Reflections – Petite Essays



Each month, we ask community members to weigh in on a single topic. This month, in honor of Mother’s Day: Mom’s best advice.
To participate as a writer, email Keri Guten Cohen at and put “essay” in the subject line. Enjoy!

Heidi Budaj

My mom, Pat Balser, has lived her entire life in the South. All she taught me is tinged with a deep North Carolina drawl and Southern sensibilities.

One of my earliest memories is coloring quietly as my mom attended her Hadassah meeting. She taught me by example that it is my responsibility to make the world a better place and to support our community.

My mom’s cousins are like her siblings, and I grew up close to first and second cousins. She took care of her parents, in-laws and aunts and uncles. I call her friends aunt and uncle. She taught me family comes first and how to be a good friend.

She taught me about Southern hospitality, to make guests feel welcome and to set a beautiful table. One of the few recipes she mastered is her famous coffee cake, loved by her friends and mine.

If I can follow in her footsteps and be half as good of a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter and friend, and be the glue that holds our family together, I will have accomplished a great deal.

Heidi Budaj of West Bloomfield is a longtime Jewish professional now serving as director of ADL-Michigan Region. She and her husband, Jeff, have five children and two grandchildren.

Shari S. Cohen

This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mother, Phyllis Cohen, who died suddenly last May at age 90.

Some of the best guidance I received from her was not given directly as advice but by watching how she lived. She was particularly concerned about treating working people kindly — the waitresses, cashiers and the people who pushed her wheelchair at the airport.

She urged me to tip generously as a way to even things out financially, but also looked for other ways to recognize people working in low-profile jobs.

A few years ago, she adopted a policy of complimenting at least one person a day. It could be a particularly efficient lab technician, a sales clerk wearing a cute pin or a waitress with a great smile. Her intent was to make the individual feel appreciated and special. The recipient of her kind words often was surprised but always pleased.

A great mother is someone who supports you in ways big and small, and my mother’s warmth and generous spirit extended beyond her own family.

 Shari S. Cohen of Bloomfield Hills is a JN Contributing Writer and a communications consultant.

Joel Shayne

The best advice my mother, Sheila Shayne, gave me was to be a leader and believe in yourself.

When I was growing up, my mother was always busy in a whirlwind of activities. She was involved in too many things to mention here, so I will only highlight one memorable event.

Following her presidency of a local ORT chapter, Sheila became Special Projects Chair of the Milwaukee Region for ORT in the late 1960s. As a fundraiser, she arranged to exhibit the world premiere of the movie Hello, Dolly!

Prior to the screening, Sheila was part of the delegation sent to the airport to welcome Golda Meir, who was in town for a separate ceremony regarding the Fourth Street School (now Golda Meir School) that Golda had attended.

During their brief talk, Golda gave my mother a pin right off her jacket so she could auction it off and raise more money for ORT.

My mother always told me it is a mitzvah to give back and make the world a better place.

Joel Shayne of Farmington Hills is past president and treasurer of Congregation B’nai Moshe and past president of its men’s club. His wife, Ruth, also is an active volunteer at B’nai Moshe. Their son, Ben, and daughter-in-law, Ashley, have two children, Gabriel and Elliana.

Rochel Burstyn

My mum hates cooking and would rather do just about anything other than cook (or worse yet, bake). Funnily enough though, she’s an excellent cook.

She has a bunch of sayings that sum up her cooking prowess: “Just add some garlic and Bob’s your uncle!” “Nobody’s going to starve.” And “Just serve it; you’ll see, everything will get eaten.”

For my sister’s engagement party, my mum took out her dusty mixer and set about baking some cakes. Her white cake didn’t bake all the way through, but she frosted it and served it anyhow. All evening, guests were asking her the recipe for “that delicious cheesecake!”

It’s advice by osmosis: These days there are millions of available books, blogs and magazines with tips about fancy cooking made easy, plating elegantly and how to set an impressive table.

My mum’s theory is to cook the (always delicious!) basics, and then spend time with the family. I try to remember that, for my family, no amount of fancy miniature cakes can take the place of my undivided attention. (Plus, local bakeries rely on our business!)

Rochel Burstyn of Southfield is a native of Australia. She is a JN Contributing Writer. She and her husband, Jaron, have seven children.

Marjorie Saulson

For those whose mother has passed away, Mother’s Day can feel like another yahr-tzeit. Perhaps I feel this way because my mother, Florence Shuman, died erev Mother’s Day. As a result, I spent Mother’s Day 1984 getting my house ready for shivah.

Being asked to share her best advice is a gift that has invited me to focus on her legacy instead of on her loss.

Long before she verbalized her best advice, my mother exemplified it in her daily life. She treated every person she met, regardless of status, with courtesy, respect and caring interest.

Her advice to me before I became president of Congregation Shaarey Zedek Sisterhood was to stand near the door at every meeting and personally welcome every woman entering, and then to go around to each table during lunch to express gratitude for everyone’s attendance.

It was partly the support of many of those sisterhood women that enabled me to successfully lead our congregation in becoming egalitarian, a place where every woman’s voice is valued and treated with courtesy and respect.

Marjorie Saulson of Franklin is a speaking and messaging expert and president of Vibrant Vocal Power. She empowers reluctant speakers to become confident in any speaking situation.

Shari S. Cohen
Majorie Saulson
Rochel Burstyn & her Mom
Joel Shayne
Heidi Budaj
Jesse Gonzales
Jesse Gonzales 05.15.2017

Beautiful testimonies ladies. ♡♡♡♡♡