A classic scene.
The table set for family, neighbors and friends to share a festive feast. Rosh Hashanah, Seder night, Grandpa’s 80th birthday…. Hosts fret over the food. Children anticipate their spot in the limelight (and presents!). You comb your hair, fix your lipstick—sigh a little, then set off to join them.
The guests arrive. A quick scan of the room shows nine adults—but only eight dining room chairs. Folding chairs drafted in for the children—and…
You’re female and (still) single. Next to the hostess (near the door to the kitchen) you see one more folding chair. You’re not the youngest adult present but the singular single woman. You know the folding chair’s to be your chair.
Time to eat. Bete’avon, buon apetito. The hostess will need help. Who will be helper? Who will help serve, be the last to get served? Who will help clear the table? My, you’re guessing quick tonight, girls!
So you think you’re grown up?
Achieved much in your life. Good job, nice home. You’ve made it. But oy vey! are you wide of the mark! Times may have changed, but traditional attitudes trail well behind. Success and maturity still require marriage and motherhood. Singlehood equals servitude—and folding chairs like the children.
Insecure? Oversensitive? Paranoid? Obsessed with status? Possibly. Probably. But the reality breeds the insecurity. Single women with inquiring, outreaching minds don’t fit the ideals of traditional Jewish society. We’re like fish out of water. We’re not sure how to breathe. But the water’s so confining we won’t go back in, as we know it will drown us.
How do we contribute without having to conform? How do we rejoice in our Jewishness without jeopardizing out freedom? And why must we wait to be married before we get the dining room chair!
Annie Wigman, who lives in London, is editor of Across the Spectrum for the Jewish Women’s Network, a British organization.