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Kvetch in the City - The More You Complain...

March 2021

There’s an expression I grew up with in Brooklyn. Whenever something happened that seemed like a surprise, my mom or grandmother, or any Jewish person I knew of a certain age would shrug, and say, “Oy, Who knew?”

Recently, I stopped into a local jeweler to have a guard put on a ring I had gifted my son during the holidays. While I patiently waited as the jeweler adjusted the ring in the back, I sat and looked around the shop. It was an eclectic decor, similar to some other older shops I’ve noticed in town. The decor seemed to me to be of a particularly Southern sort of style I could only best describe as a seventies bless your heart kind of vibe. It definitely reminded me of when I went to my now ex-in-laws home in Tuscaloosa, AL to meet my soon-to-be new family for the first time. The similarity of the decor in the jewelry shop and in their Alabama home was a wall of quirky somewhat witty or humorous sayings on wooden plaques. One might say they were quotes, though without the authors names written on them.

I walked over to the wall in the jewelry shop and I had a laugh. One sign on the wall caught my eye right away. It read, “The more you complain, the longer God makes you live.” Has that been the secret of our Jewish tribe’s survival which is soon to be retold once again this Passover? Can the Haggadah (the telling of the Jews exodus from Egypt for all our non-Jewish readers) be summed up in that one little quip?

Less I digress…let me take you back to the in-law trip. I was not laughing or smiling that day, and it was way beyond a good kvetch when I first met my soon to be in-laws. I was crying.

Why was I crying you may ask? Because the first horrific, racist thing my soon to be Confederate loving, gun hoarding father-in-law said out loud as I walked in the house, to nobody in particular, “Well, she’s not black.”

I remember looking up at my soon to be mother-in-law's downstairs decor through tear-stained eyes and the only sign among many on her wall of plaques that jumped out to me that day was, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Maybe I was crying because deep down inside I knew I was going to be making a lot of lemonade.

Well, I’ll tell you what. Sitting in that downstairs bedroom in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that day, I heard the ancestral cry of, "Who knew?" I’ll tell you who knew. For one, my mother knew. She didn’t think my ex was a good match for me. And truth be told, I knew. I knew I was walking right into a world I was not sure could ever accommodate my Brooklyn Jewish liberal self. I also knew, regardless of whether or not I would ever have a close relationship with my in-laws, I knew I was stretching myself too far on many levels with the man I was about to marry.

All this came flooding back to me the other day as I sat in the jewelry shop looking down at the cases full of diamond rings and an eclectic wall of quotes and a decor of jokes and southern style sayings on cut out wooden plaques.

So as Passover comes around this year, and memories unexpectantly flood my mind as they are apt to do at any given moment, I will pour a glass of lemonade, rethink my promise to never complain again (lest my life gets cut short) while making a toast to the ancestors who knew.


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