The Ten Commandments of Jewish Worry: Part 1
We Jews take our worrying so seriously it's as if it were a mitzvah
It seems to me that almost every Jew I know suffers from terminal anxiety. And why not? With a history filled with tsouris we've probably developed a Yiddishe mutation: a W-strand on our DNA for "Worry." Forget Murphy's Law. Chances are his real name was Murphosky and his family taught him: "If anything can go wrong, it will."
Picture it. First day of school. September, 1950-something. Eighty-two degrees. I was polished, brushed, dressed, breakfasted, and school bagged ...
|MOM:||"The school bus will be here in an hour. Take your scarf and mittens."|
|ME:||"But mommy ... it's hot."|
|MOM:||"It could snow."|
|DAD:||"It's been known to happen in September. In 1948, three feet we had."|
|MOM:||"Besides, I'm a little chilly."|
|BUBBE:||"DON'T FORGET... vipe off the seat in the bus. Could be, a person mit a cough or woise sat last."|
|MOM:||"And here's daddy's work number if mine's busy when the school nurse calls."|
|MOM:||"Mamala, you could fall off the swings in the playground (POO!) -|
|BUBBE:||"... chip a tooth (POO POO!) -|
|MOM:||"Or get your finger caught in a swinging door (POO POOS FLOODING THE KITCHEN FLOOR)|
Finally, the bus "honked." I dutifully wiped off my seat in the back to avoid ... what? Mad cow disease? ... and took my place next to squirmy Ricky Di Pietro.
"Hey!" he said, during a backward squirm. "Some creepy guy in a green station wagon's following us at, like, two miles an hour! Now, he's waving! Look!"
I didn't have to. The hairs on my neck "recognized" daddy's "wave."
You think it's a coincidence that a Jew invented Valium?
You think it's a coincidence that a Jew invented Valium?
So, dear readers, I bring you The Ten "Commandments" of Jewish Worry. However, as I was worried that all 10 at once might lead to WO (Worry Overload), I'll give them to you in smaller doses. This week five. Next week, the other five (assuming we all make it until then).
ONE: THOU SHALT REMAIN IN CONSTANT CONTACT
"Phone Home" was said by E.T. (but no doubt Steven Spielberg heard it somewhere). Minimum contact for a Jewish parent and child is every single day, twice is better. Once, contact failed. After contacting the usual suspects, my parents called a) my aunt in the Bronx, b) an ex-boyfriend I last saw at his Bar Mitzvah, and c) the morgue at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The Medical Examiner tracked me down. "Your parents called looking for you. The message: 'Please show some rachmunas (compassion) on us and call already?!'" I was 24.
A friend, Harry Lechter, told me: "My mother-in-law wants 'the kids' to check in twice a day. When we're traveling, she has a map with pins so she can track us."
TWO: LATENESS SHALL BE PUNISHABLE BY TWO SCORE OF SUFFERING (AND HOCKING)
To a Jew, "late" is five minutes before anyone's due.
I still see my mother's face peering from a window at midnight if I wasn't home from a date, as Dad sat in a chair, dressed, for when the police arrived. When I got in at 12:20, Mom gave me "the basic silent look" for two days which she felt was equal to her 20 minutes of worry.
THREE: THOU SHALT ASSUME A TUMMY ACHE IS A TUMOR (to be on the safe side)
For many Jews, including me, it's quite normal to assume that a splinter of the toe could be a (shhh) early warning sign.
When my son was born, not only did I check fingers and toes, but his blood type – to start listing potential donors, just in case. When he was two, his pediatrician wrote on his chart: "MOTHER: LUNATIC" which might've been due to the fact that I thought a hernia in a toddler might be malignant. Of course, what the doctor didn't understand, was, the minute we become Jewish parents another cultural mutation kicks in – W-Ray vision (Worry-Ray) otherwise known as, "Wait ... is that spot getting bigger?"
My son's pediatrician wrote on his chart: "MOTHER: LUNATIC."
As such, my son has had everything on or near him removed: moles, warts, beauty marks ... and a few people with post-nasal drip.
FOUR: THOU SHALT GET NO SATISFACTION
"Is anything OK?' asked the waiter." So goes the old Borscht belt line. Trust me, the worry-kvetch is still alive and "unwell" among some Jews. Especially in restaurants. I have heard the following in more forms than the Goldberg Variations, from family to the famous.
"We have to move to a different table. We're 100 yards (to, from, away) the air conditioning! Pneumonia, I'll get."
Like a Yiddishe "Goldilocks," in any situation Jews have only two possibilities: it's too hot or too cold. Too hard or too soft. Nothing's just right.
The most "capable" kvetchers can find something wrong with everything, everywhere, every time.
*You: "How about taking a drive on Sunday?"
*Them: "Sunday! Every meshuganah's on the road! Who drives on a Sunday! Nobody!"
*You: "Aunt Rose, that dress in Bloomingdale's window's perfect for you."
*Them: "For one affair? Retail, yet? And when I need groceries? What, I should snack on silk? "
*You: "My boss chose me to close that big deal in San Francisco!"
*Them: "They have the most crooked street in America there and a gazelle you aren't. You could tumble down, like Jack and Jill - splat."
San Francisco has the most crooked street in America and a gazelle you aren't!
FIVE: THOU SHALT FORCE FEED ALL CREATURES - AT LEAST A PIECE OF FRUIT
The remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. - Calvin Trillin.
Most Jews aren't happy unless they're: a) offering food; b) eating food; c) discussing food:
"Oy, such delicious bobka! I can hardly walk from that brunch!"
Worry over the next meal starts after cake from the preceding meal:
(Sigh!) "So ... did you take out the lamb chops for dinner?"
"My mother's from the school that the minute you walk in the house you have to eat," said "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Susie Essman in a 2003 interview, describing her mother Zora. "She asks, 'What can I get you?' and if I say, 'Nothing,' the question just continues. One Thanksgiving, there were only six of us, and she had two 20-pound turkeys – plus brisket. Not to mention the eight sides and 15 pies and cakes. And halvah. I went on stage that night to do stand-up and I just read the menu from her dinner."
When I spoke to Mama Zora, she took umbrage. She never served brisket!
So there you have it: The first five commandments of Jewish worry – not in the Biblical sense, of course, but from the "common sense" we've picked up while wandering and running. Meanwhile, dear readers, you could use a break ... a week at least. But don't worry! You'll get all ten. We counted.