Lilith Feature

Is Worrying a Jewish Woman’s Second-Shift Job?

Jewish women worry along a continuum. On the right, real inheritors of trauma — pogroms, acute dislocations, the Holocaust — fairly vibrate with anxieties: misreading behaviors, attributing malevolence to neutral occurrences, adrenalizing ordinary, non-adrenal life. The language called “Not Worry” will always be our second one; we will never gain true fluency. Who opened this window? Did anyone touch this food? Who is that strange man ? Even italics don’t begin to convey our inner fibrillation.

In the middle of the continuum are the Queens of Prevention, as an overprotective friend of mine dubs herself. Traveling abroad? Here are the phone numbers of two infectious disease specialists. Flying? I happen to have this extra Zanax. It’s snowing out? Nobody is driving home tonight; don’t worry, M’C have sleeping bags. On the left of the continuum are Jewish women who are almost “normal” — whatever that means. Perhaps just a bit less reckless than our non-Jewish neighbors, we find Kennedyesque behaviors — daredevil skiing, drinking so much that you fall off the deck and break your teeth. Jeep racing on sand dunes, horseback riding in any manifestation — inconceivably stupid. Edgemanship? Now that’s gratuitous! You enjoy the “high ” of brinksmanship? Talk about privilege! Okay, so our kids are the only ones in the neighborhood who aren’t allowed to sled down that hill that opens on to a trafficked street. “But everyone else does it. Ma.” “Yeah, well, everyone else is clearly nuts.”

Finally, there is the “nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself” group who have it both ways: We worry about being worriers; and we worry about not being worriers. If worrying has become hardwired into our Jewish genes [souls] after generations of its being an adaptive .survived skill, who are we to precipitously give it up? Maybe we should stockpile it; who knows? The next generation might need hidden diamonds to smuggle children into Mexico. This is not meshuga. Something. Bad. Can. Always. Happen. LILITH receives an awful lot of manuscripts about this continuum of worry, and so we feel quite sure that worry IS a Jewish women’s issue. What follows are the tales of three worriers: one whose worry turns to thoughts of .sushi, one who understands she can give it up when a stunned hermit thrush flies out of her hand, and one who has internalized her independent, intelligent Grandma. Okay … but what was that noise? 


In This Feature