Friday, June 25, 2010

Shalom Bayit.

No, it’s not the name of the macaroni and ground chuck dish I hope to make for my husband, again, today. (It is his favorite.) It means peace in the home. Here, I guess, my home. While I have seen people in popular culture, TV, radio, books and the like, agree that yelling and screaming is good for you- I’m not really clear about how. I’ve also heard TV personalities swear and say mean things at each other and agree on some level that THIS is acceptable behavior!

When we were first married, my feelings were easily hurt if I felt like my husband didn’t consider my feelings before he did something or if he forgot about ME. These transgressions could be subtle. So over the years he has tried not to forget about my feelings or me when he makes a decision. I have to admit he’s become better at it over the years. He includes me in his daily life by talking, by letting me participate with him in classes and lectures, and by just keeping me abreast of what’s going on even when I’m not directly involved.

He always calls: when he’s going to be late, when he’s at the store, when I’m late and he’s worried. (Men take note.) Also, he let it slip once that he doesn’t love having coffee cups left around the house, but to his credit he hadn’t mentioned it since. Not even when I accidentally tipped a full cup onto the living room carpet. I thought it smelled delicious. I have tried, but the one on the end table right now tells a different story.

One morning, I got out of the house early to go to the bank with the Rabbi. He had a tax check with both of our names on it and they wouldn’t cash it with out my signature, my presence, and my ID. And I can kind of see the point, as I know that some men and women are not honest with their spouse about money. I tried to explain this to him, as clearly he felt bad. He takes it as a personal affront; something is wrong with him is the message he hears: The way he is dressed; the way he talks; the balance in his account. (It is none of these.) He wondered aloud, to me, if he was a town big shot or not Jewish would they be more cooperative? I wondered to myself, would they remember that his wife was rather annoyed and spoke sharply to the teller last year? (In my defense she was incredibly rude to us, especially my husband. Also in my defense, I’ve only yelled at one other person in the last three years, and for a similar reason. I also had to work up a head of steam, on purpose, as I don’t yell easily and because I felt this person richly deserved it. I am sure he thinks I am a little crazy.) Would I want to be a person who made him feel this way, rather than defending him? The answer is a resounding “NO”.

I’ve decided as I sit writing that I have to go home early and “make supper” as my husband has requested this when he dropped me off after the bank. He made it in an off the cuff sort of way, like a parting comment. Did he mean he wanted hot lunch? I can’t remember if there is something already made for him or not. He’s not terribly demanding about, well, anything.

I take care of the menu and he likes to eat meat everyday, so I try to make that happen. I take care of the laundry, mostly his dress clothes as in the past he has resorted to too much dry-cleaning. I take care of the bills and so have a separate account from his ‘slush fund’. I am good at this and I feel more secure knowing everything is done on time: the car note, the insurance, co pays, loans and I have money put away for the meat order, every two or three weeks. (Did I mention we live in a town without a kosher meat shop?) Since I took over the bill paying we have stopped arguing about money and we don’t have more of it.
I know he won’t be upset if I don’t come home and cook, but I’ll want to do it anyway. I sometimes feel that if I tell people I am going home to cook lunch for my husband they are judging me- negatively. After all, even he reminds me, he can cook his own lunch. And I am bothered that I worry about people viewing me as “old fashioned” or somehow “unenlightened”. I am also annoyed at the idea of other people assuming they know what is good for me or that they understand what it is I am creating in my life. Especially, when I look out in the world and see divorce, unhappy marriages, and men and women who act in demanding and demeaning ways to their spouse.

The Rabbi and I made an agreement before we were married that we would follow his job. And the result of that is that I am a housewife. (In some views I am unemployed; which has likely crippled my career, as I knew it.) There are no opened professional jobs in our small town. But I have to admit that staying home is not so bad. When my daughter was young I fought to stay home a little longer, and a little longer. One of my few regrets is that I worked too much when she was young (I had to) and now she lives on her own and I have no job. How’s that for irony. On some level, I also feel in retrospect that my loyalty to my job was a little over blown if not, at times, entirely misplaced. If I didn’t work so much, would I have been able to show her more patience? More nurturing? But I digress.

Early in our marriage my husband would become so upset if I cried. He truly believes that G-d counts the tears of women. He showed himself to be such a kind and gentle and protective husband. And really who doesn’t want that? So…I’ll try to remember that next time his cat pees in the clean laundry, or he next time he drops meat sauce on the TV room carpet. And I’ve long since given up on the idea of watching the big TV. Apparently it only shows sports. Maybe it’s in need of repair? But in all seriousness, these are the times to remember that I have a choice. Would it be better to fight about the TV or better if I just ask him if he wants some ribs when for when the game comes on? It depends on what I’m trying to create in my home.
One can talk about what’s bothering them, but it is best to pick and choose. If you or your spouse are always correcting each other, it will make things prickly at home. Anger, resentment, sarcasm, and bickering will poison any atmosphere. How one expends their energy matters! What if you looked for ways to make each other’s day better, ways to make your home more comfortable and peaceful?

Least you think I am a shrinking violet-I don’t have any opinions my husband hasn’t heard, in many cases quite a few times. Do I think he would let me use the big TV if I insisted? Probably. Is it easier for me to let go because I’m not crazy about TV anyway? Probably. Do I have moments that are not as generous? You betcha. But I’m working on them. Love, like peace in your home, is a choice we have to make everyday.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


It’s been my understanding that there is a social contract. The same mechanism that keeps one from asking inappropriate questions: Do you dye your hair? Did you lose a lot of money in the stock market? Are you and your husband separating? Also keeps people from making foolish, if not racist comments, even if they think them from time to time. This action is referred to in psychology as executive function. And we should all thank G-d for it everyday. It is the very same gift that keeps one from giving the wrong answer when your wife asks: Does this dress make me look fat? Having said that, it is also a measure, in its restrictions, of what is considered acceptable behavior.
Recently in the news, reporter Helen Thomas’ comments about sending the Jewish people in Israel back to Germany and Poland was shocking. You’ll remember Helen for her famed front row spot at White House press conferences. She was a longtime Hearst news columnist. Asked for a quote for video being shot at the White House at an event in celebration of Jewish American Month she said, among other things, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” (Imagine the outrage if someone said this about any one particular group in America.)
Also in the news, Facebook is being called to task by many of its members for not enforcing its own terms of use, specifically item 7 which states: “You will not post content that is hateful, threatening; or pornographic; or incites violence.” Yet there are many sites that are blatantly and violently anti-Jewish. (Some examples include: “Beware Zionist Monkeys”, “I hate Jews”, “I hate Israel”, “Kill the Zionists”, and so on. They are accompanied by often violent or otherwise disturbing visuals. CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, said, “We are very careful about not allowing hate speech,” in an interview in 2008 with the London Observer. If so why haven’t these sites been taken down? The positive news is that there is in circulation a petition to remove these sites from Facebook: you can sign it on line at on the article and a video will pop up with the petition below it.
Even in our own town (and possible in yours, as it was on the wire service) a recent editorial in his ‘isn’t it so sad about Helen Thomas’ article, in addition to the use of seemingly unrelated anti-Semitic quotes as references, suggested Israel’s prime minister could learn a thing or two from the flotilla. One suggestion was: that’s what he should have expected as a result of searching ships. Seriously? He should have expected to have soldiers attacked when they boarded a ship for a search that should have been routine? To put that in context of American culture: How would that play out in customs or even locally at an airport. “No, thanks very much, I will not be going through the metal detector or having my suitcase searched.” Perhaps, said journalist should give that a try and call me from prison to let me know how it went.
So back to executive function: I’m not suggesting that it is somehow better when people are disingenuous; I am saying that what people are willing to say out loud, or in these cases on camera, on line, and in the news media, respectively, are a reflection, a barometer if you will, of what people consider to be socially acceptable, and that’s a little scary. One might be tempted to think ‘not here’. And truly, I have some of the nicest neighbors, but these things ARE in our back yard, even if they are delivered there electronically.
I can’t help but stress the importance of speaking up whenever we see unjust acts and/or hate speech. (Even though I am sure many people do.) I feel like I have been catapulted back in time…I’m too tired of this, tired in my heart and in my soul. In light of these feelings, and in summation, a word often spoken by my young teen students in a moment of disbelief or incredulity comes to mind: Seriously?