Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happily ever after

When my father died, I thought I was covered for life.

I'd paid my dues. One hardship per person, doesn't it work like that?

"You'll see that from now on life will go smoothly for you", said one illustrious Rebbetzin.
"God is the father of Yesomim." The other rabbis said. "You'll have special Siyata Dishmaya in all you do."

When my years of dating don't bring me where I want them to, I can't figure it out. Making aliyah, tick. Losing father, tick. Older single stuck in the "shidduch crises", surely that can't be meant for me too?

I resign myself to my not-yet-perfect life. I just need to get married. One more trial to get through, and I'm home free. Then life will be perfect. Happily ever after. Sure, I'll have to deal with Parnassah, and Shalom Bayis, and Chinuch Banim. But that's OK. That's life. I can't wait.

Around me, my friends and peers marry. Ecstatic weddings followed by marital bliss. They settle down as newlyweds, in the cheaper suburbs of Jerusalem, in Kiryat Sefer and the South. Wedding invitations become scarce. Instead arrive the text messages announcing the birth of kids, the Brits and the Kiddushes.I visit 2 bedroom apartments, and admire their new decor. I buy baby presents, and play hide and seek with their toddlers.

I stand watching from the side. Sometimes I'm jealous, that's the ugly truth. I don't want to admit it, even to myself. I'm glad they are happy. I wait eagerly to be happy too, like them.

Life is taking over. We are growing up.

I call my friend, I know she's due to give birth, any day now. I'm surprised I haven't heard from her in a while.
Her husband answers. She can't talk now, he says. He sounds awful. "How is she?" I ask. "Is everything OK?"
And then he tells me. He tells me about the ultrasound results they got a few months back. He tells me about the physical state the baby is in now, and the emotional state she is in.

Pieces fall together. The way she cut herself off, this year, from the rest of us. The fear she must have been living through, the grief. And I thought she was self absorbed, I thought she was drifting in a hazy and blissful cloud of contentment. I hang up the phone and cry.

I finally open my eyes, and take a look around me, around my world. One friend lost a child, another's husband was injured, another is struggling with infertility. And the others, those whose lives don't run to headlines, I begin to realize they must have their struggles too.

Life is what lies beyond the diamond ring, beyond the Chuppah. Real life. Not a fairytale.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Parshat Noach: Doers and Believers

Have you ever heard a question, a question that an entire Dvar Torah rests on, and not gotten it?

Noach is the only person to be called a Tzaddik in the Tanach. (I haven't checked the sources myself, but that's what the last Yeshiva guy I dated told me. So if he's wrong, you know who to blame. )
Then Noach only enters the Ark when it starts raining heavily. Why didn't he go in before? Rashi asks. God had already told him that the world was about to be submerged, why wait around? It's because Noach was "מקטני אמונה", of the slight of faith.

But how could Noach be called a Tzaddik if he lacked faith?"

Pre-empted by the required. "I'm not the type of guy who gives Dvar Torah's on dates, but", my date-of-the-night launched into a long and convoluted explanation.

Are you in suspense? Sorry, I don't remember what the answer was. You see, I was still stuck on the question.

Why should so called lack of faith be a contradiction to righteousness? Give the guy a break, he's only human. God created the universe so that his presence is Nistar, hidden, veiled behind the material world. We have to struggle to see him, to connect.

Rav Wolbe, in Alei Shur, writes that "Emet", truth, isn't the clear and obvious. When a man swears that a tree is a tree, or a rock is a rock, the Talmud calls that a false oath. Because the shallow isn't worthy of the title truth. Emet is one of God's names. Emet is deeper, more spiritual.

I see a Tzaddik as someone who does the right thing, despite the difficulties. Someone who deep inside, and through the hazy world, knows the truth, and battles to put that truth into action.

Noach can be a Tzaddik, and still be fighting some internal battles, be working on his connection with God. That doesn't bother me.

The opposite, surface faith, casually spoken words of faith that leave you wondering what lies behind them, that's what I find disturbing.

After all, it's easy to espouse faith, especially on behalf of other people. "Hashem will help ", "Have Bitachon and your Zivug will come", and, my favorite, "I'll Daven for you."

One thing I've noticed over time. The people praying are never the people helping.

The minute I hear a Pasuk or a slogan, in response to the information that I'm "in Shidduchim", I know there's no point in continuing the conversation. I know that this person is not going to set me up with anyone. Especially not with their single son.

I thank God every day that he created another type of person in the world. People who care, who do. They may not go to as many Shiurim, or know their way as well around the book of Tehillim, but in my eyes they are the true Tzadikkim of our generation. It could be that they are praying for me as well, but they do the praying privately.

I don't think faith is the main measuring stick we are judged by. I think our deeds count too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

True Love

When you like him, he doesn't like you.

And when he likes you, you try your hardest but simply don't like him.

And then someone comes along, and you actually like him. And guess what? He seems to like you too.

And you're both so shocked, that you marry each other.

That's my grandma's take on how people get married. I'm still waiting for it to happen.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mirror, mirror, on the wall

The guys I date get names. Names I use with my friends, and my family. Names they don't know about. I can never remember their real names, the Avrahams and Dovids, the Levys and Rosenbergs. I don't even try. Instead they become "the poet", "the love letter guy", "the creepy one", and so on. Sometimes they get automatic and simple names, based on the places they study- "the Hebrew U." guy, "The Machon Lev" guy, the [insert name of yeshiva here] guy.

This guy became the "Photo guy". I didn't go out with him. Instead I heard about him, heard at length of his merits and vital statistics and why he was a perfect match for me. His neighbors told me, his friends in yeshiva told me, and my friends from Seminary told me. They all thought we should go out. It was a match made in heaven.

One person however, disagreed. The boy himself. He'd seen my photo, you see. I was surprised by his reaction. Granted, no one would call me beautiful, aside for doting relatives and men making moves. I'm also not particularly photogenic, with a crooked smile, and a tendency to close my eyes when the camera flashes. Still, ugly I'm not. Surely passable enough to merit a first date?

Through the grapevine the details reached me. Someone had shown him a photograph of me on a hike, while in seminary. I haven't seen the infamous picture myself, but I can imagine it. Baggy T shirt and oldest skirt, hair in a straggly ponytail, glasses, no makeup, rivulets of sweat trailing down unmentionable parts of me. Arms around a best friend, perched on a boulder, smiling blissfully into the camera, unaware of what havoc this image would cause in half a decade.
Later they tried to rectify the mistake. They showed him wedding pictures, vacation pictures. Pictures taken five years of shopping and grooming later. Pictures taken once I was aware of the Shidduch scene I'm a part of, and the perfect image I need to present to the world at all times.
But the damage was done. The hike photo was seared into his mind, too terrifying to dismiss. He refused to meet me.

In between us they cajoled and persuaded, to no avail.

Until last week. Someone, somewhere, somehow, convinced Photo guy to check me out in person.

"Who's the date with?" My sister asks.
"The boy who thinks I'm ugly.You know, the photo guy."
"Oh, him." She remembers him. The name has stuck, months later. "Go for it girl. Knock him out."

I wear a designer suit, imported from Europe. Dressier than I usually like for dates, but if he wants style he's going to get it in bucketfuls. I risk heels, despite not knowing his height. For once I leave from home, not work, giving me the chance to soak in a long hot bath, before rubbing in yummy smelling lotions and creams, and carefully applying makeup. When I look in the mirror in the hotel bathroom, I'm pleased with what I see.

I don't know if I knocked him out, but he does want a second date. I'm satisfied. My pride is assuaged. Now I'm biting back the temptation to ask him if I look like my picture.

Pass the Parcel

"Hold on a sec. He's a twin?! And he's from ____? I think I went out with his twin brother then." "You think?! Sweetie, you don't know who you went out with?"
"Hmmm. I did hear the name, don't remember if we ever went out. So, is he like the brother?"
"Yes, totally. Except the first one is married now of course."
"You didn't like the brother?"
"Well he dumped me after one date. But I wasn't that keen either. I don't really want to go out with his twin. If it's the same guy."
"Maybe you should decide if you two went out or not."
"Well I did go out with some twin from there. How many twins can there be in that little town? And then someone tried to set me up with the other one when it didn't work out with the first."
"So you've been out with this one too?"
"No. Didn't want to date twins. Made me feel like something out of 'Pass the parcel'".

We went round in circles for a while. Finally I promised to look into it, just to get her off the phone. I'll ask my family if they remember him, his twin, and if we ever went out, or why we didn't .

The old Seminary friend on the phone, who married the third boy she dated, had by then come to the conclusion that I'm dopey. Try explaining to her that if I kept track of all the men I've ever been set up with, in all my years of Shidduchim, I'd be left with no room in my head for anything else. Any attempt at studying or tutoring would turn into a fiasco.

e.g. Math: " Take the number of boys I dumped, subtract the number of boys who dumped me, multiply by the number of times we went out, and you get?"
History: "Yeah we did have a history together..He even wrote me a love letter..It must have been in the year.. "
Politics: " So then his mother said…, but the rabbi said… so I told the guy…"

Anyway, back to topic. Should I go out with the twin? I really didn't like the first one.

One Shabbos lunch my hostess proudly related that her husband had an identical twin, and that she'd dated him, seriously, for a few months.
"He kept telling me I sounded like his twin". She said. "I was so annoyed. I was dating him, I wasn't interested in the twin"
Then the first one dumped her. A few months later she got a phone call "His twin is in town. Why don’t you try him? What have you got to lose? You already know what he sounds like, know what he looks like. "
She was convinced. 10 years and 6 kids later, the rest is history.

Maybe I'll try it. After all, it's a good point, I do know what he looks like, from twin #1. Assuming I did go out with #1, that is. If he becomes my brother in law I'll ask him.

Update: I pressed save and shut off the computer. An hour later the phone rang. It was my friend, sounding very apologetic, on the other side. I knew what she was going to say. I can usually tell when people are calling to say a boy isn't interested/ doesn't want to go out again. I think it's the embarrassed tone their voice takes.
Sometimes I take pity on them, and voice it for them, with a to the point "so it's not going to work, is it?". Other times I make them sweat it out.

"His parents did the finding out and they think you sound amazing." She said.

I wait for the "but".

"Then they decided the time had come to tell their son about you, before actually setting up a date."

(There are actually people out there who marry off their kids this way. Making most of the Shidduch decisions without thinking to involve their of-marriageable-age-and-hopefully-mature descendants.)

"The thing is, his immediate reaction was "Mom, but she went out with Shmuely."

I'm silent.

"So he won't go out with you. He says it would be weird."

"Nooooo." I'm screaming inwardly. "I've already written a blog post about him. Why did this have to happen now? It's going to be out of date before I've even posted it!"

"I don't actually remember his brother that well." I mildly interject. "It was one date. Two years ago"

But she's not interested. His highness has spoken. Weird to date twins it shall remain.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Primal Needs

There are three things no woman should buy herself. Flowers, perfume and jewelry.

I may build my own sukkah, fix the computer, and kill intruding cockroaches, but I do have my limits.

My subconscious mindset worked out fine when I was growing up. My father came home every week with flowers. Granted, they were usually big yellow sunflowers, when I would have preferred pastel roses, but still, flowers they were. My grandmother got out a red satin box on my annual visit, and fished out delicate gold lockets, and antique charm bracelets, which I proudly wore.

After my father died, he still managed to send me perfume.
At my 18th birthday party, when we were still in the year of mourning for him, my big sister gave me an unopened bottle of perfume, in a faded purple box.
"This is from Abba" she said.
Then she explained.
"He gave me perfume for my 18th birthday. Two bottles of the same perfume. I never understood why he gave me two identical bottles, until now. The second bottle is for you. Abba made sure you'd get your birthday present from him too."
It's not a brand that is known nowadays, and it's not a fragrance that I would have chosen myself. But on Friday nights, and when I'm missing him, I spray some on.

I graduated college, and began clocking in a full work day. The salary arrived in my bank account every month. Still, the rule didn't change. Clothes, CDs, books, yes. Items expressing affection, no. They are supposed to be received as presents from adoring males, after all.

Then one Friday night, curled up on the sofa after the meal, I noticed the living room looking bare, despite the pictures and ornaments and flickering Shabbos candles. The flowers were missing. The sunflowers.
When Thursday came around again, I gritted my teeth, and approached the flower seller on the corner, with his big plastic buckets, and stack of cellophane and rubber bands. I chose yellow roses, not sunflowers, and he wrapped them up for me. I walked to the bus staring straight ahead, not looking left or right, at my male colleagues who were also bearing bunches of flowers, for their wives.
Now I try to do it every week, on the weeks I go straight home, and not on to a date.

The final stage in my emancipation arrived at the Rosh Hashana sale. There was a necklace there I fell in love with.
"I can’t buy that" I told my friend. "It's gold."
"It's real jewelry. I don't buy myself real jewelry."
"Why not? Treat yourself."
Indeed, why not, I realized. I pictured all the weddings, with my former classmates adorned in white gold and diamonds, gifts from their in-laws before Kollel life began. I usually wear Michal Negrin pieces, dangling colored bits of shiny glass embedded in copper. That's the only type of jewelry I think to buy myself, since it's not the real thing, in my eyes.
I look again at the necklace laid out on black velvet. I try it on. I ask the price. I hand over my credit card.

I've been getting a lot of compliments, when I wear the new necklace, and the matching earrings I got too. I'm enjoying them. All the same, I'd have preferred them to be presents, from my husband. Even though my he'll probably be in Kollel and it will be my salary footing the bill. It's the thought that counts. A basic female primal need.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Frum N' Feminist?

"Yes, I know, I know, you've told me before, you're not a feminist."
I nod. He can't see, of course. He's on the other end of the line.
"But, if you were a Chiloniya [secular], you would be a feminist. Admit it."
"If I wasn't Frum I would be a lot of things." I feel like saying. But I don't. Instead I'm silent, waiting for the barrage.
"The way you told me you 'got your brother to admit sleeping in the Sukkah is a Mitzvah for women too'. It sounds like you argued until he caved in."
I gasp. A two minute light hearted conversation with my brother while tying down the Schach has been turned into a family dispute. We actually never argue in my family, for better or for worst. We just silently disagree, and keep it to ourselves.
"I never said women have to sleep in the Sukkah. I only said it's a Mitzvah if we do. I started doing it last year. I built it, it's there empty, it's seems a waste not to use it. Besides, it's fun to sleep outdoors, under the stars.
"Fine. That's what you say. But there were other sentences too. It all adds up."
I give up. We've covered this ground so many times before. I don't want to have to justify myself any longer.
Meanwhile I go off to work, where there's a goodbye party being thrown for me (long story). My boss gives a speech, and spends what seems like forever comparing me to the Daughters of Zlofchad, to the women who come to Moshe, and ask for their father's land. He says I have their initiative, their will. A debate sparks up, on whether they were feminist, whether I'm a frum feminist. I cringe. It's a sensitive topic, at the moment.
That evening we break up. Me and the guy I like. It's over.

I think of him at the Simchas Bais Shoevas in the Meah Shearim.
"Come to Geulah." My friends say. "it's so much fun."
"Why is it fun, to watch men dance?" I wonder.
I go. There's nothing better to do. I can take photos, I figure.
Reb Aharlechs. The "best Simchas Beis Shoeva" in Jerusalem. The one you "Simply have to go to." Outside there's a sidewalk for men, and a sidewalk for women. (with Mechitzas this year, to remove the possibility of illicit glimpses across the street. From year to year they find more ways to protect the sanctity of the city).
Then I step inside.
I'll never forget the sight. Pipes and wires hang from the grey un-plastered ceiling. "Faranches", the benches Chasidim usually stand on, are pushed against the windows, against the metal grilles. The lucky women, who by pushing and shoving and climbing over each other, sheitels and suits and all, secured a place on a step, stand hunched over, craning their necks, peering between shoulders through the glass and grates. If they are lucky they can glimpse the men, dancing below.
I think my skirt was so short that I looked like a tourist, like a soul to be saved. A Chasidic woman adopts me, and pushes me forward, against the other women, to the window. She tells them to move, in Yiddish, tells them I need to see. And see I do, by standing on my toes, and leaning sideways.
I see the men, swaying below, in a large bright halls. Moving estatically to the music. Yes, it does look like fun. For them.
I can't photograph the men's section, between the heads and the shoulders and the bars. Instead I take pictures of the women's section, of the crowding, and the darkness, and, in my eyes, the lack of respect for women.
Not all Simchas Bais Shoevas are like that. In other Chareidi yeshivas there are properly built women's sections. In the Dati synagogues the women dance too, on their sides of the Mechitzah. Next year I will go to a place like that. I will pass on the pleasure of R' Aharlechs.

So maybe he was right. I do want a home, a family. I want to bake cakes for Shabbos, and play with my kids. I decided long ago that raising a happy family is my highest priority, before studies, and before a career. Yet apparently, according to Chareidim, I'm a feminist. Don't say I didn't warn you.