Twenty years ago, a literary-agent friend gave me a copy of a book that was “hot off the press” and had been signed by the famous author.  I grabbed the volume with both fists and quickly scanned the jacket for a sneak-peak at the promised magic within, only to gasp aloud, slam the cover shut and put it away until I felt strong enough to read it two decades later.
The story dealt with a woman who was becoming divorced and painstakingly described the ensuing battle for custody of the children.  My marriage was, at that time, still intact but there were enough solid hints about a crumbling future; my greatest nightmares were spelled out on the pages of the gift tome.  Why would I want to immerse myself in a story that caused me to shake, cry and cower?  I wouldn’t.  I didn’t.
An ironclad determination not to take on additional emotional baggage has served me in good stead over the years; pragmatic, clear-thinking, selective in both love and friendship, I prefer to keep my home fires burning with and for those to whom I am tied through birth and marriage.  I deliriously steer clear of gossip, scandal and Hatfield/McCoy type feuds.  This is not easy for someone who is descended from hot-blooded stock, i.e., passionate Russian wagon drivers.
Hysteria seems to be my genetic birthright and, consequently, I’ve spent decades taming my personal shrew.  Caller-ID has proven itself to be a powerful tool for alerting me to incoming “rage-calls” from people who want to lambaste their employers, ex-spouses, ex-spouses’ new spouses, landlords and unscrupulous fruit vendors.  I can’t go there anymore.
Waging a one-woman battle against meanness can be pretty lonely at times.  Israel television has proven that there is no low in programming that is low enough.  The imported programs are so laden with bottom-of-the-barrel sediment that I’ve come to miss the days when I lived without the electronic convenience.  Programs like America’s Top Model, Real Housewives of New Jersey and/or New York, Project Runway and American Idol are so mean.  The meaner, uglier and snarkier the programming, the more the ratings climb.  In the almost five decades since the advent of the Feminist Movement, the celebrated television babes do not appear united in fighting exploitation.  Au contraire, mon frere!  Sniping, “cat-fights,” name-calling and devising sneaky machinations in order to “get the guy” are de rigeur.  What has happened to us that we do not view one another as cut from the same cloth, sharing the same longings, wanting for ourselves and others the same things from life including love, respect and quality relationships?
An acquaintance recently shared with me that her landlord only gave her thirty days to evacuate her apartment after the death of her husband.  “What gall!” she cried.  “I have barely gotten up from shiva, and he wants me to move!  On top of that, he asked if I can allow people to see the place – at my convenience – so he doesn’t lose any precious rent.  I’ll show him!!!  It will never be convenient for me!  I’ve already told two people that they can see the place after I’m gone.”
Anyone hearing this tale of woe and indignation might feel equally irate toward the landlord, but why is it that we are only enraged when it is convenient for us but never for the dignity of someone else?  It was ultimately revealed that this woman and her husband paid rent only sporadically, were asked to leave four months earlier for failing to keep their end of the contract and had 30 days left on the generous four-month period the landlord had given them to find a new place.  Even more astounding, the landlord never raised their rent in the nearly eight years they lived in his unit.  He was entitled by law to almost triple their contracted lease-sum but did not.  With a little twist in the telling, the landlord became more heinous than Ebenezer Scrooge!
Seriously, I think I’m losing it.  The morning paper comes, and I read about Members of Knesset telling other elected members to “shut up” and “go back to,” (take your pick): Gaza; Poland; Auschwitz; Jordan; and Hell.  Others don’t like being heckled and pour water on the respective heads of the hecklers.  Israeli soldiers are called Nazis and ultra-Orthodox Jews called parasites.  Girls dressed in modern clothing are charged with being “prostitutes,” and those of us who pay their taxes, cross at the green and stand in line at the bank are mockingly referred to as friers (Yiddish for “suckers”).  The air today is thick with bile, and trying to escape often feels fruitless.  Picking up a light-read for Shabbos, I suddenly discovered that an author I’d previously loved is just plain mean; every clever line and thought uttered by the Cosmo-Girl-On-The-Go heroine is a gum-cracking aside that takes pot shots at other people’s weight, hair colors, decorating styles, education, religiosity, love life, politics and parenting.  Only three chapters in, I suddenly felt sick and tossed it on the give-away pile.  There was enough “mean” out there without my inviting more into my home.
Jewish daily prayer exhorts us to become oblivious to the slights and barbs of others and includes an optional segment where we ask forgiveness for both our deliberate and unintentional transgressions with a “fill in the blank” section.  More and more frequently I find myself spilling out pleas that I stop talking cruelly about people, treat everyone with the same kindness and dignity that I long for and that God shows to me; that I continue to vigilantly “run from” slander and hearsay and never, ever be an “enabler” to those who smear the honor of others.  The challenge I’ve assigned myself is daunting, but if there is any hope to repair some of the damage that I’ve brought into this world via callousness and guile, then let it start by uninviting gossip columnists, back-biting starlets, fashionistas and yentas from my orbit.
Offering fewer opinions and enjoying the silence of a meow-free day is so liberating that it defies explanation.  To revel in the success of others and not give a hoot about what others are wearing/eating/reading is better than liposuction.  Believe me; I know.  Because I’m a Real Housewife of Jerusalem!


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