January 1, 2005 | Issue 17

Jewish Mother Unable to Experience Guilt

PATTERSON, GEORGIA — [TheKnish.com] Golda Bernhak is among a tiny number of people in the world known to have congenital insensitivity to guilt with anhidrosis, or CIGA, a rare genetic disorder that makes her unable to feel guilt and make others feel guilty.

"Some people would say that's a good thing. But no, it's not," says Atara Klaber, Golda's mother. "Guilt's there for a reason. It lets your children know they haven't called since last Erev Shabbos and it needs to be fixed. I'd give anything for her to feel guilt. She can't even feel guilt for her stunning lack of guilt!"

The untreatable disease also makes Golda incapable of telling her newly married son, "Nu, is she pregnant already?" Otherwise, her senses are normal.

In Patterson, a rural town of 800 people in southeast Georgia, Yonah and Atara Klaber had no idea the disorder existed before they took Golda to the doctor after she neglected to yell at her husband for "sitting on the couch and not tending to the kids while she did the dishes and cooked and cleaned up after his messes after all these years he's still a lazy bum she doesn't know why she puts up with it I'm going to my mother."

"The doctors mentioned to Golda that her children didn't make the honor roll in school. I remember the look of puzzlement on all their faces," Golda's mother says. "She was not phased by it by any means."

Tests by a geneticist led to Golda's diagnosis. To have the disorder, Golda had to inherit two copies of the mutated gene - one from each parent. Her father, a "brownie," and mother, a SPAMmer, were largely on their own in learning to cope with their daughter's strange indifference to guilt.

They couldn't anticipate many things. Golda's children posed big problems. They would claim they would want to be something other than a lawyer or doctor and she wouldn't correct them. Her son was interested in dating a gentile and she never gave him grief about it.

Family photos reveal a series of these guiltless episodes. One picture shows Golda with her son Meir. His hair is a mess and his tie his crooked, while her smile evidences that she's undistressed by the matter.

Her first serious lapse into guiltlessness came at age 19, when she gave birth to her son. Her husband didn't make it on time, delayed by a football game and she never ripped into him for not being there for her.

Atara Klaber needed to assist her daughter in any way that she could, and finally decided on a course of action: accompanying Golda everywhere she goes. So when Golda comes home daily to find that her husband didn't clean the dishes he used to make sloppy joes which he spilled all over the counter, his mother-in-law lets him hear it but good.

And when Golda's children tell her that they want to become boxers or sculptors or truckers or gardeners, their grandmother corrects them by saying, "You want to be a professional."

When asked if having her mother around all the time to guilt people back into shape, Golda replied, "It makes me feel a bit guilty."

Writer

Pencil Martin Bodek is short, dark, handsome, runs marathons (finishes them too!), can solve a Rubik's Cube in 1:47, is a big TED chasid, can whup your keister in Scrabble, loves halva, co-founded TheKnish.com, and writes books from 5-9: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mbodekatgmaildotcom


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