Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chapter 20: Separate Seating

She peered through the wooden slats. They were there, dozens of them; young, and single, and eligible. Karen had always liked the sound of their Yeshiva, the boys who went there were supposed to be smart, and also independent. She'd been trying for months, to be introduced to someone, anyone, from there.

Karen liked the look of one boy in particular. He slung his jacket casually over his shoulder, and his Kippah perched at an angle on his head, as if he'd thrown it on without caring where it landed. His hair wasn't cut as short as usual for a Yeshiva student, and flicked up and out, in little waves. Karen was sure he must be fun, relaxed; not uptight like the boys she dated. His friends gathered round him, followed him from buffet to bar to dance floor. He was a leader. She liked that. If only she could go out with him. If only this wedding wasn't separate. He was but a few meters from her. It could have been an ocean.

She pushed the Mechitza slightly aside, widened the gap between the two wooden stands. She could be seen now, from the other side, from the men's side. The boys continued talking. She tried smiling. Nobody glanced her way. Karen wondered how secular girls got boys to talk to them. Making eyes, it was called. How did they do that? Should she try looking into his eyes, from afar? For one brief second, their eyes met, Karen's blue with the nameless boy's dusky hazel. But he didn't smile, his face stayed blank, he looked away, away from her, back at the circle of grinning boys.

Karen felt dirty somehow. As if she'd done something wrong. As if she was cheap. What was she trying to do? Everyone knew no good yeshiva boy would talk to a girl, if it wasn't a Shidduch date, if it wasn't prearranged. And no good girl would even look at a boy, it lacked all modesty.

Matches were for others to make, adults, teachers, strangers. She could only pray.

She turned around. The women were spinning in tight circles now. Girls pushed through clasped arms; always trying to be the fastest; always trying to be further inwards, closer to the center, to the bride.

"Are you engaged?"

A skinny girl stood beside her, swathed in black taffeta embedded with crystal beads. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail though, frizzing at the front. She must be new to Shidduchim. She smiled as she asked the question, looking at Karen expectantly.

"No. I'm not" Karen said. The girl was a stranger.

"Oh, I thought that's why you were looking through the Mechitza."
Karen merely stared, shook her head.

"I thought that's the reason you were looking at the Yeshiva boys," The girl explained, "because one of them was your Chassan."

"No, I'm looking at the Yeshiva boys because I'm single." Karen said. "I'm single, and hence single Yeshiva boys are of interest to me."

She didn't care about the consequences, any longer. She was tired of this act.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Marrying a Gay guy

It's got to be one of the worst fears of an Orthodox girl. How can you tell, if the boy you are dating is really not that into you, is not that into any women.

Religious men are told to keep it a secret, to keep their leanings under wraps.
There are those that don't listen to the rabbis, that step out of the closet, those of the YU variety for instance, but they are the minority.

So meanwhile a huge percentage of homosexual guys are out there, on the Shidduch circuit, looking for a nice Frum girl to marry and have kids with, build a family with. Which may admirable, in principle, but let's just say I don't want to be that woman.

And there's no real way to find out ahead. You're in a Shomer Negiah relationship. You’re not checking out the physical side of things. You jump in on faith, telling yourself that you like each other, that it will all work out later, in the Yichud room, once you're passed the wedding canopy.

You rely on 'chemistry', that wonderful, promising, vague word. You rely on the way his eyes light up, the way he smiles, the glances, the vibes. But can't that be faked? And maybe, if you want something enough, if you like him enough, you make yourself see something that isn't really there. Because it's there on your part, you think he's gorgeous, and he's going out with you, pursuing you, so surely he likes you?

So you marry him. You discover only much later, what's lurking in that closet.

Can an Orthodox girl tell, if her Shidduch date is homosexual? There are stereotypes, about looks, and dress, about voice and tone, body language and aura. There are jokes, about 'artsy' men, sensitive souls. But maybe those men really are the husbands of your dreams, caring and empathetic and artistic, and straight.

Bored Jewish Guy was nice enough to give his take on it. I feel the same way. But is talking about it beforehand enough, when boys are basically told by their Rabbis and teachers to hide it, to deceive?

Blame this post on Srugim. (If you're a Srugim fan, and you aren't up to date on the second series yet, please don't kill me.) I don’t understand Reut. How can Reut know that the guy she's dating is gay, and still be willing to carry on dating him? How can she contemplate marriage with him?

I don't know what the truth is, about how orthodox homosexuals should be handling their sexual identity. It must be hell for them, that much is obvious. I'm not here to judge them. I'm not here to offer an opinion. So much talk abounds about the men. Debates flourish, on whether they should hide it, whether they should try and lead a standard Orthodox family life.

What I never hear about, what I never thought about, before, is their wives.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mourning in Stages

I don't think I'd be able to write this now, even if I tried. I found some scraps of paper, which I wrote during Shnat Avel, and put them all together.

And sorry about this sad streak of posts. Someone asked me for an essay about mourning, by special request.

The Day
He dies. Death. You think it's the worst thing that can possibly be, the end, to everything.
It's not real. It's a dream, a nightmare. You're sure you'll wake up soon. You are numb.

The Week
Slowly you feel again. You thought mourning was sadness, you weren't expecting the pain. You feel pain, you live pain. All of your being is pain. There is no escape. You can't shut it out, you can't let it out. You don't cry, because if you start to cry, you'll never stop. No rainfall of tears will ever be enough.

The Month
It hurts to see the sun shine, to hear people laugh at a joke. All you can manage is a wan smile. Everything seems unimportant, trivial. Daily life pales beside the finality of death. But you go on, because you have to.
Then there comes a moment, when you- forget. For one millisecond of eternity- you listen, you smile, or you simply close your eyes and breath. Peace between the pain.

The Year
Life draws you back. You have to continue, to live. You want to curl up in a tight ball and shut out the world. Instead, you take every drop of strength you possess, and use it to carry on.
Somehow it becomes easier. A whole day can go by before you remember.
You are happy sometimes. You see it's still possible. You care again- about classes and clothes. You learn the world again; a different, sharper, clearer world.
And that's it. You live, you learn. You soak up the sun and feel at peace. And he'd dead, gone forever.

The Year After
You're back again, back in the world. There is no label for you, anymore. You're not a mourner, you've finished with that. It's back to normal now.
You know, though, that there will always be a part of you that's hurting. You can never be a hundred percent happy again. There will always be that little corner of sadness, of pain. But that's OK. You can live with that. There is no perfect happiness, in this world. Perhaps we need death, to appreciate life. The same way we need darkness to see light.

Five Years Later
Loss does get easier, when time goes by. Weeks pass, without you looking at his picture by your bed, without you speaking of him.
Another part of you gets sadder. It's been longer without him. You miss him.

But you realize the pain has gone. You don't hurt, any longer. You've healed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chapter 19: The Virtual Way

Karen stifled a laugh. Yishai's emails always made her smile. He took what she'd written, and pinged it back with a twist, adding another smart, amusing, facet.

There was something about the Internet, about corresponding with each other only through the written word, which caused communicating to be much deeper. It was as if they had skipped the shallow facade of looks and gestures, of dressing up and being introduced, of polite nonentities and social norms, and delved straight to the essence. She felt freer to speak her mind, to share the private and personal. She wasn't shy, or embarrassed. Because he wasn't here. He couldn't see her, he couldn't watch her face. She didn't blush, and her voice didn't drop to a whisper, unconsciously. They were only emailing.

Also, it turned out that she liked writing. She could pause, and think, and go back a line to delete, fix, clarify. There was no rush to press send, Karen could wait until she'd managed to express herself to her satisfaction. It wasn't like a date, a conversation, where by the time she'd worked out what she wanted to say, it was too late, they were onto a new topic. It wasn't like life, where she'd let slip a sentence, and it would hang in the air, irreversible, and often taken the wrong way.

Because Karen did have quirks, opinions that differed from society's standard lines of thinking. She'd scared more than one boy off, when she'd expressed them. But Yishai she could explain herself to. Yishai understood. Often he even felt the same way. That was heaven, when she discovered she was not alone, was not so peculiar, heretical, after all.

It was such a pity this couldn't work out, didn't stand a chance. Unless he hadn't meant it.

Maybe it was merely a word to him, a title, a phrase. Maybe it wasn't what it sounded like.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chapter 18: Not a Date

"Is that Shulamit?" The voice on the other side of the line was warm, and low, and slightly hesitant; a man's voice.

"Yes, speaking." she said.

"Hi!" his voice became more confident now. "It's me, Daniel, remember? I was at your house."

Of course, the flower seller. Shulamit recognized his voice now, with its tinge of a British accent.

She wondered why he was calling. They hadn't spoken since that Friday. She'd promised him that she'd phone, as soon as she thought of a girl for him. But none of the girls, summarized neatly on the pink papers in her binder, seemed right
"I was thinking about what you told me" he said. "About, being a matchmaker...?"

"Yeah." she said. Wondering where he was getting.

"Well, Shidduchim haven't been going so well for me lately, so I was hoping we could meet and discuss your ideas" his words came out all in a rush.

"Oh Daniel, but I don't have any suggestions at the moment."

Was this was it felt like to be a matchmaker? Turning down people asking for help?

"Still", Daniel said. "Maybe if we meet and discuss things, you'll get a better idea of my personality, of what I'm looking for, and you'll think of someone then."

Shulamit murmured acquiescence. She couldn't say no, the boy was obviously desperate to get married, and she had promised to help him.

"How about I pay?" Daniel said suddenly, as she reached for her purse.

"No, that's ok" Shulamit said, as she scrambled around in the overstuffed compartment, searching for her wallet. ״I brought money"

Daniel laid his credit card on the leather tray, "Are you sure?" Daniel asked. "It's much simpler if I just pay"

Shulamit laid a 50 shekel note on top of the card.

"Fine. Split it fifty- fifty" Daniel told the waitress.

"My dish cost more than yours." Shulamit objected. "I should pay more."

She reached for the bill, to see how much it came out to. The bill had only one amount on it, she saw, the total. Obviously the waitress had expected Daniel to pay for it all.

Shulamit looked up; the waitress and Daniel were both still staring at her. Daniel looked annoyed, embarrassed. She felt rude, as if she was doing something wrong.

"Oh alright then, fifty-fifty" she said. The waitress departed.

"This was a great idea of yours!" Shumalit said, with a big grin, looking across at him, trying to cover up the awkwardness of the bill. Did Daniel have some peculiar idea than boys must always pay? How ridiculous. It's not like this was a date or anything.

"I've got a much better picture of your personality! It's so interesting how you became religious while you were in university in England! I really admire that."

Daniel just nodded.

"I'm sure I'll be able to find the perfect girl for you! I have a lot of friends, and I'm meeting girls all the time, and one of them has got to do."

Her voice trailed off. The waitress was back, again placing the leather tray on the rippled glass table. Daniel reached for the slip, to sign. Shulamit reached behind her chair, for where her bag was now hanging.

"Leave it. I'll pay for the tip" he said, while he was scrawling his name on the paper.

Shulamit wasn't going to agree. With friends she always split the bill equally, right down the middle. But Daniel still looked a bit upset. Had she made him feel emasculated or something? Boys could be funny sometimes. She put down the bag.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chapter 17: But it's Mixed

Brachy didn't know when it was, that she started wanting it.

She'd seen the advertisements hundreds of times, she'd heard it discussed and seen picture displayed. She'd never thought it could be meant for her though. She was a teacher, she was solid and sensible. She wasn't creative; she wasn't artistic. She wasn't the type of girl who learned photography, especially not in a place like Kattamon.

"But it's mixed" she said to Ima.

"Brachy, you're a good girl, I trust you; I'm not worried. If this is what you want to do..."

"But I can't go, Ima. I was only joking."

"Brachy listen to me now" Ima's voice was firm and strangely compelling. "If you think you will enjoy studying photography then I want you to do it. You're a mature girl who can handle herself fine wherever she is. I think this course is a great idea. You said the school will pay for it?"

"The ministry of education sponsors it for teachers. We get credits for it too"

Learning photography did sound like a lot more fun than another boring evening class about education and children's psychology, which she would have to take for credits otherwise.

"Wonderful, so it's settled. Enjoy!"

Ima passed the advert in the journal back. Brachy had been idly flicking through it while working her way through a bowl of cornflakes. She'd half joked, and half wished, that she could go to the photography course described there. Now it looked like it was really going to happen.

Her mother was pleased. Finally something that Brachy seemed keen about.

Brachy hardly ever smiled now, about anything. And the idea of this course had her eyes lighting up. It was time Brachy did something that made her happy. She needed it, the poor girl. She'd been through enough. Dating seemed to be getting her down too. She wished she could knock some sense into those spoiled boys, not to see what a jewel her Brachy was.

It was hard, seeing your child hurting, and there not being anything you could do for her, there being no way to protect her, to shelter her, the way it was a mother's job to do.

This, at least, she could do for her, she could help make happen.

Yes, Brachy definitely deserved to have some fun. And so what if it was in the non Chareidi suburb of Kattamon? Nobody needed to know.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A GOOD Shidduch Date

"Write about good dates", somebody commented, "Not only about bad ones". So these are my good dates. They are rare, but they do exist.

Oh, and, um, sorry to let you all down, but this post is not based on recent/current events

On a good date you don't care that you’re meeting a semi stranger in a hotel lobby, surrounded by other identical couples, you don't care that you feel part of a primitive mating ritual, you manage to get past all that, and beyond it.

On a good date you feel yourself. You don't automatically and subconsciously slip into a fa├žade that isn't really you, in order to be on the same wavelength as him.

On a good date you don't need to explain yourself much, he understands what you mean, he understands you.

On a good date you're surprised and pleased that there's somebody else in the world who thinks the same way as you do.

On a good date you can speak of science without him thinking you brainy, you can speak of fun without him thinking you shallow, you can speak of Torah without him thinking you a 'Frummy', you can speak of culture without him thinking you 'Modern'. Because he sees the full picture, the whole you.

On a good date you feel pretty and desirable, you feel feminine.

On a good date you laugh, and he laughs, and you both smile.

On a good date you feel like you're with someone who can take care of things, you can relax and let go.

On a good date, when the waiter comes to clear the glasses, you feel a secret pride that you're sitting there with this great guy, that you’re his date.

On a good date you're sorry when it ends, you're left with so much you still want to say, to ask, to hear.

After a good date, time is torture, you're counting the seconds until you receive the verdict, you jump every time the phone rings.

After a good date you don't speak of it or write of it, you want to keep the moments to yourself, close to your heart.

After a good date you think again of things he said and did, and appreciate them even more.

After a good date you miss him, you continuously store events and thoughts in your mind, to share with him, the next time you see him.

After a good date, you can't wait for the next one.

Well that's my take on it. What makes a date good, for you?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chapter 16: Daring to Drive

Silence came, without warning. They had run out of things to say. They had used up the standard topics of conversation, drawn them out as much possible.

Karen listened to the rain falling outside. The patter of raindrops on cement reached her even through the closed glass patio doors, and ornate velvet drapes.

He picked up his hat, from the low manhogany table, signaling it was time to end the date.

"Shall we?" he said. She nodded.

They both stood up, and walked past the fountain, and towards the exit. They stood by the revolving doors. The same revolving doors that she'd entered by an hour and a half previously, with such high hopes.

At least she'd brought the car, and didn't need to rely on public transport and on boys' goodwill anymore. No flurrying into and out of a cab, careful to sit modestly, and not brush against her escort, even by accident. No more being dropped off at a crowded bus stop, and standing alone, arrayed in all her dating finery, ignoring the knowing glances of those around, waiting for the bus to come.No more standing in heels, in the aisle between the already occupied seats, clutching a handle jutting out of patterned felt, swaying on stilettos, as the bus went through curves, down and out of the hills.

"How are you getting back?" he asked, when they stood outside, out of the doormen's hearing.

He was expecting the standard answer of "from the central bus station".

"I drove here" she said. "My car's parked outside."

He was taken aback. Chareidi women didn't drive. It was forbidden by the seminaries. Girls were often expelled if they were caught possessing a driving license. This is what came of dating a girl who was out of a framework, who was semi independent. He'd know not to do it again.

"Would you like a ride?" Karen offered. "Your yeshiva is right on my way"

He shook his head in two brief yet decisive strokes. "That's ok. I'll walk"

"Are you sure?" she asked. "It's really no trouble"

But he was quite sure. What would his friends think of him, if they saw him being driven around by a woman?

He said a curt goodbye, and strode off. Karen remained standing there, on the sidewalk, car keys clutched in one hand.

Later- once Karen had arrived home, and parked the car, and made herself a sandwich (to ward off the post date starvation), and attempted to explain to Abba and Ima what she'd done wrong this time, with this boy, and ignored the ringing of her cell phone, and gotten ready for the long awaited moment when she could collapse into bed, and logged into her site account, not expecting anything new- she found a message waiting, in her inbox.

It was from someone called Yishai. She checked his profile, first, before beginning to read. Too often the loveliest messages came from totally unsuitable men, often twenty years older than she was, so she preferred to be reading their words in context.

This Yishai guy looked intriguing though. She wondered how she hadn't noticed his profile before; she was very thorough in her site searches.

His message was friendly and flattering. She smiled as she read it.

There was one thing that bothered Karen, about Yishai's profile. There was one statement there, that didn't fit in with what she was looking for, that could be a problem, a rather big one in fact. But she decided to ignore it, for the meanwhile.

Because would he care, that she drove a car? Would he mind, that she'd ignored one of society's unwritten rules?

It sounded like he wouldn't. Actually, it sounded like he didn't pay much attention to what society thought, at all.

She spent twenty minutes, writing out the perfect reply; casual, encouraging, and light.

Chapter 15: Brachy Tries Again

It could have been romantic. The moon hangs low in the sky, over the walls of the old city. The ivory paving stones are smooth, trodden by hundreds of couples who have come before them. They both lean on the railings, with a panoramic view of Jerusalem below.

A breeze ruffles Brachy's hair and her full skirt, that falls down, to below her knees. She clutches the flowered folds of fabric, preventing them from sailing up, and showing Yaacov long nylon encased legs; a forbidden sight, for him.

Brachy glances at Yaacov. He is dressed in a black suit, probably his best, and a black fedora hat, polished to a sheen. He tugs at the hat now, pulling it lower, then higher, before turning round to look back at her.

"It's a pleasant night" He says.

"Yes. It is." She agrees

"We are lucky to have such good weather today. Yesterday was a Chamsin"

"Yes. We are."

Shulamit had been so excited about putting them together; Shulamit really thought this could work. Brachy knows she should try harder. She knows she should give him a chance. She is tired though, and bored, and wants this ordeal to be over. Soon she'll be walking through the front door and kicking off the patent leather flats; curling up on a corner of the sofa, resting her head on the cushions. Soon she'll sip hot fruit tea deluged with honey, and report on yet another unsuccessful Shidduch date.

"But what's wrong with him?"

"Nothing, Ima. Nothing."

"So you'll go out with him again?"

"I doubt he'll want to. We spoke of nothing but the weather."

"He's a Yeshiva boy. He's nervous, naturally. You've got to give him time to open up"

But Brachy was right. The next day Shulamit's phone call came. Yaacov would look elsewhere for a wife. Brachy was back on the market.