It’s hard to describe Nantucket to someone who’s never seen it, but it’s sort of like an enchanted island. Everything indigenous is either quaint or pretty, or both: the beaches, the stores, the greenery, and especially, the descendants of the original inhabitants. These people are the real WASPs who pull off the preppie look with unaffected authenticity, providing America with its impossibly high standard of good looks.
What my family was doing in a place like this I didn’t know. My first time here, I felt like a Jewish caricature. And that was just for starters. As a kid, beaches meant swimming, and as a glasses-wearer, swimming meant not seeing. I tried to go along with everyone and find the fun in being knocked over by a merciless ocean, but I couldn’t. (I still remember the first time I got salt water in my mouth and thinking it was the worst thing I had ever tasted.) Then there were events like getting so sunburned I couldn’t move, being bitten by some sea creature or another that caused my entire foot to swell, and, of course, “Jaws.”
After we became observant, with all of the added issues of what to eat and what to wear, it became easier to just write off beach vacations altogether.
There was just one little problem. My husband Zev loved the water. Seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, boating in it, all take him to a happy place that makes me understand what vacations are supposed to do, even if they don’t do it for me.
When our lifelong friend, Herb, celebrated his 85th birthday in Nantucket seven years ago, we decided to surprise him with a visit.
Since then, it has become our family vacation spot of choice.
When someone asks me if I like Nantucket, my answer is that I like it because people I love, love it. As observant Jews, there are challenges to family vacations and keeping the balance while keeping the faith is all part of the fun. But for me as the Mother, it involves a fair amount of work–what to promote, what to protest, what to ignore.
When it comes to family, there is no vacation for me.
The good news is that I have come to understand that there is a Jewish source for my feeling this way.
G-d is manifest in Creation through ten essential qualities, known as the sefiros. First, there are three intellectual qualities known as chochma, binah and daas (whose first letters comprise the acronym Chabad). The six emotional qualities that follow, including kindness, severity, and beauty, are considered masculine for what they “do” or “bring” to Creation. Jewish women are associated with the tenth Divine attribute of malchus, the only feminine quality. Malchus has no characteristic of its own; it represents the ability to synthesize the other qualities into the various functional forms in Creation. What exactly that means cosmically I’m not sure, but I know It’s good news for me as a Jewish woman. It means that I am the source of blessings for my home and my family, no matter where we are.
From that perspective, I appreciate that there really is no vacation from my holy work, but then again, why would I want one?