Archives for May 2005

The Runaway Bride

Now it can be told: I was a runaway bride

Well, gee whiz… what’s so new about a bride running away? It’s exactly what I did.

I grew up in a home with the quintessential Jewish mother. Just getting up in the morning made me feel guilty. I was afraid to make myself anything more elaborate than coke for breakfast because it might change the karma of the kitchen. I remember my mother’s sense of betrayal when I chose to study philosophy instead of elementary education (which was what girls were supposed to study!). Only her friend’s comment, “she must be smart to study philosophy” made it OK.

In my social setting in the 1960s, the only way to be able to become an adult and make independent decisions was to leave home. But back then, a woman didn’t leave home until she went away to college (and since my parents were paying for college, they were able to prevent that), or get married.

So it was no shock to anyone who knew me well that by 19 I was engaged. When the engagement didn’t result in a wedding, I knew that I needed to get moving once again and so at 20, I got married.

And then I ran away……

with my husband to start a new life together…. And so far, it’s worked out, but we’re only 38 years into it.

My cousin Diane or The internet as a human lost and found

A few years ago I was living in Jerusalem while my husband was living in the US. The nights stretched out long and I had difficulty sleeping. It was then I began my hobby of genealogy.

I am an armchair genealogist. Anything that I don’t have to get out of my chair for is something worth exploring, but it if involves any real effort… well…

When my husband and I decided to get married, I went to meet my prospective in-laws. My mother-in-law told me about their family. They had some impressive relatives. She asked about my family. I knew of no one who was particularly noteworthy. When I came home and asked my father, he said, “Tell her you come from a long line of horse thieves.”

Well, there really weren’t any horse thieves that we knew of, but we certainly had no famous scholars, inventors, writers, artists, composers, and certainly no rabbis, so why would I make the effort to do any real digging? What I really wanted to know was what life was like for those people I did know about—my grandparents and my great-grandparents. Although I was born after the death of all of my great-grandparents, I was still eager to know as much as I could about them.

By the time I started searching, my parents had already passed away. I questioned my uncles, but they didn’t give me very much information.

One day I was sitting and thinking about where I could find additional information and I remembered that when my husband and I had lived in Pittsburgh, we had gotten in touch with cousins of my maternal grandmother. Perhaps they had information about my great-grandmother. I wondered if I could find them.

Here is what I remembered: We met them sometime in the 1970-1972 timeframe. My grandmother’s cousin’s name was Clara. She had a daughter named Sandy. Sandy had a daughter who had her “bas torah” at Rabbi Chinn’s synagogue in McKeesport, PA. That was it. That was everything. And, one of the facts was wrong.

I posted this information to the Jewish Genealogy newsgroup and within a day, I received a letter from a girl named Lara (who, coincidentally, had been in camp with my daughter Leah a couple of years earlier). Lara told me that her grandmother was a member of that synagogue and that her grandmother would be able to look at the plaques in the synagogue that list the Bas Torah girls and look at the 1970-1972 timeframe and she would know who had a mother named Sandy. Lara was living in Baltimore. She wrote again that day and told me that she had decided to go back to McKeesport to visit her grandparents that weekend and that she would be back in touch with me.

On that Sunday or Monday, I received a note from her telling me that my cousin would be contacting me and within a very few hours, I got a note from her.

But it wasn’t Sandy who wrote; it was Diane, the little girl I met all those years ago. She was grown up and my age now… OK, so I exaggerate a bit…

Diane called me from the US to talk and it was amazing. As we talked, it seemed to me that we were more like sisters than distant cousins. She remembered having visited our home in Pittsburgh and having studied with my husband. She had wanted to find us for 30 years and here we were, reunited through the internet through the kindness of Lara and her grandmother who cared enough to help.

Diane and her husband came to Israel to visit. We enjoyed touring with them, traveling to the Sea of Galilee and eating fish at a lovely restaurant at the water’s edge. We had a wonderful day taking them to Masada, to the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi, and to dinner at Mitzpe Yericho, a community overlooking Jericho, and watching the sun set over the Judean desert. We loved having them with us and have remained close.

As to genealogy: Although we are distant cousins (her great-grandmother and my great-grandfather were sister and brother), it’s amazing the physical traits and the character traits we have in common. We have the same warped sense of humor and we share the same values and lifestyle.

And my world is a much nicer place because of my cousin Diane.

Gardening and parenthood

One of the reasons I recommend the Writer’s Almanac is that it opens my eyes on a daily basis to the thoughts and points of view of others. Today’s poem “An Observation,” which can be found on the site, is about the tenderness of the gardener’s hand with the roots and the shoots of plants and how that ungloved hand, nurturing and protecting the plant is vulnerable to scratches and thorns. The last line reads “Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.”

I think of raising children and how one needs to be gentle so as not to bruise the tender growing sense of self of the child, but at the same time how parents sometimes feel emotionally beaten and abused in the process. Every parent at some point wonders if it’s worth it. Sometimes it seems that the gentler a parent is, the more scratched and scraped he or she is.

All of us developed within a framework of limits. In some families, the limits are very wide. “No, you may not have a 4th piece of cake.” And in some families the limits are very narrow, “You will sit at the table until you eat that last piece of okra; we do not waste food in this house.” Parents need to determine for themselves which behaviors are permitted and which are prohibited. Then they need to be gentle. They need to remain firm and consistent, but they need to be gentle.

Of course that means remaining ever vigilant as to our impact on our children’s developing sense of self and it means making ourselves vulnerable by listening to and empathizing with their feelings. However, it is our gentleness especially when our children are at their least lovable, that will nurture them and enable them to develop into the kind of people we hope they will be.

Connections

This is a pretty lonely world. We are born into families who are there to love us and to nurture us, and if we are lucky, we learn to feel secure when we are with our parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. They provide a safety net for us and help us learn which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Their responses are the cues that help us to develop social skills.

Later in life, we are not held in the family in the same protective way. If our parents have been able to acknowledge our emerging maturity, then we are more and more on our own—to make decisions, to figure things out, to plan, and to work at what we value. The freedom to choose is good and natural, but it removes us from the childhood cocoon.

However, we never really leave our parents and those we are close to. Their ideas, adages, and phrases remain with us for our entire lives. Karl Tomm, a well-respected family therapist has posited that the notion of an individual as a closed, self-contained unit, is an illusion. In fact, he believes that we incorporate into ourselves bits and pieces of all of the people in our lives who have been significant to us. He calls those parts of other people that become parts of us too “the internalized other.” When we remember what our mother would have said in a current situation or what our father might have quipped, we are hearing in ourselves that internalized other.

Likewise, we spread ourselves around to all of the people with whom we have significant relationships. They may say, “I remember your saying….” Or “when I am upset, I think about what you would tell me to do.” This he calls “the distributed self.”

Karl Tomm uses those concepts (or at least did when I heard him several years ago) to help couples understand how their spouse is feeling and what motivates him or her to act. When I saw him working with the concept in a case demonstration, I was unbelievably impressed. However, what touched me even more was the spiritual aspect of his theory. It helps me to understand how we human beings interconnect, how people we love never really are gone because they reside in us, and most of all, how important it is to be careful about what we say or do to others. Our words are uttered in a moment, but their impact can last many lifetimes.