The Latest from BZBI


Bo 5779 / 12 January 2019

January 15, 2019

The driving current of this Exodus story – the plagues, the back and forth with pharaoh, the hardening of heart, the staying the going the staying the going, the pesach offering and the ultimate liberation:  is not so much about the amazing physicality but about an uncovering unfolding ongoing change in consciousness.

God says “… that you may tell of it in the ears of your son and the son of your son, that I made a mockery of Egypt and my signs that I placed among them that you may know that I am yud-hay-vav-hay” – the name connoting was is and will be.  It is about the telling – for in telling it becomes truly conscious.  Aviva Zornberg calls it a performative telling, and says that the pesach drama gives us access to meanings beyond our means. The Cherynobyler Rebbe talks about the plagues as a process of awakening, of deepening understanding, tracing the use of da’at or knowing through the progression of the story.

My mother Betty Friedan said to me more than once that she believed that there was definitely more going on than appeared to be going on. She had a bit of the prophet’s fate. Like Moses, she died on the same day she was born.  As Rabbi Abe said last week:  we come in always in the middle of this story, in this ongoing uncovering of what we do not know. Yet I was an eyewitness – I mostly realized much later – to the beginnings of a tectonic shift in our consciousness.

I saw how heavily it resonated in one person and how that person channeled It into the world. I realize that it is never about one person. But the telling about the impact that one person can have may be helpful in this age of seeming personal powerlessness.

We take so much for granted that was not there when The Feminine Mystique was first published in 1963. The post-World War 2 era pushed women into the home, they retreated from the workforce.  4% of all lawyers were women, 7% of all doctors were women.  Now coming out of medical schools and law schools over 50% are female.  This is the tip of a worldwide iceberg; we have seen a huge transformation.

Let me give you a bit of performative telling of my mother in all of this:

Betty was born into the small flat and square of Peoria Illinois in 1921
the granddaughter of Dr. Sander Horowitz
who came from yeshiva in Hungary
to become one of the first graduates of Washington University Medical School
the daughter of Miriam Horowitz
who was miserable
with huge capability
but no real work of her own to do
who gave her eldest daughter
some of the Midwest aversion to most things Jewish
who took it out on her husband Harry Goldstein
who came from Russia via St. Louis
who had a successful jewelry business
and spoke with an accent.

In Peoria
Betty learned the value of community
of a civic hanging together
which unfortunately did not extend
to admitting Jews into certain clubs
which did not extend to any real social acceptance in high school
where she claims to have spent
many a teenage afternoon
sitting alone on a cemetery stone
reading poetry
where she vowed
“they may not like me, but they are all going to have to look up to me.”

She blossomed at Smith College
where her mother urged her to go
flourishing in the life of the mind she found there
where Jew Wasp and Catholic found common ground
where she was touched by great minds that were fleeing Europe
where she found gestalt psychology
where the whole was more than the sum of the parts
where she was a fearless editor of the Smith College newspaper
where never tied down by ideology
she overcame her pacifist leanings
to wholeheartedly endorse our entrance into World War 2
where she graduated valedictorian
into a world at war in 1942
where she saw what was happening in Europe
and not yet knowing the whole gruesome picture
began to understand
the importance of identifying with her Jewishness
claiming it
and getting strength from it
where going home to Peoria
she gave her first public lecture in the synagogue
denouncing anti-Semitism in Peoria.

After a taste of graduate academia in Berkeley
she came to post-war New York
where she worked on a labor newspaper
and had a first date with my father
at Barney Greengrass on Amsterdam off 86th street
where she got married to my father Carl
and had her first son Daniel
and took a year’s maternity leave
where four years later
she got pregnant with me and got fired
because they did not want to give her another year’s maternity leave.

We moved to suburbia in the late 1950’s
ending up on River Road along the Hudson River
where Betty was determined
to be a happy suburban mother of 3
as my sister Emily was on the way
where we excitedly listened to signals from sputnik
on an old short-wave tube radio
where we sold off boxwood bushes
from what was once a formal garden
to pay the upkeep on that old Victorian house
where my father
in order to get a tax deduction
added the cheapest phone available
a payphone in our kitchen
where I could sit on the covered porch
on a rainy day
and watch the barges going under the recently built Tappan Zee bridge
where during an intense freeze
we went ice skating at night
along the banks of the river
carrying torches and singing with neighbors
where we would watch
Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and The Twilight Zone
on the rare occasions when the television worked
where the vague dissatisfactions began to gnaw at my mother
and the plagues of her marriage
helped to shake loose her awareness
where she began to investigate her problem with no name
and write The Feminine Mystique
where she would sit at a table in the corner of that dining room
writing away on a legal pad
oblivious to the havoc
of her 3 children, 4, 8, and 12
and their friends all around her
where she and I went back to that dining room to look 30 years later
and where
after she had met with many presidents and one pope
she stood staring at that corner
and the intensity washed over her
and she said
“something possessed me there that I cannot really explain. “

As The Feminine Mystique started to be read
we moved back to the city
to The Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West
where we bought a 7-room apartment for $17,000 in 1964
from where Betty began touring the country
advocating for new ways for women to think about their lives
where the agonies finally overcame the ecstasies in my parents’ marriage
and they split apart
from where Emily and I would go to Tad’s Steaks on 72nd Street to eat
while Betty was on the road
from where Betty went to Washington DC in 1966
to create the National Organization for Women
drafting it’s statement of purpose on a napkin
calling for action
“…to bring women into full participation
in the mainstream of American Society nowin truly equal partnership with men“
amazingly this was a novel yet threatening concept
where in December 1966
we mimeographed and collated press releases
for NOW’s first major press conference
in our Dakota apartment
where Frank Bang from Marlboro Books
sent over crates of remaindered books
to fill the partially empty shelves
to serve as a television backdrop.

We moved to 93rd street
after my parents sold the Dakota apartment for $50,000
to pay off the divorce lawyers
where my sister’s cat Penelope
had multiple litters of kittens
from where we would continue to venture forth each fall and spring
to protest the Vietnam War
from where I would leave with my buddy Steve Slon
to hitchhike across the country
in the summer after our high school junior year
and have to pass through Peoria
without stopping to see relatives
because Betty said
we were still not welcome there
and from where Betty went in March 1970
to Des Plaines Illinois
to step down as the first president of NOW
and with great chutzpah
called for a National Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26th 1970
the 50th anniversary of the 19th amendment
giving women the right to vote
and from where on the afternoon of August 26th 1970
I went with some curious out of town guests
down to Bryant Park
to see what these crackpot ladies were up to now
my skeptical teenage self
still seeing them as the 5 or 6 women
in long white dresses
with whom Betty chained herself to the White House fence
on another such anniversary
a few years before
and the intense wave of an uncovering recognition
as we stepped out of the subway
and climbed a wall
to catch a glimpse of my mother
on the podium at the back of the New York Public Library
exhorting from the very depths of her being
after so many years
of painful struggle to be heard
and tens of thousands roaring in agreement and affirmation
as this hard nut of consciousness finally cracked open
and unleashed across mainstream America
and it seems the world.

So here we sit in 2019
at Parshat Bo
and I continue to ask myself
why am I not doing more to repair this world?
is it the same torpid resistance of Pharoah
to evolving truths?
Betty was no angel
there are many that can attest to that
but angels do not necessarily galvanize change
and it is humbling to retrace her path
through the depths of her very personal struggle
to realization
to the uncovering currents which she helped to unleash
I wonder why
with so many clamoring out there
with some festering dissatisfaction
that there is not more significant uncovering
which we so need to survive
or will it take the onslaught of plague after plague
for us to see
what has been in front of our eyes the entire time?