Monday, November 09, 2009


Ever since I helped Jurassic Vassilievitch get a 21st-century haircut (which has completely reverted to type by now), I've been trying not to try to change him too much. It's not fair to him, and it might not always be justified. The haircut was a badly needed and fairly obvious change. Challenging his religious practices and beliefs might not be as warranted.

Similarly, JV's trying not to try to change me too much, unless he feels it's strongly warranted. Which sometimes includes my religious practices and beliefs. Since his education in this area exceeds mine -- he's a big reader of nonfiction books on Jewish history and philosophy; I tend to read murder mysteries and articles about substance abuse treatment -- I'm having trouble arguing with him.

Yesterday, we twice came close to an argument over food. First, JV picked me up and took me to lunch at a very mediocre fish restaurant in Jersey. He spotted something on the dessert menu that he thought was hilarious and pointed it out to me: a deep-fried Milky Way bar.

I started hyperventilating. Ever since I learned about deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers bars a few years ago, in a New York Times article about country fairs, I've been dying to try one. I assumed the only place you could get one was at the fair -- and those venues usually aren't kosher. But this restaurant is.

"I want that!" I cried.

"You're not having that," JV stated flatly.

Russian fathers. So directive. I laughed. "It's cute," I said. "You think that because you sometimes get your way this time around, you always get to tell me what to do. This is not your area."

(We decided -- well, I decided -- that JV is more skilled and knowledgeable in certain "areas," such as fixing things, Russian language and culture, and getting places without getting lost, whereas I am more skilled in other areas, such as psychotherapy, clothing and hairstyles, and food. So when a question comes up and a decision needs to be made, it makes more sense to defer to the person whose area it is. By and large we stick to this agreement.)

"In this case I do," he asserted. "I'm not letting you eat that heart attack on a plate."

"Not letting me?" Normally that kind of statement would infuriate me, but it's difficult to contest when what I want is so patently not what I need.

"You know when you can have one of those?" he asked.

"My birthday?"

"I'm taking you someplace nicer for your birthday," JV said, glancing behind himself to make sure the proprietor wasn't within earshot.

"Chanuka?" I asked. That would actually be kind of appropriate; it's the festival of fried things.

"When you get your cholesterol level down to a number that doesn't need to be medicated," said JV. He crossed his arms and smirked. He was pleased with himself, and rather pleased that the kosher restaurant was so bad.

Unfortunately, I couldn't argue with him because he was completely justified. "You were much more compliant in college," I grumbled.

"You don't know what you've got till it's gone," he retorted. True enough. And I didn't like always being in charge back then. It's still an adjustment letting him make some of the decisions.

I had wanted to take him for another haircut, but unfortunately there were no salons open that he felt comfortable entering. (The ones that were open tended toward the "ethnic," and JV didn't want to risk leaving with his hair in cornrows.) We shopped for some jeans for him, which I probably enjoyed a lot more than he did, and desk chairs and a bookcase for his kids.

"What do you want for dinner?" JV asked as we drove away from The Door Store. It was about 6 p.m., and quite dark. I was feeling a little subdued, as I often do at night during the winter.

"Whatever you want is fine," I said. He glanced over at me, startled.

"Are you okay?" he asked warily. I'd been quiet for the past half-hour as JV and the loading dock employee tied the bookcase to the top of the car -- physics and other practical things are definitely his areas.

Based on what I knew about his previous marriage and ex-wife, Mara, I sensed he thought I was incubating resentment that would eventually lead to a very unpleasant explosion. "I'm not being passive-aggressive," I said. "I know some women say they're fine and expect men to figure out what's bothering them and fix it. I don't have the patience for that tactic. If I'm mad, I'll tell you and tell you how to fix it. If I say I'm fine, I mean it. Or I'm not, but there's nothing you can do except give me space and give it time."

"Okay," said JV, not sure he believed what I was saying but hoping I meant it. "What do you want for dinner?"

"Whatever you're in the mood for," I said.

"It's your area," he said. "And you've been really nice all day."

"I'm supposed to be nice to you," I said. "I'm a better girlfriend this time around."

"Doesn't mean I shouldn't appreciate it when you're nice," he said.

"Well, thank you for the validation, and it wouldn't kill you to tell me I'm pretty once in a while," I said.

"You're beautiful," he said. "What do you want for dinner?"

"I'm up for anything," I said. I wanted him to make the decision. When I'm mildly depressed it's hard to make decisions, so I actually don't mind people telling me what to do. It's reassuring and makes life easier.

"In the mood for more fish? How about salmon?" he asked.

"Fine with me," I said. We went to the supermarket, and I talked him out of farm-raised and heavily dyed "Atlantic" salmon in favor of "wild catch." (My area, after all.) He made the salmon, I made some rice. And we had an argument about Jewish weddings.

I honestly am not sure how the topic came up. I know I asked him what his wedding to EE was like, but I can't remember why I asked. I don't think it came out of nowhere. Doesn't really matter, because he was willing to discuss it. And it wasn't so much an argument as his insistence -- again -- that it's not important to follow Jewish rituals and traditions to the letter.

"A wedding is your first statement of who you are as a couple," JV said. "It's more meaningful if it reflects who you are, rather than just an impersonal ceremony. I prefer something more egal."
To me that sounded kind of like do-it-yourself, make-it-up-as-you-go-along Judaism. Of which I am not a fan. But I couldn't really explain why the ancient rituals mean so much to me.

"Tell me, my dear," JV continued, "which rabbi said that the wedding ring should be placed on the bride's right forefinger?" This is another example of where his Jewish education (but not his faith) outstrips mine.

"Rambam?" I guessed.

"No," said JV. "Rav Aristotle."

Logic is clearly one of his areas. "So what would you want to do?" I asked him. "Write your own vows?"

"No, but I would want to follow the example that friends of mine have set," he said.

The discussion didn't really go anywhere -- honestly, there was nowhere for it to go, since we're not actually planning a wedding. I'd like to think that it brought us closer to negotiating a compromise, but I can't really say that it did. Still, dinner was lovely, and the day overall was pretty nice. I guess it's more of a process than a switch.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. A solid relationship is based on mutual love and respect. Jewish law is important to you. It is not important to him and he is not interested in making it important to him. Therefore he doesn't respect you. If Jewish law and ritual are important to you, instead of trying to convince you otherwise, he should be looking for ways to incorporate what is important to you into his life. You are asking for trouble if you continue with someone who doesn't respect you. If your significant other likes Feng Shui, and you love and respect them, you try to make it important to you too. That's the way relationships work.

  2. Whenever he's ready to meet your friends, I'd like to meet him. I suspect that he & I agree on an awful lot of stuff related to religion and the religious establishment, except that I still adhere to the practice even if I don't believe in all of the dogma. I could tell him my thinking on why I stay with Orthodox practice - maybe it'll help him be willing to compromise on some things with you.

  3. It cuts both ways, TL. What JV values is derech eretz and treating people with respect. Conversely, he dislikes institutions and organizations that don't meet that standard.

    And part of the problem is that at this point in my life, I'm having trouble justifying my practices. To myself or anyone else. Going along with JV is starting to look like the path of least resistance, even if it means not getting deep-fried Milky Ways when I want them.

  4. When are you next in New Jersey, DYS? ;) That would be really awesome. Really, really, really, REALLY awesome.

    I hate thinking that I need people to fight my battles for me, but this isn't one of my areas.

  5. I disagree with TL. He's not disrespecting you. He knows about the origins of some rituals, and feels confident questioning our robotic adherence thereto. Great. But some things are actually grounded in halacha, or in millennia-old tradition, and those are less subject to deviation. You just have to know which are which.

    In terms of wedding protocols - the whole thing is very fungible. I love that word. We don't *have* to read the ketuba. We don't *have* to sing 'im eshkacheich.' I was just at a sefardi wedding where neither party was particularly traditional, and they, together with the rabbi, essentially did make it up as they went along.

    I think it's great when couples innovate within the framework of acceptable practice.

    And I like the story of your weekend. And perhaps one day you'll get your deep-fried dessert.

  6. all I have to do is lower my cholesterol, Carmen, and he has to get me a deep-fried Milky Way

  7. deep-fried Milky Way

    Ugh. I agree with JV on this one. Instead, think "yum! Chocolate yogurt!"

  8. Ayelet,

    My missions to the garden state are a closely guarded state secret. I will contact you in a covert manner (meaning FB or email)

  9. Different strokes, DYS. I reserve the right to my deep-fried Milky Way. I just have to lower my cholesterol by about 50 points. I can understand why your Jersey jaunts are top-secret; we'll discuss it off the blog ;)

  10. Your beginning to read like the younger Howard Stern and his marriage with his first wife but without the sex.

  11. I'm guessing that's neither a compliment nor a good omen, Anonymous.

  12. Ayelet, I'd love to meet JV too. He's welcome to come over to our place for a meal sometime. I promise not to talk religion, unless you want me to do so.

    It sounds like you are trying to give each other space and not foist your opinions on one another. But, given that you are both smart and opinionated, that will take some work!

    Don't have an inferiority complex about your religious knowledge! (BTW I googled the thing about Aristotle and could not find the reference) I'm with Carmen: it's important to know the difference between custom and halacha. There's a healthy dose of both in religious practice.

    But bottom line is, I'm glad you guys are getting along so well. You've got plenty of time to sort out the finer points.

  13. I did just find this:

    'Engagement rings started in classical period where Aristotelian natural sciences believed that a vein from the finger of the left hand was linked directly to the heart, so a ring worn on that finger was representative of being directly linked to the heart. In Western culture the ring was introduced as a symbol of betrothment after the Pope Innocent III, who ruled around 1215, introduced a period of waiting before people were married.'

    So what JV was talking about actually refers to engagement rings, not the wedding ring under the Chuppah. I think engagement rings are not a Jewish custom, but not prohibited either. It's the wedding ring that counts. And Aristotle advocated the left hand, not the right. Apparently the right hand has some kabbalistic significance.

    None of this matters, except to say again, you guys should focus on what matters--how you feel about each other--and cut each other slack on the rest.

  14. FTT, obviously I need my friends to participate in every conversation I have with JV ;)

    In all seriousness, I would love to have JV meet you and the Mr. This month is crazy for him, lots of family obligations, but I think we're going to spend our next Shabbat together on the West Side, rather than Jersey.

  15. Hello hello! Can I just say... I LOVE THIS POST. You sound so happy, and relaxed, and good, Ayelet.

    Definitely agree with Carmen, and as usual, with From the Trenches.

    There are a lot of halachic and traditional rules that are bendable. There are a few that aren't. Don't be a stickler for the ones that don't matter as much, and ask JV to try to respect the really important ones. I think that's a very reasonable compromise.

    Judaism SHOULD be about innovation, connecting to God in your own way, on your level. If you can do that in a way that doesn't ignore halacha or ridicule it... then by all means... that's fantastic.

    By the way, I see this as a very positive attitude from JV towards Judaism. Not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but knowing that a whole lot of it is bathwater... and that's coming from someone who is very, very emotionally tied to ritual.

    Judaism welcomes the individualist. Current norms within the Jewish community don't. I think that's terribly sad and destructive, and as I've learned/discussed with friends and study partners, this may be part of a "galut effect" where people are afraid that their Judaism will disintegrate if they give it more natural growth and flow. Rigidity is really not what Judaism was meant to be...

    You two sound great together. More than ever, I'm cheering you on. Sounds like you've got other cheerleaders too.

    God bless and have fun.


  16. I'm cheering too!! It sounds like JV really cares about your well-being, and S put it perfectly, "By the way, I see this as a very positive attitude from JV towards Judaism. Not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but knowing that a whole lot of it is bathwater." You are learning which battles are worth fighting and which are not.
    Every truly healthy relationship is built on this knowledge as well as mutual trust and respect. I see the potential for all three here in your conversations with JV.
    Just make sure that you both respect what is essentially important to the other without sacrificing what is essentially important to you, and know which battles to fight. Always look at the big picture and the spirit behind the words to guide you there.

  17. I'm sorry, but the "you can't have the Milky Way" throws up a big red flag for me.

    You're an adult. He can say he wishes you wouldn't do it (whether it is because of cholesterol, weight, or because the notion of a battered fried candy bar is something he finds distasteful), but he shouldn't be saying "you can't".

  18. Dave,

    I'd agree with you if I didn't know Ayelet for many years and know that she is no pushover. She has a strong personality and does well in a relationship with another strong personality. If Ayelet were a weak-willed pushover, you're right, JV's forbidding her to do things would be a problem. But I'm sure that had she really wanted to do it, Ayelet wouldn't have felt intimidated from getting up and buying that deep fried chocolate.

  19. Well put, DYS. I didn't like JV when he was a pushover, and now I'm crazy about him ;)

  20. Jordan Hirsch11/13/2009 9:38 AM

    I have eaten in that Fish Restaurant. While not elegant, the food was not too bad. Not a date place perhaps. In fact, I was there last tuesday. Was that you and JV who scuttled out as soon as I came in with my wife and three kids? :)

  21. Like there's only one kosher fish restaurant in Jersey? ;) But no -- we were there on Sunday, not Tuesday.