…On one particular afternoon, I took Rose to lunch at the Jewish deli. By that time we were extremely familiar – Rose’s kind of familiar, which made it acceptable for her to buy clothes for me with my money and without my presence. Rose and I stood in front of the deli case at Adelman’s, and after I decided in favor of the herring with cream sauce instead of a pastrami sandwich, I pointed to some of my favorite foods and asked Rose, “Do you like kreplach? Do you like latkes?”
After I had made many suggestions, she said in a loud voice, “Boy oh boy! You like all that Jew food, huh?”
“Rose,” I said. “Please. Have some respect.” It was the first time I ever said anything like this to her.
In a louder voice, she asked, “What? I can’t say Jew food?” The customers twisted their heads to look at us. “Rose,” I whispered, “I want you to be quiet or I am going to leave you here by yourself.”
She put one hand on her ample hip. “You think I don’t know how to get home? You’re an idiot. Go ahead, you wanna leave? Leave.”
Lenny, behind the counter, shook his head. I gave up our spot to the next person in line. “Rose,” I put a trembling hand on her forearm. “Please stop it. I am asking you for the last time.” My voice was below a whisper.
“Hey Mister,” she shook my hand off her arm. “Don’t you dare tell me what to do.” Now she was screaming. “So what if I said Jew food? Big deal! You’re a Jew. It’s not a bad word.”
I didn’t want to leave her there, but I did. There are some things a man should not have to put up with, even for love. Yes, I loved her. I admit it. I loved her even as I turned my back and left her standing at the counter in Adelman’s. I loved her when I returned to my apartment hungry, with nothing in my refrigerator but moldy leftover shish kabob.
I was miserable, but I did not call her – and I knew that Rome would fall again before she called me. Rose never apologized for anything. She was always right! So what’s to apologize? I didn’t go to the Senior Center for two days. My friends called to see if I was sick. My heart was sick but I didn’t say so. I said I was taking a break, that I had things to do. To tell you the truth, I had no idea what to do. I forgot that I was an educated man.
On the third day, I woke up and asked myself what Cicero would do. Would he lock himself in his apartment for three days? Would he forget to brush his teeth? Of course not! He would examine the problem from every perspective. He would acknowledge that there was more than one truth.
Rose, she did not know what she was saying. She never looked death in the face through barbed wire. She never heard the word Jew spat from the mouth of a Nazi. She was an ignorant woman who never left Brooklyn. The word Jew, in her mouth, had no connection to those atrocities. She meant no harm and I had no right to be angry with her.