Who We Are
Barbara R. Krasner, PhD
My mother yelled a lot, impervious to her impact on people around her. My father ducked a lot - evading the onslaught, waiting for the fallout to clear, taking no initiative to soothe, confront or calm. I cowered a lot, and took refuge at Aunt Belle’s, my mother’s friend across the street. At six or sixteen, I felt helpless, bewildered, afraid, violated, and intent. My sole strategy was to kneel at my mother’s knee, begging her to talk to my father. The deprived sister of four brothers, my mother felt she never, ever, got her due. My father rarely got his due: He was his mother’s confidant at five, and suddenly lost her to childbirth. A foster child, and step-child in a marriage of convenience, he rarely asked or got much. Any crumb might feed him though he was an industrious man. I was the “adult,” only child, designated to bring my parents joy, now a rescue worker and then an object of hurt disappointment.
Being a buffer kept me safe. I could enjoy alliances, avert conflict, and not have to say what I meant. I was a walking triangle. I used distance to protect myself. I began to yell a lot. Yelling was not my mother’s only activity. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad.... Yelling was not my only activity either, but sheltering myself led me to a room with no doors. Life was shallow, routine, boring, and constrained. I thought I had done it all: Marriage, children, friends, income, a house, travel, a vacation home - and a lot of things to do. They were not enough. I was not enough. There had to be something more.I searched with a vengeance. I lost interest in routine tasks, indifferent to how they were done or who would do them. I searched without apology or design. I had to grasp what I was looking for. I tested a lot. I took risks and played it safe. I went to Selma on Black Monday because I couldn’t stay behind. I clutched a friend’s rosary to see me through my first plane ride. I went to North Carolina for sit-ins and landed in jail. My husband and I drove to Boston and back every Wednesday for ten weeks to hear ministers, rabbis, priests and religious talk, really talk to each other. I needed to learn who I was. David and I drove to Union Seminary in New York each week to hear Abraham Heschel speak of Jewish ethics and mysticism; and to learn how to talk to each other again.I followed Maury Friedman to Pendle Hill, a Quaker Study Center in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. For a year I heard him tell Hasidic tales, and elicit student response. I sat silent the entire time. I worked for Clergy and Lay Advocates for Hospital Abortion Performance at Judson Church in Greenwich Village for six months. Its pastor, Howard Moody, wanted to identify the “angriest woman in America” to fill the job. That was me. The task was to gadfly New York hospitals to avail legal abortions to minorities, the young, the uneducated, the poor.Then I went to Jerusalem to learn more about Miriam of Nazareth, and why my affinity for her. I knocked on the doors of academics to tell me what they knew. They seemed reluctant to acknowledge Mary and Elizabeth as Jewish women. I pursued David Flusser, Jewish convert and renowned scholar of Second Commonwealth Judaism at Hebrew University. He invited me to his home, reviewed my dissertation, and asked me what I believed. I wandered into the homes of Arabs who shared their time and coffee with me. I wandered into convents where nuns fed and embraced me. I knocked on the door at the Church of St. John the Baptist. A priest called down from an upstairs window to ask me why I was there. I told him I didn’t know, but he let me in. He watched me kneel and asked why I made no sign of the cross. I said I didn’t know why I was kneeling at all. `In time anger softened, fears faded, compassion surfaced, freedom emerged. Life became rooted in timelessness. Judgment, blame and “guilt” impacted me less. Lines could be crossed. I could make myself known. I could imagine merit in those who opposed me. I could initiate, engage, and wonder what was just. I was entitled to choose.Angels blessed my way: Howard Moody, Marjorie Penny, Richard Taylor, Paul Washington, Charlotte Meacham, Alex Shapiro, Paul Chapman, Margaret Cotroneo, Abraham Heschel, Lillian Miller, Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, Maurice Friedman, and Martin Buber whose living presence I meet every day.I was not alone.