While it might not be the most dramatic of biblical stories, the Book of Ruth has an interesting variety of characters and fates that relate to any modern-day literature. There are Ruth-like scenarios from the original story that are rearranged to form a new story drawing from the original’s plot. In the timeless book, there are raw emotional circumstances that seem very current, such as loss of life, money, social status, and the humiliation of falling from grace. You are following a princess to a pauper, a matriarch to a malnourished, the death of family to the birth of Moshiach (Messiah).
It is the story of unnatural family members that leads to a highly unusual relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. It moves past mutual grief to eternal devotion. In the book, we are informed that the once Grande 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. That is all that remains of a once prominent family.
It is Ruth who chooses to cling to her mother-in-law despite that common sense would dictate otherwise. 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 loudly and very personally to me because I am blessed with the great story of my own mother-in-law.
My biological mother abandoned me after my parent’s explosive divorce when I was just eighteen. She left me a scribbled note on our kitchen table as her goodbye, and I have had extremely limited and painful contact with her since. To compensate at that young age, I created a fantasy of the mother I wished for to sooth the reality I survived. Starting from age twelve, I struggled in my relationship with her, never understanding how G-d chose this mother for me. Today, I have released the anger, replacing it with forgiveness, which opened a new path to realizing my self-worth. I will leave the story right here.
Thirty years later, I met Donna Schneier and I later became her daughter-in-law. Unfortunately, the marriage to her son ended badly, but the Ruth-like story began in its place. Since my public divorce took a hard toll on me, it was Donna that nursed me back to life. She took charge of her position as mom, therapist, and fairy godmother, making sure that every detail of my life came back together after it was broken to pieces.
She taught me the true meaning of courage, self-worth and perhaps most important of all, unconditional love. She became my Mama Donna. Like Naomi, she taught me how to start over with dignity, even when everything precious has been taken away from you.
Like Naomi, she provided me matriarchal strength in the worst of times and in the best of times. Like Naomi, she was practical, calculating and encouraging when I was finding a Boaz (again). Like Ruth, I clung to every word and the advice she gave me, because I knew that she had 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 be. Like Ruth, I was certain she could reshape my future.
As a child, I used to close my eyes and wish 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 have ever met. She taught me the appreciation, significance and value of creativity, craftsmanship, love, and truth in art, as well as life.
Donna Schneier is a worldwide force in art jewelry. Her personal collection was gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art several years ago with a perfectly curated exhibit of her own. She began collecting post-World War II international jewelry in the mid-1980s, beginning with pieces by artists such as Robert Ebendorf and Otto Kunzli, and since then continued to collect museum-quality works. Her passion for art jewelry has transformed the importance of the category in major museums around the world. She continues to nurture, inspire, collect, and sell jewelry from designers that push the boundaries of materials, scope, texture, and message. Her elegant style is seen in everything she does in home decor, table spaces, cooking and wardrobe. She enhanced everything I thought I knew. I bow to her taste level and applaud her influence in my life. She is a gift to me.
It is funny when I read about the natural hate between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in the Gemorah (Yevamot and Shabbos). I struggle with the biblical Mitzvah of Kibud Am, honor your mother. I realize that it is complicated because I am her ex-daughter-in-law and she is my ex-mother-in-law. G-d, in His infinite wisdom, has untwisted what was a harmful maternal chain of events into a straight line of connection and happiness with Mama Donna.
I realize that it is an unbelievable story, so I’ll just let Mama Donna 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,” Donna Schneier.