Sisterhood Blog

Repudiating My Inner Balebuste

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share

The title of Elissa Strauss’ essay in the Forward, “Embracing My Inner Balebuste,” caught my eye. Perhaps it’s a reflection of what I assume are a few years of difference in our age that I find the term “balebuste” loaded with provocative associations and Elissa can embrace the title with pride. On the other hand, maybe it simply reflects what housework meant in our respective homes, growing up.

My mother didn’t know much Yiddish, but she would have cringed at being called a balebuste, as do I except on those occasions when it’s applied with affectionate irony.

True, I don’t enjoy housekeeping the way Elissa apparently does. Fluffing pillows “just so” is far more satisfying for her, and laundry is without a doubt the bane of my existence. When I win the lottery, first thing I’m doing is hiring regular household help to do it for me. One of the many pleasurable aspects of having my three children away at the same time this summer for the very first time has been the lack of dirty laundry piling up.

I like a fairly neat house, and with three adolescents and tweens as children, attaining that alone is accomplishment enough. I’m content if the comforter is on the bed with the corners in approximately the right places and if the kitchen table gets cleared of mail, newspapers and schoolwork every couple of days.

As Elissa correctly alludes, feelings about being a homemaker for women today probably have more to do with the way we’re nurtured than our basic natures.

In Elissa’s family, balebuste was an honorific of the highest order. While my house, when I was growing up, was always clean and tidy, the message communicated without words was that it was something that had to be done, but nothing to be particularly invested in.

In fact, my mother was clearly suffocated by the role she was forced to play as a woman of her time and place. When she was a young woman, nice middle class Jewish girls became teachers or nurses (she became a teacher). Ambition was limited to marrying well and getting established in a nice suburban house, with children, of course, to follow.

My parents married in 1962 and my mother was caught right at the crux of the sexual (roles) revolution. She was starved for change, but as a young mother in an unhappy marriage to a man who liked the conventional order of things, she was stuck in a role that never completely fulfilled her.

And so the main message to my sister and me, if articulated only as what was between the lines of our mother’s frustration, was not to get stuck like she did. Keeping house was part of where she was stuck.

Clearly Elissa, as an accomplished writer, is not stuck in the role. Thanks to the tremendous work my mother and the feminists of her generation did in making gender roles more flexible, we moderns have the privilege of far more choice about where we wish to put our energy.

So it’s her choice to be a proud balebuste, not something she must be. That makes all the difference.

I am happy to be married to a man who is far more balabustish than I, a guy who loves to cook and who isn’t able to rest until he’s swept the kitchen and dining areas each night. (Who knew, when I married a guy whose apartment kitchen was equipped only with two mismatched plates, a chipped coffee mug and a few forks with bent tines that things would work out this way?)

When I throw a dinner party, I do enjoy planning and executing the menu, and get pleasure from the compliments reaped from our guests. But cooking on a daily basis is for me simply a chore. I’d far rather spend a spare hour or two working on a short story or meeting a friend for coffee.

So Elissa, if you have time to kill, I’d be happy to have you over at our house. There’s a pile of laundry that needs attention!


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Marriage, Housekeeping, Balebuste, Elissa Strauss

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.