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Twelve Women on Tu B'shvat
Last Tuesday with my mother and 10 other women at the seder table in a private home in Pound Ridge, the host said, "It's great to see some new faces here."
"Who had a face-lift?" asked my mom, smiling.
I laughed hard, but no one else did.
That night was the one-month anniversary of Pat's and my return from India and I felt both more at home and more reverse-culture shock than at any other time since our arrival back in the States. Pat opted to hear Jack Cafferty interviewed by Sue Simmons at the 92nd Street Y, and so it was just my mom and me with 10 of our Hadassah chapter co-members.
The At-home Part
It was like being seven years old again. The chapter started in 1972 and sometimes I accompanied my mom at meetings, parking on the floor in a corner of the host's living room and playing with the contents of my red, plastic, Lego attache case. I don't recall the content of the meetings -- just how beautiful and/or glamorous several of the women were, including a number, who were there on Tuesday.
One of them had zero recollection of me, I could tell, when I exclaimed upon her arrival, "Mrs. Cohen [not her real name]!"
The other greeted me with, "You look great, really! And I wanted to ask after your partner...Pat. How is she doing?" (She has never met Pat, and hasn't seen me since my childhood, but I know she meant to be inclusive.)
When Pat and I decided to follow my mom's example, becoming life-members of Hadassah, we joined my mother's chapter, figuring we'd never go to any of the meetings, and so what did it matter that it was the Northern Westchester chapter (even though we lived in New Jersey)? We never aspired to go to meetings because we felt we'd be the only lesbian couple, participating, and that it would feel awkward for us, if not the other members.
The Tu B'shvat seder event, though, was a way to see my mom after work and before the semester started.
The Reverse-culture-shock Part
Just a month earlier, Pat and I were an absolute island unto ourselves of metro-New York, Jewish, suburban women, and that night by contrast was an embarrassment of riches. And the only privileged homes I had visited in the past six months were those of Indians, and looked nothing like this house in Pound Ridge, which looked and smelled completely like the homes I had gotten to visit, growing up, but which was overly-familiar compared to Bangalore, and so I felt a bit thrown off by, and mistrustful of, the ease of it.
Before we could get to the universally-appealing part of the evening -- the eating and singing -- there was fund-raising business that the host needed to attend to:
"Our quota has been increased by a lot this year and there are a number of great, upcoming events...dinner and a show for $100, and you don't have to go into New York and pay parking!" And then another opportunity for $36:
The brochure read: "The Westchester Region of Hadassah [the whole region and not my mom's chapter per se] invites you to join our Quest for Sex-cess, featuring Dr. Silkaly 'Lovey' Wolchok, expert sex therapist. Find out everything you always wanted to know about sex...ual health and well-being but were afraid to ask! It'll be a fun-tastic evening! Hope you'll be there..."
My mother said quietly, "Thank God," as the host read the description aloud to the group, and again, only I laughed. More culture shock: There was no way that I could imagine a typical women's organization in India, putting together such an event.
At home later, I handed the brochure to Pat and said, "Let's go!"
We smiled at each other and then I said, "If they considered that some of their members were lesbians, would they have offered such a program? Could you imagine? Never....We should go!"
Invisible or Mysterious Love Beat Bad or No Love
At the table while we were eating almonds, one of the traditional foods of the holiday, I mentioned to the resident Hadassah staffperson how I really wished that Hadassah would send just one magazine to our home each month, addressed to both of us, rather than two, addressed separately.
She said that she had already called the New York office and that they said they couldn't fix the computer-generated lists, and besides, it wasn't that expensive to send two.
Another member, who was listening said, "My daughter [who lives with the member] and I get two, too, and they just can't seem to fix it, but it's all right."
"How would you feel if your husband and you received separate mailings from an organization that both of you belonged to?"
"We do. We belong to a computer society and it just comes to us twice."
OK. Maybe my shoulder-chip didn't need to be quite so big. I let it go...and then I also remembered the initial moments of the seder, while everyone was still talking around the table.
People were bragging about dishes they liked to cook and I offered to the woman across from me, "My partner's the cook in our family."
A woman to my left said, "My nephew and his partner of 25 years are going to have a ceremony."
"That's great; my partner and I have been together for 15 years," I said, hoping she wouldn't ask if we had had "a ceremony," too.
Instead, she responded, "I don't really know what it will entail...." perhaps hoping that I could provide a sneak preview for her. I had no idea what it would entail either. She meant well, but ought to have kept that statement as a thought just inside her own head.
Finally, we got down to business: reading and singing from a photocopied, scripted liturgy, which helped us celebrate the holiday of the new year for trees; in Israel, springtime is beginning soon.
A number of us also spoke of the significance of trees in our lives, including one member, who told us how she included branches from a crab-apple tree for her daughter's chuppah (marriage canopy); neighbors had given them the tree when she was born, since she was a girl, and the tree's blossoms would be pink. "Too bad the marriage didn't last...." she said dolefully.
As my mom and I were leaving, Mrs. Cohen (not her real name) hugged me warmly, as though she had remembered me during the evening and now felt affection for me. I asked if she was a grandmother yet.
"No, my girls don't have anyone."
I reassured her: "Don't you read 'The New York Times' wedding announcements every week? I do and for the past decade or longer, I've noticed that the ages are about 10 years older on average than they used to be."
While driving home, I thought of my gratitude for Pat, so that my mother didn't need to say, "She doesn't have anyone."