Every Sunday morning, at 8 a.m. on the dot, the bell rings. I call out, “Just a second, I’m coming.” Peering through the glass eye of the door, I see the slim figure of Eroda, our once-weekly household help politely standing a few paces back from the doorway so as not to appear impatient to enter our apartment.

Shavuah tov!” She wishes me a good week.

Shavuah tov! Eroda, how are you?”

“Thank G‑d, everything’s fine.”

“How are your parents and all your family in Uzbekistan?”

“They’re well.”

“And your daughter, the one who got married recently?”

“Good,” she replied, giving me the thumbs-up sign.

“How’s Savta?”

“Oh, better, she has a different pill, so she sleeps more and isn’t talking all night.”

“It’s hard,” I sigh, “for everyone. For her, for her family, for you … they’re lucky to have you as her caregiver. And I know they’re good to you, here you are in Jerusalem so far from home.”

We smile at each other, our eyes saying much more than we allow ourselves to express in words. Eroda asks if there’s a special cleaning task I want her to do that morning or if it’s the regular schedule.

“Just the regular,” I answer. “But, Eroda, before you start, have you had breakfast?”

“Yes,” she laughs, enjoying our routine questions.

“Have you had a drink?”

“Yes, a large coffee,” her hands indicate the size of the cup. “Aviva, ayn ka-moch (‘there’s no one like you’), always thinking about me!”

“Eroda, it’s not me! It’s my mother,” I tell her. “This is what I learned from my mother.”

As Eroda collects the cleaning equipment—bleach, window spray, rags, bucket—I reflect. I usually just carry on with my own routine on Sunday mornings, trying to keep one room ahead of her, putting books away, returning the Shabbat candlesticks to their everyday location, hanging up clothes.

But this time, I allow my mind to drift back to when I was in my early 20s, living in Manchester, England, and my mother had been diagnosed with cardiac disease. To make things easier for her, and for my father (he was also a heart patient), we had moved from a regular two-story house to asmaller ranch-style house. We also acquired extra help, Maureen, who came twice a week to do the cleaning.

Before my mother became ill, she had been an energetic, active housewife, taking pride in a clean and well-run home. I remember her running up the stairs of our former house, her arms full of clean laundry that she would fold and put back into the closets immediately. She didn’t like disorder.

Now frustrated and inactive, she had to spend most of her time in bed while an effective treatment program was worked out for her. So Maureen took over the scrubbing and polishing, vacuuming and other cleaning activities. I had been given a leave of absence from work while my mother was ill. I was responsible for shopping, cooking, laundry and the myriad other activities that my mother had done all the years when she was well.

To work out what needed doing each day, my mother and I had a meeting every morning. On the days when Maureen was due to arrive at 9 o’clock, I would be sitting on the edge of my mother’s bed a few minutes beforehand, ready to hear the already familiar instruction:

“First, make Maureen something to eat. She gets up early and takes Marianne to kindergarten and doesn’t have time to have breakfast. Ask her if she wants toast and a boiled egg, or some cornflakes or rice krispies. And make her a hot drink. Then she can start.”

Work commenced. At my mother’s prompting, in the middle of the morning, I asked Maureen if she would like a cup of tea. Before she was due to finish work for the day, my mother called to remind me to make her a sandwich before she went to collect her daughter from kindergarten.

So that was our routine on regular Maureen days. If for some reason Maureen had to bring her small daughter to work with her, my mother would give me a supplementary instruction.

“Heat up some milk for Marianne and make her a cup of cocoa. She likes cornflakes for breakfast with a lot of milk in the bowl. Then get out some paper and the crayons.” If the weather was warm enough, Marianne and I would go in the garden and play “catchers” with a soft ball.

Another thing my mother was scrupulous about was paying Maureen at the end of each morning for the time she had worked; she wouldn’t put it off until the end of the week. She also paid her bus fare, and I suspect she gave her a bit extra “just because” or with the excuse that it was pocket money for Marianne.

My mother had not had much formal Jewish education, but she knew that you had to do “the right thing.” As I grew up, and had the benefit of a wider and more intense Jewish education, I became aware that my mother’s “right thing,” which she had learned from her own mother, was instinctively rooted in Jewish tradition based on Jewish law.

Sensitivity to the unfortunate, such as the widow and orphan or the stranger, was at the forefront of her behavior to others. The Torah instructs (Exodus 22:20): “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This instruction is repeated many times throughout the Torah. Not only must the stranger not be wronged; he or she must be included in the positive welfare provisions of Jewish society. But the law goes beyond this; the stranger must be loved.

More than children learn from texts, they learn from living examples of what they see. Each Sunday morning, my mother is with me in spirit when Eroda arrives and we start our day with our familiar routine. In her footsteps, I am prompted to prepare a snack for Eroda, often a slice of the cake I baked for Shabbat. And when Eroda has, with her hard work, made our apartment as spotless and shining as my mother would have approved, I hear her signature end-of-the-morning phrase: Ani gamarti (“I’ve finished”).

I hand her her money—with a little extra for her granddaughter’s birthday—and, at that moment, I feel I have turned into my mother.