28 July, 2010

"Let me be myself"

"Let me be myself" (3 doors down)
As I wrote in my last post, I have been wearing a kipa in Jerusalem, full time. Some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are just ugly. Today was an ugly day. In short, I was told that G-d didn't love me (because I wore a kipa) and neither do men. While the rational thought is to say that they are just ignorant people and it is a pity they are so close-minded, the emotional response is much more raw than that.
Perhaps it's a cultural thing, perhaps some feel like it is their duty to say something, but I just don't get it. What makes a stranger feel like it's ok to walk up to someone on the street and comment on their attire?

These recent encounters have allowed me to really ask myself why I am doing these things. What I have decided after some serious introspection, is I am doing it for me. I wear a kipa because in the torah it says to cover your head in reverence to G-d (I'm clearly paraphrasing). A kipa is a recognized symbol of this mitzvah; a hat is not, a baseball cap isn't either, nor is a scarf. It is recognized in the greater Jewish community and within myself. It is how I see myself when I get dressed and look at myself in the mirror.

I put on tefillin on Monday for the first time in my life. I have been waiting for the honor of putting it on. I knew I had to be ready for it and previously it hadn't felt right. Something clicked that day though and made me say yes. All the books and instructional materials I've read could not have helped me that day. What do you do when the head piece won't stay on your head and doesn't have the ability to tighten? (resourceful answer: take the barrettes holding the kipa and use them on the leather straps to pin to your head). How do you wrap the tefillin around your arm, while still holding it in place? What is too tight or too loose? How do you turn the pages of the prayer book with all that leather in your palm and your fingers nearly immobilized?
These questions will only take a few times of practice before they become second nature and I'll quickly forget those physical stumbling blocks. What will remain is the feeling, the sensation that comes with davening with tefillin. I was elevated to a new level of prayer. I was able to get into 'conversation' faster and stay there longer just by having it wrapped on my arm and head. After I removed them, the imprints from the leather on my skin remained. As I looked down, I felt empowered, I felt connected. For hours this lasted. The next day, same thing (but I used a different set which fit better so I didn't have to worry about it falling off my head).

Once I had a conversation with a friend and they said to me that in order to know what you want, you need to find the void. Is there a gaping hole when in Israel that doesn't exist when in America? (a question I asked when considering aliyah). Do I feel partially dressed without a kipa? Is my prayer and praying as much as it could be without tefillin? And only after experiencing both sides can an answer be attempted. I had to know; today I found my answer--least for tefillin. I cannot wait to buy my own set. I cannot wait to know what it is like to pull the hard leather out of the soft velvet case each morning. Watching over time as the leather starts to soften, starts to show signs that I wrap it the same way each day--this is what has happened to my tallit. Perhaps in 40 years from now, I'll still be wrapping tefillin each morning with the same set and remember this time, remember what it was like to be here in Israel, being me. That's all I ask, let me be myself.

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