Friday, October 26, 2012

Riding Buses After Dark

Buses are positively ubiquitous in Israel. I've written about them lots of times before, including here and here and here and here and here.

And I want to do it again.

We're in choref zman, winter time, in Israel. Not literally as in snow and ice, because the weather is still relatively mild here, but in terms of the clock, which we set back already, a few days before Yom Kippur.

It gets dark pretty early in this part of the world.

Last night, I went to see the daughter of dear friends perform in a production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It was fabulous community theatre, by the way. Funny. Touching. And in English.

It took two buses and nearly 90 minutes to get there. It's funny how my relationship to travel time has become more elastic in Israel. In 90 minutes from Baltimore, I could be halfway to Newark airport. Last night, I traveled less than 15 miles.

I especially love riding buses after dark.

It was pure, tear-inducing joy, spending those 90 minutes driving through Jerusalem on a Thursday night, listening to oldies on my "Nostalgia" playlist. Through the bus windows, I got to see:
  • Har Habayit (every time I travel into Jerusalem)
  • Tourists and locals shopping for tomatoes and burekas at Machane Yehuda
  • Arab men in keffiyeh (keffiyot? keffiyim? keffiyahs?)
  • Felafel vendors
  • Small crowds of shoppers, laden with packages, waiting at covered stops for other buses
  • High end tourist shops selling expensive Judaica 
  • Small, old holes-in-the-wall from which specialty vendors have been making a living for decades
  • Lots of Hebrew signs which hurt my brain trying to read
But more than that, the ride was filled with a special kind of I can't believe I get to live in Israel bliss, watching the endless parade of humanity, my peeps, boarding and alighting, as I traveled to my destination:
No, not this kind of peeps.
  • The fine-looking soldier in uniform, asleep on his huge backpack, traveling home for Shabbat.
  • The modestly-dressed religious woman in sparkly black clothes, full makeup and blond sheitel in an updo, on her way to a simcha. 
  • Three 14 year-old Israeli girls in the seats that face one other near the front, babbling and giggling in rapid fire Hebrew.
  • The old man with celery sticking out of his covered bubbe cart.
  • The young woman in a tank top with a whole lot of eye liner, saying Tehillim.
  • The young man in a black hat doing his best to learn from a Hebrew sefer in the low light available inside the bus.
  • The middle-aged Russian couple dressed for a nice dinner out.
  • The striking, slender Ethiopian woman who stood talking on her cell phone the whole ride, even though there were plenty of seats available.
  • The American yeshiva students, headed "to town" for Thursday night pizza.
In my neshama, I was living out the adage on this Arabic-Hebrew-English, only in Israel, sign.




Monday, October 22, 2012

Women and Geula: A Book Review



The Moon’s Lost Light: A Torah Perspective on Women from the Fall of Eve to the Full Redemption
by Devorah Heshelis
Targum Press, 2006
134 pages, including 192 footnotes and 3 appendices
Currently out-of-print but available as an ebook.

There is no way to whitewash this fact: in the beginning of my Jewish journey, there was much pain and many tears over my experience as a newly religious woman in a traditional Jewish community.  I was perpetually torn in two.  On the one hand, I was learning and loving Torah.  I was simultaneously fighting to retain my dignity as a woman in a community that appeared to thrive on silencing and sidelining me.  At the time, I had no role models, no decent books and no one who took my concerns seriously.

Eventually, I began to find books that addressed my issues. My personal struggle coincided with an explosion of publishing about Jewish women and, over a period of years, I amassed a collection of approximately 500 books about Jewish women.  More than 20 years later, now married to an Orthodox rabbi and living in a religious community in Israel, I am ceaselessly fascinated by gender issues in Judaism.  

Many of the books about women and Judaism made aliyah with me.
After much study, I came to understand gender as a central organizing principle that permeates traditional Jewish thought. Apologetics aside, I came to understand that traditional Judaism is, in fact, overly masculine. And I began to suspect that the dawning of the Messianic era would correct the imbalance and make women’s spirituality more central.

In 2006, Devorah Heshelis, using a pen name, wrote a book that not only confirmed my intuitive conclusions, but gave me access to 192 footnotes of Torah-true sources to support them.

The core of The Moon’s Lost Light is an extended essay in which Mrs. Heshelis recounts the high spiritual level on which women were initially created and how women lost part of our original spiritual glory through Chava’s sin. Mrs. Heshelis makes the case, deeply rooted in Torah sources, that the enormous consequences of Chava’s sin, which are elucidated in the book, have affected gender relations throughout human history.  In a sense, all of human history to date has been a spiritual rectification of these consequences.

In the end, Mrs. Heshelis assures us of the Torah’s promise that gender equity and the balance between masculine and feminine spiritual energy will ultimately be restored.  Today, we plainly see progress in the rectification of the spiritual status of women, but we do not yet see its conclusion.

Of the hundreds of books I have read about the status of women in Judaism, none has impacted me as deeply as The Moon’s Lost Light. I carry the premise, and the promise, of this magnificent scholarship with me every single day in my life as a Jewish woman.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pain Of The Saying Goodbye Variety

I've just returned from my third trip back to the US in the 2+ years since we made aliyah. This was a trip I especially did not want to make. My mother-in-law, hospitalized for three weeks with multiple symptoms that defied diagnosis, passed away on the first day of Sukkot, just two days short of her 83rd birthday.

My in-laws were blessed with 70 happy years together.

Had she passed away less than a day before, shiva would have lasted an hour and the balance of the week-long mourning period would have been cancelled by Sukkot. As it happened, shiva was postponed until the entire holiday had passed, including the 8th day that is observed outside of Israel. So the family languished in a kind of mourning limbo for over a week, grieving privately without the communal support of shiva and its attendant mourning rituals.

Since one of my spiritual goals for the new year is to focus on the positive, even in a difficult situation, I recognized many brachot.

Once shiva began, there was a steady stream of visitors, most strangers to me, but all with a connection to my husband or one or more members of his family, most of whom have lived in the same area for close to 50 years.

I witnessed incredible chesed pour forth from this community. Spending so much time together, I discovered strengths in members of my husband's family that I hadn't fully appreciated in the past. And I was able to visit briefly with our daughter, my mother and my sister, along with her son and his new wife, all of whom came from other US cities to extend their condolences in person.

The visit was stuffed with difficult emotions. During my two weeks away, I felt bereft of Jerusalem. I didn't just miss home. I missed God's Presence, which I find harder to sense outside of Israel. I missed the company of people who share my worldview, the companionship of people who understand the sacrifices we (willingly) make to live where we understand that God has asked us to live.

It's common to hear talk about the financial sacrifices that life in Israel often requires. But today, at this stage of Jewish history, when aliyah often means living far from loved ones, my vote for the most difficult sacrifice of aliyah is the pain of saying goodbye to the people we love.

It's a pain that comes with death, but not only with death. It comes when we board our aliyah flight, but not only when we board our aliyah flight.

It comes, again and again, every time we get the chance to be together, however briefly.

It comes again, with every hug, and with every kiss, in which we must say goodbye.