Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – LI. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – My Paternal Family (4 of 9)

Nonna Helene

My grandmother was of Iranian origin. Now, Iranian people were known, in Egypt, as being fierce; the wise course of action was not “to mess up with them.” Helene belied that reputation, she was the mildest and gentlest person you could hope to meet.

As previously stated, I was closer to nonna Bida than to nonna Helene. Victoria was a good raconteur, and had many colorful stories. She also had an applicable proverb(s) to every imaginable situation. However, today, with the benefit of maturity, I realize that Helene was in her own way just as interesting a person. How you tell a tale can make all the difference. It was also a matter of personality. But, of course, I was too young to understand all that.

Helene never talked about her parents; perhaps because I never asked! I know that she had two brothers (I no longer remember the names): one was a truculent person, and a religious fanatic. The dictates of the Talmud were followed to the letter in his house. His first wife died at a young age leaving him with three young children. He remarried with a 14-year-old and had two children in quick succession. He died from pneumonia at a relatively young age, leaving his wife (I believe still in her teens) with 5 children. Despite these adverse conditions, these cousins of Nessim did well in life.

As modern individuals, we may take a dim view of such a person. In reality, he was well respected in the community; and my grandmother put him on a pedestal.

The other brother was just the opposite. He was a docile man totally in awe of his wife, a real witch. If she didn’t get her way, she threatened to curse him; and curse she did, liberally. Since he was very superstitious, he lived in fear. They had 4 children, who, because they were raised in this toxic atmosphere, had countless problems throughout their lives. Despite these deplorable conditions, this man made a very good living, and would have become wealthy were it not for the fact that his wife spend the money as fast as it came in!

Nonna’s life was a bag of misery.

First her health. She suffered from hypertension at a time when we didn’t have the medicines we have today. She also had mild diabetes.  (We know today that diabetes 2 range from mild requiring no medication, to severe requiring daily shots of insulin, and continuing monitoring of blood sugar levels). Her worse problem was the fact that she had severe arthritis. Her fingers would curl and look like claws, and she would cry out in pain. Again, she didn’t have at her disposal the medicines we have today. The only pain reliever that existed then was Aspirin.

Then there was the financial situation. Joseph lived in the house and paid a small amount of money. Nessim also contributed. Angele didn’t work. Helene was a good money manager, but what she was receiving was totally inadequate. Nonna used the word dia, roughly translated, it means being squeezed to the point that you can barely breathe. And this was an adequate word for her financial predicament.

She managed by buying shokok (on credit). I remember her sending me to the grocery store without any money and telling me to tell the merchant that it was shokok for set Ezri. This man opened a big book and wrote something in it, he then handed me the groceries even though I had not paid! Not surprisingly, therefore, for a long time, I understood that shokok meant getting goods for free!

When he invited friends, uncle Joseph gave extra money or bought the food himself. He also bought victuals for the Shabbat dinner and for the Holidays.

But no matter how you approached it, the ends could never meet. Helene, at the end of every month, would tell Joseph to go to the grocery store to settle her account. He did, but every month there was a big scene.

More than once, Flora was called on the carpet and asked for badly needed money. Mom was good at twisting dad’s arm, and always managed to come up with the cash.

Despite all that, for many years, my poor nonna could never see the light at the end of the financial tunnel.

No doubt, her biggest chagrin was the fact that Maurice was in Palestine, and that she hadn’t seen him in years; that she had never met his wife; and that she had never held her grandchildren in her arms. And the probabilities of that happening were slim to none.

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