Making friends with the rock on my finger

I first saw it on the shores of Tomales Bay. We were kayaking, stopped on a secluded beach for lunch, and suddenly, when I wasn’t looking, it jumped out at me. The words I screamed aren’t fit for print.

Now I see the diamond each time I look down at my hands.

“So? Tell me about the ring,” my best friend shrieked over the phone when I told her I was engaged.

“Well, it belonged to his grandmother, Adele Hoffman, apparently a ‘tough old broad,’ who lived in Newport, R.I.,” I answered.

“No, no,” she laughed. “What’s it look like? The cut?”

I told her it was beautiful, simple. I may have even said sparkly. As for the cut, what did I know? I asked her what my options were before we settled on “round.”

At a baby-naming in San Mateo, women encircled me to take a peek. Some yenta I barely know grabbed my hand at a party, telling me she hadn’t even realized I was dating. In an airport bathroom, a woman leaned over and asked, “Tiffany’s?” I was grateful to say it was Adele’s.

Some reach out, anxious to try it on. My mother zoomed in to take a picture. My sister, who knows me too well, said I “look funny in it.” She’s right.

Don’t be fooled by the rock. I’m still Jessie in flip-flops. And I’m more comfortable in them than I am in bling-bling. The day diamonds become my best friend, slap me.

I fantasize about flashing a gumball-machine ring when women ask to see it. “Isn’t it beautiful,” I’d say, flaunting a plastic black spider.

This attention to the ring baffles me, but maybe it shouldn’t.

Jews and diamonds, we go way back.

Up until the early part of the 18th century, when diamonds came exclusively from India, we were the traders — in Aden, Cairo and across the Ottoman Empire — who greeted the ships and caravans. We gave gold and silver in exchange for the gems, which we then resold to Jewish merchants in Europe and Lithuania. So writes Edward Jay Epstein in “The Diamond Invention.”

We were moneylenders and gem polishers. If we wanted to work, we had no choice. So we cared about the value of diamonds, Epstein writes. We appraised, repaired, cut, polished and sold them. And in the face of centuries of expulsions, diamonds became an important asset. Easy to transport and redeemable for cash throughout Europe, they gave us a way to safeguard wealth.

Antwerp, New York City, Ramat Gan in Israel – where you see diamond trades today, you’ll see Jews.

But then there’s the Africa factor. Now the richest continent for diamond mining, it accounts for 49 percent of the world’s production. There, the resource has fueled brutal rebel wars, illegal trading and smuggling. Revenues from “conflict diamonds” have purchased weapons and paid for massacres, prompting Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights to say: “If the public learns to associate them with hacked-off limbs and the rape of children, the notion of diamonds as a symbol of love could evaporate forever.”

I know the ring on my hand has nothing to do with civil wars and that strides have been made to curb the horrors I speak of. But do self-righteous Berkeley types know this?

Women who gawk over the ring make me uncomfortable, but they don’t hold a candle to those who make me feel like I should apologize for or hide it.

At a recent get-together, I saw a Jewish classmate’s eyes bug out of his head when he saw my diamond. “Don’t worry, it was his grandmother’s,” I blurted out, before he could speak. He smiled widely, reached out for a congratulatory hug and said, “Good, there’s no blood on that one.”

No blood, but when I run my left hand through my hair, it usually yanks out a strand.

I didn’t need a diamond or even an engagement ring. I once thought I’d be equally happy with an engagement bike. But I tell you, this sparkly thing is growing on me.

This rock of my people, it makes me smile. It’s a part of him, my fiancé’s history, that is now a part of me. And in the end, the sentiments behind it, the significance it carries, are all that matter.

Jessica Ravitz recently completed her master’s in journalism at U.C. Berkeley. She can be reached at [email protected].