Thursday morning I sent myself an email that said this: We are just leaving Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and I am so freaked out. Maybe the SOTAH story had more impact than I realized. I told my husband that I was close to tears, that my chest was tight and I was someplace between scared and angry and he said - "You mean you felt like the Sotah, huh?" Well.
She does haunt me. Even now, when I have learned so much that mitigates the horrors of her treatment, I can see her, standing there, as they pull off her hair covering and stand her before God (and the priests), forced to drink the waters full of dirt and ashes. And what does that have to do with Mea Shearim? I'm the intruder there; the very Orthodox residents who choose to remain largely on the outskirts of the rest of the world and live a highly structured and mostly literal interpretation of every law and passage in the Torah - didn't invite me to go wandering around looking at them while my husband bought a new Tallit (prayer shawl.) Even so, for some reason every time I go there I get so sad.
My husband once accused me of "overidentification with the oppressed." Maybe that's it. The men are so clearly the ones with the power here, walking by in 2's and 3's while harried mothers and kids run errands and see to 3 or 4 children under 5. I have no right to consider them opressed. Or unhappy. Or anything else. What happens is that I imagine myself - stubborn, curious, eager to see and know everything - growing up here and wonder what would have become of me. Maybe I would have had a peaceful and loving life, but my projections won't let me think about that. I just struggle with the stories I write in my mind about these families (these women) and their lives.
I have always loved The Chosen, and I have great respect for Chassidic Jews, for the most part. But there is something about this infinitely old, infinitely tired part of Jerusalem that just breaks my heart. As I write this, I suddenly wonder if perhaps it has more to do with me and my issues -- that their lives are their own and I'm not sure that's true of mine.
I'm writing this Thursday night in case I can't finish it before Shabbat tomorrow -- so Shabbat Shalom.