This is old now and all over the interweb PLUS all the feminist listservs that reach my mailbox. What's the verdict? Funny? Post-Feminist? JUST funny? Too true to BE funny? Too funny to be true? Other? Check one (or more...)
We leave Jerusalem for the airport in two hours and I don't even know if it's worth going to sleep. It's almost midnight here and and cab is coming at 2 AM. So much has happened that I've been too tired to write most of it down. I guess I'd better chronicle it somehow though.
This was one of my favorite moments of our trip. It's almost dawn at the Kotel (Western Wall of the old Temple) and a young boy and his father prepare for morning prayers. This day is the first that he will "lay tefillin "-- wear the special prayer objects on his arm and forehead to follow the commandments by placing reminders on the arm and "between thine eyes" - on his forehead. They've chosen to celebrate this very significant pre-Bar Mitzvah moment in the early morning - a sunrise service where the Amidah - a critical prayer - is recited just as the dawn arrives. A loving and very impressive family of four girls, two boys and two remarkable parents, they all joined to offer moral support and presence to someone they love as he takes this first step to what I guess you'd call "religious adulthood."
I know the photo is blurry but I don't like to show faces of other people's families -- they deserve their privacy. I just want you to know how lovely it was. An animated and intelligent young man, his father at his side - his sisters, mom, cousins, friend - and a couple of us -- watching him make his way. I told his mom, whom I very much admire, that it was a privilege to be there. Probably sounds like hogwash but it isn't - watching all this take place as the sun rose to illuminate us all was a true blessing.
Of course we couldn't watch everything because much of the ceremony took place on the "men's side" of the mehitza (divider between men and women) where we weren't allowed to be. We peeked through fence dividers though, so we did get to see a bit. I've been living a fairly observant, Orthodox life for a couple of years now, moving forward month by month, holiday by holiday, and I continue to be amazed at the levels of intolerance I manifested before I learned about observant life from the inside. Days like this one remind me of how much of the world we can't judge without living it - or at least being willing to come along as others do. This day was a perfect example of that.
That same day, a cousin of the family at the Kotel invited me to visit the school her kids attend - K-8 - near the town of Efrat, on the grounds of a kibbutz called Rosh Tzurim. Founded by an amazing woman named Noah Mandelbaum, it began as an effort to accommodate a single Downs child by mainstreaming him, along with a special teacher, in a "regular" classroom. It was so successful that within months she had 4, then 6, then finally, so many kids that she launched a school where such mainstreaming would be policy. This photo shows the school in action. There are many classrooms for Downs, autistic and other developmentally affected kids study alongside the rest of the class. I didn't want to take photos there and distract them. In this nursery class is another phase of the program. The young woman whose back is to us is fairly seriously compromised but she is permanent staff in the classroom and is learning to be a preschool aide able to get a job and work outside the school. That smiling girl in the blue sweater is today's "guest" - another child with serious developmental issues who will work in the classroom for the day. The program helps these young people find a place of their own in the world - and teach all the kids at Reshit School the value of every human person.
This is Noah, the school's founder. Surrounding her is part of the farm where every child - "normal" and otherwise, works each day - together. You can see the colors, the free-form murals - all the stuff that reminds me of schools we all dreamed of in the 60s. In many ways the tone of this school is similar - but this is a real "put your money where your mouth is" environment. Parents have to believe that the things their kids learn here are more important than super-competitive environments where the only standard is how far their children are from the next step on the ladder. Learning to be moral, caring human beings is an actual mission here.
The kids are pretty free (it's kind of Summerhillish), across ability spectrum, and the curriculum is designed to allow each to learn in her own style at her own speed. When I asked Noah about kids like mine, who had needed and appreciated structure, knowing what was going to come next, her reply was startling in its good sense. Basically - and I'm paraphrasing here - the idea is that "for some kids, especially more intelligent ones, that may be true. But for kids with less ability it is especially important that they learn to live without an institutional structure every minute because the world doesn't have that kind of structure - and the world is where they will have to live." By the way, after years of fighting with the educational establishment, Reshit has been designated a model and its efforts to mainstream all kinds of kids will be emulated in schools throughout the country.
I have more to write - about exploring ancient tunnels under old Jerusalem and more - but this is enough for now. I'll try to have the rest in a day or two.
These two lovelies, Ruthie (R) and Naomi (L), run a wonderful hat shop on King George St. in Jerusalem (#14 if you want to stop by...) I met them last year and loved both the hats (if you live an observant life you wear a hat to services and many women wear them all or almost all the time) and the two of them. A women-owned, sister-run company, their shop is my favorite - partly because Ruthie works on the hats right there in front of us - but also because they are such a great story.
What better day than Shabbat to think about two wonderful women making us happy to wear our hats to shul? I took two friends with me when I went there this time and among us I think we bought five hats! Here's mine:
A little stardust never hurt anyone, right? I really love it and am now going to have to demonstrate enormous discipline by waiting until spring to wear it. Let's hear it for the girls, right? And Shabbat Shalom.
NOTE: this post was created Thursday night and set to be posted on Saturday morning. NO WORK on it was done on Shabbat.
This was a remarkable day. In the first place, according to my pedometer we've walked seven miles! Even more importantly, of course, was where we walked. Our first stop was an accident - wandering toward the Old City from our apartment we ended up in the lovely old neighborhood of Yemen Moshe. Symbolized by the windmill at the top of the hill upon which this old neighborhood is built, it has long been highly desirable and glamorous place to live - full of artists and intellectuals. Now there are also dozens of galleries and shops - but we just strolled around en route to the oldest parts of the city. From there, we went into Old Jerusalem through the Zion Gate - a way we'd never been before, and explored the area around an old Armenian church, when suddenly we came upon this sign
At first we weren't even sure it was for real -- we'd certainly never heard of it and both of us are pretty well-schooled in Holocaust lore. As we drew closer, we were shocked to find a small entrance to an equally small courtyard offering the gateway to "The Chamber of the Holocaust" and this sign:
From there we moved into a small, cave-like room whose walls were covered with stone tablets, much like grave stones, dedicated to lost towns in the countries of the Shoah. Three rooms and an outdoor courtyard were covered with the "headstones" and all the rest of the exhibits were, old, faded, primitive and clearly created with love, outrage and very little money. Somehow, the very "scotch tape and cutouts" quality of the exhibits magnified the grief and determination of those who had created them. It was a remarkable moment in our day. Here are a couple more photos:
The "cave" with the headstones to lost cities and towns.
One of several walls of photo- graphs of lost souls. There are more, but this is enough. Lots of other things happened today but this is where I want to leave things. I'll try one more post before Shabbat but if I don't make it, I'll catch us up on Saturday night.
Here's just one preview though - of Jerusalem's favorite market - Machene Yehuda. Good night for now.
Early this morning, in a gray, chilly rain, around ten of us went to the Western Wall (the Kotel) to say morning prayers. It's always very moving (and sometimes upsetting) to go to the Kotel. I've been there in summer and fall, alone, with our kids and with groups, to a bar mitzvah and a paratrooper regiment induction (all Israeli military take their oaths there), when I was first pregnant 30+ years ago, and placed a prayer for our new child's health into one of the cracks, and countless other times. One thing remains true. There's the really big men's side....
and the really small and usually (though not today) ridiculously crowded women's side. Surprisingly, the separation, like that in the synagogue, doesn't bother me. If I were a young mother whose sons and husband were sitting together while I sat alone, I might feel differently but for some reason I like being with my "sisters" on the women's side, not worrying about the spiritual condition of anyone but myself. It's peaceful.
Of course, in all parts of observant Judaism there's an undertone of the perplexing - why must women and men be apart for so many of life's critical moments? Some of the rules, however they are justified, are difficult and I'm struggling to be available to understand them. The toughest right now, because we've just been learning it, are the Laws of Family Purity and the physical separation of husband and wife any time there is a presence, or recent presence, of menstrual blood. It's confusing enough dealing with periods, and the "clean" days after one's period ends, which must pass before any kind of physical contact (not just sex) is permitted. Of course rules like these are observed to different degrees by different couples. Some make token acknowledgment of the requirements. Some sleep in separate beds. Some don't sit on the same couch if there is only one cushion. SOME won't even pass a bottle of milk from one hand to the other but place the bottle on the table for the other to retrieve. OK. That's a choice - it all comes from brief mentions in the Torah, this is how it's been interpreted and it's so private that each couple finds its own way of living within the law. Women also find their own ways of dealing with what could seem a real stigma. One of my favorite teachers says it's a time to "reclaim one's body for oneself" and further, that the physical restrictions cause couples to deal more openly in verbal terms with many of life's issues, because physical contact isn't part of the equation. I just listen and work to be open-minded - I have learned that much about this world into which I've moved becomes intelligible over time - and not to condemn that which I haven't had a chance to absorb.
Even more confusing and the hardest of all, for me, are the rules of childbirth and miscarriage. Because we bleed after childbirth, once we are free of birth pains and no longer in distress, in many families the husband does not touch his wife again after that initial support during birth, until the bleeding stops. One rabbi's rule: "Help physically as much as you need to during labor - but the minute the baby is born - no more." Others say that a post-partum woman is still "sick" so deserving of as much love and affection as she requires. The same divisions exist after a miscarriage. The bleeding preempts physical contact once the initial trauma is over. This is tough stuff. (There's also lots to say about the Mikvah - a ritual bath married women visit before resuming sexual relations after periods or childbirth. I learned an enormous amount about that today from a generous young, newly-married friend who's also on this trip. But I think it's another post altogether. I acknowledge that here so you don't think I've omitted it altogether.)
I have waited over a week since our class about this before I posted, in order to allow myself time to think about it. I've brought myself to a position of tolerance and acceptance; those who believe that this is the way God wants us to live, or believe that these are God's laws which cannot be broken no matter how we feel -- these loving souls should "live and be well" within the life's rules they've chosen. I'm through with condemnations of everything I don't agree with. I used to think so many things -- things that this life has taught me were just ONE WAY of seeing the world. I'm working on reaching that attitude toward these rules of "family purity."
They arise today because of this trip to the Kotel - just one more separation -- that placed this new family information in sharp relief. I've been troubled by it - probably always will be. But I consider it real growth that I'm working to understand, not deride, these ideas. What better place to do that than in this holy city?
Usually when I write about visits to Jerusalem it's to a city that looks like this -- night over an illuminated, golden old city
Or this- sunset over the windmill of Yemen Moshe.
Not today though. Today, outside the lovely apartment we're staying in this week - there was
SNOW!!! not a lot of snow by the time we arrived - but enough to leave little piles along the curb, to color gardens and car windshields white and to make it cold, wet and windy. Too wet to even take many photos - but this will give you an idea.
It's been an eventful day. We had a snowy, foggy ride from Tel Aviv and arrived in Jerusalem to see kids building snowmen with the soggy remains of the storm, people bundled up and damp and, for those who usually visit in prime weather months, a city that was almost unrecognizable.
We spent the afternoon wandering around in the slush, buying groceries and even taking a cozy nap with the storm ranting outside. We had a crazy dinner with our synagogue group in a great kosher Chinese restaurant and now, as soon as I post this, we'll go to sleep so we can get up and go early to the Western Wall in the morning. I'll have more to report then.
Never a dull moment. After a relatively uneventful flight from Dulles to Frankfurt – even two movies I wanted to see (Michael Clayton and Gone Baby, Gone) we went to the Lufthansa desk to pick up our boarding passes for the Frankfurt-Tel Aviv leg of our trip. The airport was teeming despite the fact tat it was only 7AM. This is such a big transit point that flights come in from all over the world and you think nothing of passing women in abayas, Africans in full regalia, European speaking every language in the EU and of course Americans of every conceivable type. Even though the airport is in one of, if not THE major commercial cities of Europe, the variety is such that you don’t really think of yourself as being in Germany but sort of floating in some netherworld.
After waiting in a very long line, we finally reached the ticket agent, who took quite some time to pull up our information. This is very unusual in a German institution, especially Lufthansa, which is always completely efficient. Then we found our why. Rick’s passport expires August 11th. Today is February 18th – a week short of six months. Israeli security requires that a passport be valid for at east six months after scheduled arrival in Israel. He’s a week shy of that and we spent an anxious couple of hours in the Lufthansa business class lounge waiting to see what would happen. But when the flight was finally called, (and after we went through Secrurity causing a ruckus as my Macbook Air emerged to flounce its way through the Xray machine) we waltzed onto the plane with nary a question. Much ado about nothing -- but given the German penchant for regulations and the Israeli attitude toward accommodation, it could have been otherwise.
Now we're in Tel Aviv - back at the wonderful Nina Suites in the arty neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, and enjoying what I"m pretty sure is a nice funky neighborhood about to turn into the unaffordable Soho of Tel Aviv.
But we're jet lagged and grubby and so now we're going to sleep. But I'm leaving you with one extra photo - te kind you show to your kids in the "gee wiz" years They were de-icing the wing right outside our window as we waited to leave Frankfurt.
It's Blogging Boomers day again -- I'm posting this from Tel Aviv so watch this space for Israel posts for the next week or so. For now though - this is a great weekly anthology of original, thoughtful boomer writings.
Tomorrow - Sunday afternoon - we leave again for Israel. I'm amazed that we're returning so soon and will be curious to see how it feels to be with a group instead of just the two of us. Last time was so perfect; that always makes me nervous - it's not good to try to recreate perfection so we have to just allow this trip to evolve as its own.
We're staying in a beautiful apartment in a great neighborhood and have great plans - I promise to keep you posted here.