Sura Jeselsohn
Author of "A Habit of Seeing: Journeys in Natural Science""

I Just Don’t Get It!

It is always interesting to read anthropological articles because they hold a mirror up to our eyes in evaluating our own cultural norms. Recently, the New York Times had an article on the Afghani custom of never naming female members of the family in public. Apparently  to do so, besmirches a family’s honor.  While calling someone “The Mother of My Children “ seems sweet, the nickname “ My Chicken” seems a bit less so while I can only hope that “My Goat” is understood more fondly in Afghani culture than it is in the West.

Yet, inside the religious Jewish world, there has been a creeping separation of the male and female worlds. I can’t completely put my finger on it, but, I get the impression that the male world counts more than the female one. Perhaps my discussions below will illustrate that conclusion.

While doing some genealogical work on my family tree, I spent a bit of time in cemeteries examining headstones. Surprisingly, I discovered that the dead all have fathers but none seem to have mothers. While this was biologically puzzling, it also adds an additional layer of difficulty in trying to  figure out by-gone relationships.

For years, it has been a source of amusement  to receive invitations to simchas and notice how many of the men are married to the same woman whose name is “Raiyato.” I find it hard enough to manage one household. I cannot imagine how she does it!

Then there is the challenge of figuring out how to greet men you know while walking in the public sphere who carefully have their eyes cast downwards! What is the polite protocol?!! Do you stop them and then again, how would you stop them? Do you call out? Or maybe, you have offended them and is this their way of showing that they are angry?  Body language is really not that hard to understand, guys. There is a profound difference between noticing and ogling. I’m sure some entrepreneurial type out there will open a class soon to teach those subtle differences.

And finally, there is the quaint custom that I see all too frequently, of men talking strictly to other men in the presence of their wives. The first time it happened, I actually looked down to see if I was really there. The Harry Potter stories do feature a Cloak of Invisibility but in the world of fantasy it is simply a useful tool. Exercised in a social setting, it is simply offensive.

It is the ambitions of parents is to see that their children marry and found their own families. It might be nice to take a moment to recognize that 50% of the spouses are women and worthy of the same courtesies offered to the other 50%.



About the Author
Sura Jeselsohn has a background in science and is an avid gardener and quilter. Her weekly column, Green Scene, is published in the Riverdale Press. She has published a book, "A Habit of Seeing: Journeys in Natural Science" , available in paperback and Kindle at