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Jewish Journal

Keeping the peace

by Yehuda Lev

December 20, 2007 | 7:00 pm

Rosie poses with Chief Gates, 1986

Rosie poses with Chief Gates, 1986

My wife Rosie, a professor of history, can be a formidable woman, especially when advancing upon some miscreant, tire iron in hand. That was the scene one midnight some years ago when she came across a man beating his wife in the middle of a Sunland street. Slamming on the brakes, she leaped out of the car prepared for battle. The offender promptly fled. Rosie gathered up the woman and her four small children and took them to our home where I awoke the next morning to find all five sleeping in our living room.

Several months later, Rosie received a letter from the LAPD, inviting her to accept a commendation for heroism from Police Chief Daryl Gates on Feb. 25, 1986. There were a number of good citizens being honored, and as each one received a certificate, they mumbled appropriate words of thanks and stepped down off the stage.

When her turn arrived, Rosie didn't mumble. Instead, she gave the chief a three-minute lecture on how the LAPD discriminates against people of color. The chief sat through it, thanked her politely and moved on to the next honoree, while I made a mental note never to risk getting a traffic ticket from the LAPD.

In the 30 years that we have been together, I have yet to be the target of a wielded tire iron, but marriage to a political activist does require a certain flexibility of thought and dexterity of movement. Among the causes worthy of Rosie's attention are advocacy for the homeless, the farm worker's union, the security of Israel, the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights, same-sex marriages, racism, anti-Semitism, withdrawal from Iraq, the political defeat of anyone to the right of The Nation, and the gall of those Americans who believe that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America.

"How about those who were living here at the time. What were they, chopped liver?" the outspoken professor of Latin American history asks.

Nor does political activism end at the front door. As the principal family shopper, I am kept constantly aware by Rosie of changes in the political acceptability of some of the largest retailers and suppliers in the land. For some years, shopping at Target was forbidden (union busting), although it has now been restored to its place in the shopping pantheon; Wendy's, because until recently it didn't offer employment protection to gay and lesbian employees, and don't even think of Wal-Mart as a beneficiary of our business.

It is true that I have not conducted any personal investigations to verify these accusations and that I am certainly not looking forward to any legal entanglements with high-powered attorneys representing American commercial interests. But shalom bayit, peace in the home, has been the foundation upon which a firm family relationship has been built and that not even Wal-Mart has the power to erode. So we buy produce from an independent greengrocer, coffee from a fair-trade company, eggs from a nice lady Rosie knows and, wherever possible, avoid those supermarkets that are not unionized.

(Countering this, and probably eliminating us forever from membership in the Sierra Club, is my 1992 Mercury Topaz, alias the anti-Hummer or "The Bummer," which requires gassing up every month or so, not because it is stingy on gasoline but because I don't drive much any more.)

The real secret for attaining successful family relations lies in what I propose as the 11th Commandment, "Thou shalt not ask." This runs counter to every warning about drug usage and other anti-social behaviors, and in favoring it I may be dead wrong, but I am dealing with a single family, not a nationwide sample. Of course, it only works if those involved trust one another, and while this may lead the family down some unfamiliar paths and unusual confrontations, it is a course wisely chosen and on a morally high level.

If you are still given to the old ways, be sure to avoid formidable women wielding tire irons.

Yehuda Lev, The Journal's first associate editor, lives in Providence, R.I., where his business card reads Editor Emeritus. He can be contacted at yehudal@cox.net.

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