The Evolution of Yiddish

“…study its form and structure, you discover its deliberate and fundamental artificiality – it is the language of people who are interested in ‘the maintenance of difference, the conscious preservation of the self and thus of strangeness.'”
— The New Yorker, p. 39, Nov. 10, 2008 issue

An article about Sidney Weinberg, the late leader of Goldman Sachs who came up from Brooklyn poverty to lead the financial world; looks at how outsiders profit by staying outside the main, by their very different qualities and sensibilities, by staying different instead of trying to blend.

Most of the time, I cling to the familiar and the quiet: staying at home on a weekend night with a blanket around my legs and a movie on the flat-screen TV. But when pressed to go out into the world – whether it’s to work the crowds at Hiller’s Family Day or to laugh so hard my eyes hardly open at John Heffron’s Comedy Castle show or to stroll along the fragrant wood chips of Tappan Middle School’s student garden and dine on just-picked chard and spicy mustard greens – I am ever happy that I went.

When I was growing up a secular Jew in the suburbs of Detroit, the ideal was to blend with the mainstream. To remain Jewish, but to cheer the high school team on at Friday night’s football game.

It was our family’s tradition to invite Gentile friends to the Passover Seder. The notion that we could accomplish anything in America, rise to uncharted heights, be just like anyone else, drove everything we did. And when I celebrated Christmas with John’s family in New Jersey, I ate salty summer sausage and sharp gouda cheese without thought. 

The one thing we didn’t realize was it was nearly impossible to get to the perceived top AND remain staunchly, observantly Jewish.

I’ve lived on both sides now and no longer believe it is possible to be everything at once. Like the time in my early 20s I realized I couldn’t be a CEO, first female President AND super-mom.

I see it now, too. I am running a company. A family. A self. When my kids are off school for in-service or conferences, it’s awfully hard to conduct a power-meeting. Or when the baby insists on attention, I can’t focus on planning a client’s event.

But plenty of children grow up close to their parents even when they endured latch-key after-hours or sunrise-to-dusk day care. And plenty of women attain the silver seat. Do enough observant Jews establish themselves on Wall Street or in retail?

I’m not criticizing my tradition, mind you. I love being Jewish, love the way my lit candles flicker on Friday night and the fact that my children look forward to Shabbat with a passion I never had for ritual when I was young.

I just can’t sustain the lock-the-doors, stop-all-business approach that orthodoxy dictates. Right now my balance of one-week-on, one-week-off is perfect enough for me. Because you know a candlelight yoga afternoon is just as rejuvenating as a cholent-induced nap.

Every day does not have to resemble the one before it. Every morning, I awake when my body has had enough rest and I rejoice in the new chance I’ve been given at life.

The series of moments takes me through the day to come. Driven by a sense of wonderment and awe, I remember all the fantastic times of my life until then, kept in a little velvet pouch inside me as a personal locus stone.

I permit myself to dream, too, of moments-to-come, but only briefly. For I am ever aware of the fact that what I hold in my hand is this moment only, this right-now, and if I waste it with worry or dread or regret, it, too, will disappear like the night.

And so today…I march into the dreary gray of almost-winter skies, and receive my children back at 11 a.m. with punch and vigor. Hugs abound. We meet my parents for brunch, then Asher and Eliana ice skate. We buy new stories at the Jewish book fair and groceries for a week’s worth of meals to sustain us.

Then return home as the sun sets to sup on soup and salad and crusty bread, turn the water on hot to bask in the settling-down, and finally clamber under blankets all together, with books, with unspoken reverence, for the moments we are absolutely, engulfingly together.

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