Way They Were (and Are)
Dr. Carol Chomsky CW51 accompanies her husband on lecture tours,
she often finds herself surrounded by very young and breathless women,
who inevitably ask her the same question: So whats it like to be married
to Noam Chomsky? Her response, which took her some time to work
out: Ill tell you one thingits never boring!
mixed compliment, perhaps, but no small achievement, given that shes
known him since they were children and has been married to him for more
than half a century.
in the old countryPhiladelphiashe was known as Carol Schatz. Her family
and Noams belonged to the same synagogue.
mother was my Hebrew School teacher, and his father was the principal
of the Hebrew School, she says in an e-mail interview. Later, when I
attended the Hebrew Teachers College of Philadelphia (Gratz College),
his father was one of the professors.
hardly surprising that it took some time before she became romantically
interested in a boy she had known since she was five.
we were early teenagers, I viewed him as an overly intellectual, undersized,
nerdy sort of kid, she recalls. In our early teens, he definitely
wasnt somebody I would have wanted to date.
by the time she was about 15, she found herself changing her mind. We
were heavily involved in Jewish cultural activitiesZionist youth groups
(for Noam it was certainly not the standard Zionist viewpoint), Hebrew-speaking
groups, Hebrew-speaking summer camps, social activities. He knew more
about these things than anyone else, and assumed a position of leadership.
So he was very noticeable and admirable.
began to date sometime in 1947the year she began at Penn, and the year
that a disillusioned Noam nearly dropped out. Her memories of the University
are a little warmer than Noams. I loved it there, she says. I found
my interests; had many excellent, even wonderful professors; and looking
back, received a quite satisfactory intellectual grounding.
as for those first, heady years of college romance, well
recollection is that Noam and I didnt see all that much of each other
at Penn, simply because we were so busy, she says. We were both working
(teaching Hebrew School), and involved in so many things outside of school.
Life was compartmentalized. You went to school during the day, did your
homework, taught Hebrew School, and pursued the rest of your life in what
they found the time to get married in 1949, when she was 19 and he had
just turned 21. Did she, I wonder, have any idea what she was getting
think I did know what I was getting in for, but found it exciting, she
says. One of his political mentors took me aside and explained to me
about his politics, the extent of his radicalism, and the dangers his
views could come to pose over time. He wanted to make sure I was aware
of how extreme Noams views were and what that might mean for the future.
So I guess you could say I did know, in a general and overall sort of
years after she graduated from Penn in 1951, the young couple moved to
a kibbutz in the new country of Israel. While Noam was turned off by the
Stalinist political leanings of the kibbutz, they both had some practical
setup that we foresaw there would not have been personally acceptable,
she explains. I would have lived in the kibbutz of our choice, and Noam
would have spent the week in the city at a university job, coming home
on weekends. This didnt seem desirable to either of us. I think we never
really regretted the decision not to return. They now live in the Boston
suburb of Lexington.
the 1960s, Noams political activities were sufficiently intense that
they decided that she should go back to graduate school to earn her doctorate.
That way, if he were jailed for any length of time, she could support
herself and their children, Aviva, Diane, and Harry. That never happened,
though he has seen the inside of a jail. (See main story.)
got her Ph.D. in linguistics at Harvard, and her work has been in language
development and psycholinguistics. But dont jump to any conclusions.
Its a very different sort of linguistics from Noams pursuits, she
says. I always have to laugh when people talk about how interesting our
dinner-table conversation must be since were in the same field.
taught for many years at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in
the Department of Reading and Language, and became involved in educational
issues of literacy and the like. She has since moved into educational
technology, and developed software for language and reading.
wonder if she has any hopes or dreams of a quiet, disengaged retirement
with Noam, now that he is in his seventies and a grandfather of four.
given up on that one, she responds. Hell never stop. Actually, its
probably a good thing for him. So I settle for water sports in the summers,
an occasional hour of television during the long, dark winters, and endless
discussions of the grandchildrens latest antics. Not too bad a deal.