Old Age: Life and Marriage and Kids and Judaism

June 4 was a Shabbat in 1960 too. I remember it well since, at its conclusion, at a catering hall in Newark NJ, my husband and I got married. I was 20, seemingly way too young for marriage. He was 22, also quite young. Somehow, we stuck it out.

We raised four kids and several dogs. We lived, and do today, in New Jersey and Israel. Not very adventurous. We never tried Madagascar, or even as our son did, Argentina. We always chose the familiar. We chose to live with other Jews…..maybe not exclusively Jews, but enough to hang around with. When we stick our chanukiah in the window it glows in the reflection of other chanukiot. It’s a comfort zone I guess.

Don’t worry. We’re not insulated from Jew disdain at all. But it mostly comes from other Jews. Our very chiloni neighbors in Herzliya think we’re artifacts of days gone by since we walk to shul on Shabbat. Our Orthodox neighbors in New Jersey think we’re not frum enough since we daven, religiously, at a Conservative shul. As a matter of fact, in our town there are so many Orthodox synagogues lined up on one street that it’s almost like the old joke about one Jew, two shuls  But the good news is that they’re all pretty full on Shabbatot and chagim……including ours.

So what about the marriage? It turned out that I was a pretty sharp teenager. At age 17 I committed to a relationship and actually married the guy three years later. It was a very wise choice! We’ve been on a Jewish journey all that time. Hence the chatter about shuls and Jews.

We both grew up in pretty typical Jewish American homes, the kinds with two stomachs. Stomach aleph ate kosher in the house. And anything outside the house. Stomach bet was seen eating bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and Chinese restaurant food. White Castle hamburgers: yum! Older and more savvy: Maine lobster.

Shabbat was Saturday. We were three day a year attendees at shul. We were perhaps an aberration. I had gone to an Orthodox day school for a number of years. He came from a line of renowned rabbis. We always belonged to a synagogue for its community. Our children attended its religious school. But in practice we were plastic coated. We had a Jewish veneer but it was only a veneer.  Only Jewish according to halacha.

Until the trayfa banquet! Our eldest child, a daughter, had learned about living Judaism when we spent 14 months in Jerusalem, en famille. She exploded in a Washington DC restaurant one Pesach when we ordered shrimp. Really embarrassingly exploded. You would have thought we were beating her. In fact we were. From the inside. From her guts to our hearts. How could we do this to a young girl, not yet a teen?

It was sort of like stopping smoking in one fell swoop (which, by the way, I credit her for making me do as well). We would go the whole way! Shabbat. Kashrut. Day school for all four kids. We could and would do it.

Of course it required effort and discipline. Much harder for us than those who have been brought up with it. Sure, we knew the basics. But it’s akin to seeing a speed limit of 55 when you zoom by at 80. You may know the rules but adhering to them is something else entirely. We put in the effort. We had the discipline.

This is not to say that we now put ourselves on a pedestal. No way! Our extended family and friends are on their own Jewish journeys. And in tribute to many of them: living in Israel is the most magnificent and meaningful Jewish achievement of all. Bevadi!

And what about the guy I married? I don’t want to call him a saint since that wouldn’t reflect on my acquisition of Jewish sensibilities. Let’s just say that I would call him a saint if I could! Ad maya v esrim!

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.