It was that moment—planning the next hospital visit as I cleaned the bathroom, waiting for the oven to pre-heat, that I understood that maybe there’s some feminist implication to my complicity in this whole Chabad joke. For that manic weekend, I would have dared anyone to say I didn’t have equal value, didn’t play an equal role. I am woman, and I can goddamn well do anything that needs doing.
Really, though, the whole feminist click moment—maybe the first authentic one that I, born into a world that my foremothers had made immeasurably easier for me even as I imbibed their lessons with my baby food, had ever had—it basically pales before the final chapter.
R and I, hanging out in uncomfortable hospital chairs, shifted a bit as we began the second hour of our visit, and the octogenarian congregant launched into the history of the town. Now, for the true punch of the punchline to land, you have to know this: first, there is a sizable and historic Maronite Lebanese population in this town. More on that another time, but that’s what she wanted to tell us about—remember that fact. Second, although I am beloved of many—dare I say most—members of this tiny kehillah, they don’t generally know what to call me. That is to say, what I am in relation to R. “Partner” doesn’t roll easily off the tongue for them, and “girlfriend” has an entirely different meaning to the rural over-60 set. One lovely congregant, also in her 80s, refers to me as R’s companion, which makes me feel like a home-health aide. More generally, I am the rabbi’s Mel, a grammatically concise if awkward parsing of the truth.
“First came the French-Canadians,” our friend and healing congregant explained. “And after the French-Canadians,” she said, look at the two of us, this strange conglomeration of traditional and vanguard, “and then came the lesbians!”