Confessions of a Chachama Part 2 of 4 (Erin Solaro Guest Blogger)

Do women really hate me when I knit?

Oh, yes. But it’s a complex hatred and, however much it says about them, it says more about the world we share.

Hello again. It’s me, Erin. I’m filling in for my authorial husband while he tends to his literary affairs.

You see, several months after making Aliyah in 2010, he came down with leukemia and major back problems, plus some other debilitating annoyances. Doing fine now, thank you, and a blessing on Clalit. For nearly three years he was essentially a semi-invalid, and a very cheerful, stoic one. To stay occupied, he decided to write his first novel after seven non-fiction books. So came about The Former, tale of a rich young New York Jew, restless World War II hero, who comes to Israel to fight in the War of Independence, then returns forty years later. Philip decided to turn down a contract with a major publisher because the publisher wouldn’t talk about marketing and publicity.

Israel’s rather a hard sell these days.

So while he looks for another, filling-in is the least I can do. After all, he nursed me through my first book, and never criticized or laughed at my final-push comfort-food diet of dill pickles and Rice Krispy Treats.

My publishers, despite promises, chose not to publicize that book because it said things they didn’t like. Among them: Women are citizens and the Republic merits defending.

The husband’s wise not to let that happen to him.

That said, hello again. Again. It’s me, Erin. The chachama. This series is based on something I discovered in Ulpan – that the feminine of chacham means both “wise woman” and “craftswoman.” I’m a highly skilled knitter, make very complex garments and wear what I make, unless I give it away. I knit in public: on buses and trains, in waiting rooms, whenever I have a few minutes of down time.

Women don’t like it. They glare, then return to their high-tech mindless diversions or yammering into their smart phones.

This intrigues me.

I mentioned last post that when I knit I’m self-contained. A lot of women don’t like that. Also intent and intense. My work is beautiful. And though I claim no great physical beauty, at 48 I’m still very fit, strong and slender. A lot of women don’t like that, either.

But this isn’t, I realized, about simple jealousy. Amongst older women, I suspect there’s also an element of wistfulness. Not “I wish I could knit like that.” More like: “There’s some skill, some activity, something I wanted to start or develop, and never did.” Among younger women: “Yeah, it’s pretty, but what really matters is what you buy. If you didn’t get it at The Mall, with a proper status-y label . . .”

And that’s where my knitting and the world intersect. Because my knitting and wearing aren’t simply hobbies. They’re statements of what I value in the world.

And what I despise.

This is not about materialism. It’s about a certain kind of materialism. It’s about cheap. No matter what the price or the label. And it’s about my ever-more-certain belief that cheap is destroying the world.

My thesis here is simple. When your life becomes inundated with cheap, with meaningless, disposable junk and low-quality, overpriced merchandise of all kinds – including food; especially food – you lose touch with the standards and beauties of the human-crafted material world. And that losing-touch is part of a larger losing-touch: with the economic, cultural and political worlds as they could be and ought to be.

Not to mention what all this cheap has done and is doing to the ecology.

Does knowing this make me a chachama? A wise woman?

Maybe, a little. At the very least, it gives me an awareness of how human problems inter-connect. And it makes me very aware that my knitting is as much a political and spiritual statement as an amateur (the word derives from the Latin, “to love”) passion.

I’m not rich. But as a citizen of two great countries and one pleasant planet being destroyed by cheap, as a woman, as a human being, I reject the ethos of cheap and, to the best of my circumstances and ability, refuse to participate.

I’ll get into the heavier aspects of this refusal my next guest post, then the possible significance for Israel. (Philip tells me I’ve got two more because he also has his next non-fiction book to peddle.) For now, two experiences that helped put me on this path.

For several years whilst pursuing my master’s degree part-time, I worked as a secretary at the Washington, DC national headquarters of a very prestigious, exclusive women’s organization. They let me know that I was expected to dress to their standards. Then, aware that grad students usually don’t have that kind of disposable income, they recommended several high-end clothing consignment stores. Ever dutiful, I went. And there I discovered a world I’d barely glimpsed before: serious, elegant couture, designed to transcend the fashions and fads, and succeeding. My wardrobe began to fill with items that proclaimed:

“This is what I value in how I appear.”

Then, one day at The Mall:

I was looking for a particular perfume and went into a parfumerie, noting with disgust the displays for some notorious heiress’ over-priced, junky latest. I told the salesgirl what I wanted. She kept trying to sell me that junk. Finally I blurted out,

“I don’t buy from the whore.”

She looked at me with a combination of contempt and dismay, her expression reeking of You just don’t understand . . .

I was surprised at what I’d said. I wondered why I’d said it. Then I realized that it wasn’t about sexual morality at all.

Next: The Politics and Metaphysics of Material Quality.

Then: Can Israel Make a Difference?


About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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