When the call came my husband wasn’t home so I was the one to talk to Sid, Sid Pfefferberg*. Although I had never met the man I had heard much about him. The father of one of my husband’s high-school friends, Avraham had held Sid in high esteem. Unlike his parents and the parents of most of his other classmates who, with their establishment rules, were firmly anchored on the other side of the Generation Gap, the Pfefferbergs were open, tolerant people. They shared the ideals of their adolescent children and were pro-civil liberties and anti-war. The epitome of unaffiliated, liberal Jews, their home was the popular hang-out for their children’s friends.
My husband did not become connected to Torah Judaism until he was in college so those friends were a rather wild bunch. The Pfferbergs were able to ignore all the loud music, smoke, and alcohol and there was never a curfew. It did not concern them that a number of the Jewish kids were romantically involved with non-Jews. Although Sid and his wife turned a blind eye to all the partying and carrying on they did not have a deaf ear. At that point in time my husband felt his parents could not understand him. The Pfferbergs knew how to listen. More than once, my husband found himself at their kitchen table, just the three of them, pouring out his heart. I knew he would be thrilled to learn that Sid had called.
“I understand congratulations are in order,” Sid spoke enthusiastically. “You have a son.”
“Thank you,” I smiled. Our firstborn was barely a month old and like nearly every first-time mother I thought he was the most perfect baby in the world.
“I’m in town,” Sid continued. “How about getting a babysitter and I’ll take the two of you out for dinner?’
“I don’t think that will work.” I thought fast. There were no kosher restaurants in Phoenix at the time so I invited him to come to us. He accepted. We set a time and I went to work.
Although I have no memory of what I prepared for that meal I know a lot of thought, time, and budget when into its preparation. By the time Sid arrived my husband was home, our little apartment was clean, the table was set with our Shabbat dishes, food was warming in the oven, and the baby was impeccably dressed in one of the new outfits he had received as a baby present. There were effusive greetings between Sid and my husband. I welcomed him shyly. He cooed at the baby for a minute and presented my husband with a bottle of non-kosher wine.
Avraham thanked him and set it on the kitchen counter. He invited Sid to sit down on our second-hand couch while I slipped into our bedroom to nurse the baby. Fifteen minutes later I came out of the room to find a bewildered husband and no guest.
“He left,” my husband answered shortly.
My amazed look compelled Avraham to give me an explanation.
“He suggested that I open the wine to drink a toast while you were nursing and when I told him that the wine wasn’t kosher he got upset. And he left.”
Newly religious, my husband was sorely unprepared to explain diplomatically why the wine was not kosher. True, as Sid pointed out, there were no non-kosher ingredients in it. However, our sages, of blessed memory, ruled that wine prepared in any way by a non-Jew would be rendered off limits. This was in order to limit socialization between Jews and non-Jews. Already, thousands of years ago they envisioned the amount of assimilation and intermarriage that we have today. For Jews who see the continuation of the Jewish people as an important value this was perfectly logical.
For a humanist like Sid that attitude was an anathema. Hitler may have made a distinction between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world but he was not willing to. Insulted, he grabbed his bottle of wine and left in a huff.
I was speechless. My husband was hurt and I was angry that he had been hurt. We never heard from Sid or any of his family again. It was so sad. The open, tolerant man could be open and tolerant of everything except his own religion.
*not his real name