When the call came, my husband wasn’t home so I was the one to talk to Sid.
Although I’d only met Sid Pfefferberg* once, I’d heard much about him. The father of one of my husband’s high school friends, Avraham had held Sid in high esteem. Unlike my husband’s 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., This was the Sixties, and they shared the ideals of their adolescent children. Pro-civil liberties, anti-war – the epitome of unaffiliated, liberal Jews. Their home was a popular hangout for their children’s friends.
My husband didn’t become connected to Torah Judaism until he was in college, and his high school friends were a rather wild bunch. The Pfefferbergs were able to ignore all the loud music, smoke, and alcohol, and there was never a curfew. It didn’t 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, Avraham felt his parents couldn’t understand him. The Pfefferbergs knew how to listen. More than once, he found himself sitting with them at their kitchen table, just the three of them, as he poured out his heart.
So I knew he’d 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 expense 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’d received as a 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 feed 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 with the baby, 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 wasn’t 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 degree of assimilation and intermarriage that we have today.
For Jews who see the continuation of the Jewish people as an important value, this ruling 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 do so. 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. More than 40 years have passed, but I haven’t forgotten how that open, tolerant man could be open and tolerant of everything except his own religion.
*not his real name