Well, it's done. I've submitted my last Jewish Week singles column, and it's available online now.
I wrote the thing weeks ago, but then found myself in Tmol Shilshom, a Jerusalem restaurant where the theme is books. Surrounded by the works of famous Hebrew and English authors, I finished the final column. I usually don't reprint the entire thing on my blog, but it will be the last time, so I wanted to share.
Thanks to everyone for their support for the column over the last four and a half years, as well as your commitment to this ongoing conversation.
"Know When to Walk Away"
by Esther D. Kustanowitz
How does one become a Jewish singles columnist, anyway? On recent reflection, it has occurred to me that perhaps I’ve only found myself here, an untrained sociologist Jane Goodall-ing it in the singles jungle, because of the metaphorical significance and transformative power of transit.
Several years ago, during a work trip to Israel, I had been picked up at the airport by a taxi and was traveling to Jerusalem when the driver began making Hebrew conversation. It started innocently, with a “welcome to Israel” and “what are you doing here?” and ended in a question I didn’t quite understand. “At revakah?” he asked. “Revakah?” I asked. “Revakah zeh lo nesuah (‘revakah’ means ‘not married’).”
I had never heard the word before. Most of my Hebrew was biblical, and most unmarried biblical women were referred to as betulah, which most English Bibles translate as “virgin.” Where, linguistically, could “revakah” have come from? I tried to “shoresh it out,” parsing the word and looking for a root. Since it was unlikely that the resh-vav-kuf could be read as “rock,” the best logical word origin I could find was the word reyk, meaning empty. If Genesis was right and it was “not good for a person to be alone,” then was it a huge leap to identify a person who hadn’t found their soul mate as, to an extent, empty? The Hebrew language seemed to think not. In that moment, an idea began its path of transit.
recently, I was on a bus, spiraling down the West Coast. The sea was
out of sight, and clouds sagged low over the mountains, which rolled
past the windows as if they were on a conveyor belt, and I was the one
who was standing still. I knew it was an illusion; the bus moved, and
the scenery passed, but instead of feeling like an active participant
in our progress, I felt detached and stagnant. Noticing the vast
expanse of Northern California land, I felt the solitude descend, a
curtain closing on a dramatic chapter.
At the end of that trip down the coast, I found myself thinking about journeys, the constant wandering of being in transit, and — because I was headed to Las Vegas — the song lyric that urged me to “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” I knew I wasn’t quite at “know when to run,” but “know when to walk away” began to resonate strongly. I don’t like leaving my destiny to chance — heading off into the great unknown has never been an area of comfort for me. But it became clear that any more hands of solitaire or broken gambling metaphors, and I would risk the erosion of the parts of me that I’m most proud of, precisely the ones I’d hoped to one day share with a family.
My four years writing this column seem commensurate to an academic degree in relationships, yet somehow I’m ABD, and without the coveted “M.R.S.” degree. Perhaps I need to concentrate on field work, move beyond the theoretical into the actual. This column has been the longest relationship of my life. But I can’t marry a column. The transition will be one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I think that it’s time.
I don’t know what is or isn’t in the cards for me. If God is calling the shots, I’d like to believe that the Deity wants me to be happier than I am, if only selfishly, for the strengthening of my faith weakened by staying single. I’d still like to be able to contribute to the expansion of the nuclear family I’m already so blessed to have. Or perhaps I’m committing hubris — an English major’s favorite sin — by thinking that I’m on God’s agenda at all. I’m aware that my life has been a series of unique opportunities that have been both humbling and a blessing. It may make me selfish, but I’d still hoped to have more.
There has to be more than just the illusion of progress. It’s a gamble, but every change is. It’s time to put one foot in front of the other, fix my eyes on the future, and walk away from what’s comfortable, into what might, one day, be possible. I’m in transit again. Let the chips fall where they may. And next time an Israeli taxi driver asks me to define my status, whatever it is, I intend to celebrate it.
Esther D. Kustanowitz thanks her editors, readers, family and friends for their support of this column and her obsession with Hebrew. In her “retirement,” she will be working on her book about living Jewish and single, and will continue to blog at MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com, among other places. You can always reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.