ve gone to countless of these concerts. My mom has instilled in me a love and appreciation of Russian culture that I’m immensely grateful for. She opened up a new world of friendships and possibility for me. And whether we’re traveling to Russia or Ukraine, or whether she’s hosting an iconic cultural figure in Birmingham, I’m consistently amazed at the respect and admiration people have for her. Oh, and she’s quite a talented singer herself, performing at Russian music festivals around the country multiple times a year.

Glory to the Motherland! And happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, especially mine.

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