25 October, 2010


"Secret" by Maroon 5 (lyrics) is my inspiration this time.
I've got a secret. What is the point of a secret anyhow? Perhaps it is to protect someone (the carrier or someone else); perhaps it is to remain anonymous; perhaps still it is to mull over internally before sharing. So then, why share a secret? Perhaps to seek help; perhaps to find glory; perhaps to make connections.

My secret empowered me today. I held my head higher than in recent days. I walked with more pride and confidence. I owned my secret and treasured it. I did not walk in fear that someone would take it away from me. There were times when I walked in fear that someone would find out however. Constantly checking, and yet smiling, I must have appeared a little off. I'm still working out the practical details, so maybe tomorrow I will be less fidgety.
Today, I wore tzitzit (tallit katan). And I tucked them. So, what does that mean? It means I can walk anywhere and no one knows I am wearing them. It means I have to be really cognizant when I use the restroom. It means I have a secret.

But what does it really mean?
All day long I have felt little knots pressed against my skin. All day long, something has grazed and tickled my leg. All day long I have been reminded of my connections. When I finished eating and was sitting with friends at lunch and had only a few minutes remaining, I got up to go talk to someone else, when I felt them, and I went and benched instead. I was sitting in the library doing some translations for my bible class and I was getting really frustrated because the concordance and the dictionaries didn't have every word from the TaNaKh listed. Over 75minutes I had been sitting there translating a single verse and trying to find it's match somewhere else to no avail. Nearly at my wits end and about to call it a day, I shifted heavily in my chair. Three of the four tzitzit pressed into my leg. I took a deep breath and dove back in. Less than two minutes later I found exactly what I was looking for (still don't know how). On my walk home I heard the usual negative remarks about my kippa (most of the time, the general street comments fall like water on a duck's back) and all I could do was grin because I knew that I also had my tzitzit on. That my relationship to G-d and Judaism was both public and private.

In this world of facebooking, tweeting, blogging, is anything private? Are there secrets that are kept? For as much information exists, there is also another layer. We do not know the person next to us, even when it might seem like we do. Those private thoughts, those private conversations, those private relationships, they are unique to the individual. The impetus, the drive, the motivations, these too are unique.
Sometimes, it is good to let such things out. Perhaps Maroon 5 does it have it right when they say:
"Everyone has a secret/ But can they keep it/ Oh no they can’t."

03 October, 2010

"The long and winding road"

"The long and winding road" by the Beatles gave inspiration this time. [lyrics and youtube]
My kippa wearing has taken on a life of it's own. Not to say that I am detached from it, but rather that I read so much into it and use it as a springboard to further other discussions of my own.
How to act in the diaspora versus Israel. Meaning behind and keeping of mitzvot. Who is this G-d which wearing one gives deference to? How do you spell G-d (in English, in Hebrew)? The good, bad, and down right ugly of society. And many many more. I find that my journey to being a rabbinical student has been long and winding, and my journey as a Jew is following the same path. These questions with no answers, only discussion and the occasional bit of practical behavior.

Today I am particularly touched by my kippa and the emotions I am allowed to experience because of it. I have been feeling a tad under the weather the last couple days and so walking to school just seemed like it would be too much energy expenditure too early in the day, so I rode the bus (not a common activity for me). As usual though, was how crowded the bus was at that time of the morning. Is it paranoid if everyone really is staring at you? I was attentive to this today, mostly because I was standing in front of two different parents, each with a preschooler (no more than 3yrs old). The mother and her daughter were orthodox; the father and his son were not (no kippa or tzitzit or other distinctive clothing). Kids say whatever is on their mind and when they see something out of the norm, they ask, as they should. The little boy was satisfied with the answer 'because she wants to'. The little girl did not receive the same response, but instead was told that 'that lady doesn't know what is right'. This girl was very persistent and was completely unsatisfied and in the usual mode of preschoolers, stopped listening and just repeated the question over and over and over again. The mother tried to shush her, to no avail. They were relatively quiet, but there was no taking that little girl's eyes off my head. It ended with me getting off the bus at my stop. Who knows where it went from there.

I exited on a sour note I have to admit. I was upset that I didn't say something to the girls. I was sad and mad that the mother was teaching her daughter different equals wrong. I could feel myself getting riled up again and I didn't like it. Getting inside the security (literally) of HUC made me relax.

On hot days like today (nobody told G-d that it is October and that there is no reason for 98F days any more) I notice the kippa more because it keeps in the heat and makes it harder to put my hair back into a ponytail. I was ever so aware of it too this afternoon because I needed to pick up a large sum of money from the post office--anything dealing with government workers and Israel is a nightmare, that's all I have to say. As to be expected, the teller saw how much I wanted and then started grilling me on why I was in Israel and why was I wearing a kippa and what does my husband say, etc. He was asking in a non-aggressive way and I was happy to talk to him, my defenses were not up.

An older couple (I'm being generous when I say I'm pretty sure they were in their late 80s) came in and stood right next to me, who needs privacy? They were British and we didn't get into why they happened to be at this particular post office in Jerusalem. While I was still at the counter, the woman was talking to me in fairly fast Hebrew and I was not able to pick out many words, just the usual, kippa, tefillah, lama, isha, etc. Her tone of voice was curious and excited and happy. When I had finished my transaction, I sat next to her and asked her to repeat what she asked in English. She did so and I answered my now customary response 'because I am a Jew'. I don't think she could have smiled more. I was then given the gift of a piece of her story. Her whole life she wanted to be a boy. She wanted to pray with the boys and wear kippa/tefillin/tallit. She wanted to study. She wanted to matter as a woman and as a Jew. This was not her lot in life however and eventually she resigned herself to being fulfilled as a mother and a wife. But she makes her husband study when he can and speak hebrew with her. They were going to a weekly lecture because finally in her life she could sit and listen while others discussed. At one point, she reached for my arm and looked me straight in the eye and said 'you keep doing this'. In those eyes I saw pain and happiness in the tear that was forming. It only threatened but did not spill over.

In this world we cannot think that different is wrong. We cannot let opportunities for understanding go wasted for fear of embarrassment. We must use the challenges presented to us to find commonalities. Each generation has its own struggles to be sure; what they are for mine now or in the future is still unfolding. I must not squander the path laid before me by people who overcame their struggles, on their long and winding road. For all the uncertainties which exist, regrets (by happenstance or by choice) are the most frightening. I will remember this as I travel down my long and winding road to some unknown door.