Keystones

A family member recently underwent corrective surgery. This relatively parlous procedure was to be performed on Monday, and this family member declared his firm intentions to be home by Shabbos. My grandmother, upon hearing this, remarked, “He can’t be without [his wife] for so long.”

A few weeks ago, my father and I attended a simcha out of town. Not wanting to drive for eight hours (and lacking the wherewithal to handle my driving for that long), my father hired a driver, a chassidish man in his mid-fifties, to take us there. Do you know what subject came up most during those hours? His wife – his wife did this, his wife did that, his wife though x, and understood y, his wife printed out directions, prepared food for his trip, suggested route A over route B, etc.

Who said that we women are insignificant, that we don’t play a big enough role, that the men in our lives don’t appreciate or respect us? We may not be the visible face of Jewish homes or institutions, but we’re the wind beneath their wings and those in charge will readily admit it. Maybe we aren’t writing feature articles in newspapers or lecturing publicly because we’re doing real things, like comforting a child who’s crying because he just fell and scraped his knee or teaching those soon-to-be-adults the importance of kindness and integrity, so that when we leave the world in their young, untried hands they’ll know how to handle it.

There’s a famous, unsourced adage that says, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” and having spent most of my life in a right-wing orthodox community, I can say that nowhere is this truer than there. It doesn’t have to be written in newspapers or plastered on billboards because everyone knows it. My grandfather once rebuked me for giving my bother a hard time over something. He felt I should have know better. I can still see the look on his face when he told to me that he’s noticed many of my grandmother’s qualities in me. “And your savtah,” he continued, “is one of the best people I know.” My grandfather is an extremely intelligent man. He’s been practicing law at one of the top law firms in the world for almost half a century. He’s met with presidents and world leaders and public figures, people who have accomplished great, public feats, and my grandmother, who’s never written an article or lectured from a podium, is one of the best people he knows.

In architecture, there’s something called a keystone. It’s one small wedge-shaped piece at the summit of an arch or at the bottom of a bridge, but it holds the entire structure in place. Where did we get the idea that supportive is subordinate?

3 comments on “Keystones

  1. Princess Lea says:

    It was like how the women phrased it on Oprah’s special: “We are the foundation, not the basement.”

    The rest of the world has a hard time understanding this, but the center of our world is not the shul or beis medrash; it is the home. It is nurturing the next generation. And the world at large has de-glamorized homemaking, insisting only a career is admirable. Why can’t both be?

    We also consider the most precious to be most private. We do not announce on rooftops our love and devotion, since that is which is kept between the only two involved remains between only the two involved. Today’s secular world has trouble comprehending that, too.

  2. Rachel says:

    Thanks, guys🙂

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