Monday, November 14, 2011

The Frum Woman’s Handshake

"Shake my hand." I say to my husband

"Huh?" he replies. We don't usually shake each other's hand as a greeting.

"I need to practice" I say. "For the interview."

He looks worried.

"Because it's a woman who’ll be interviewing me." I explain. “They said her name is Ilana. I"ll actually be able to shake her hand, so I want to check my handshake is ok”

He still looks rather confused. "What's the big deal?"

"Everyone knows there's a lot they learn about you from your handshake. It's very psychological." I should know, I’ve been reading enough online posts about how to prepare for an interview. (Tip: don't say your biggest weakness is hating routine boring work.)

I’ve shaken hands with someone perhaps once in my life. I've spent my last thirteen years making excuses for why I can't shake hands with men, an art form mastered by most Frum women.

We know the hold cellphone/drink/notebook in each hand trick, the sneeze into your hand and hold dirty tissues trick, the nod and smile before he has a chance to stretch his hand technique, and when all fails the " I'm sorry but I don't shake hands with men" explanation. But that's a last resort that risks offending; we try not to let it get that far.

Basically we Orthodox women are adept at how not to shake hands, but unfamiliar with how to actually shake someone's hand, should we so wish. ( Maybe that should be my excuse next time. "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to")

Being interviewed by a woman is a new occurrence. ( And perhaps reflective of the state of women's career paths in the Israeli workplace?)

I stretch out my left hand. My husband reaches out and holds it. We shake.

“How was I?” I ask

“Fine”, he says.

“Not too limp? Not too firm?”

“Maybe a bit too strong. You shouldn’t be trying to move my hand.”

“Oh.” I say. We try again

“How was that?”

“You're fine,” he says, “can we have dinner now?”

“Hi, I'm Ilana.”

“Pleased to meet you" I say.

We both smile. I wait.

“Would you like a drink? Or shall we get started"

No hand appears on the horizon. Maybe at the end?

"It was a pleasure meeting you, FNF."

“Same here.” We both smile. Again I wait.

“Here, I'll show you out.”

I don't believe it. After all that. When I finally can.

Maybe handshaking doesn't even happen anymore? Maybe it’s an archaic custom of a bygone era, sustained in only by orthodox female paranoia?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

History of (my) Hair

Straight- "stick straight"- hairstyles were in fashion when I was in ninth grade. On my trek from home to school I ogled the glossy photos pinned up in the local hairdresser’s windows- models with choppy haircuts, layers of varying length, all falling in perfect symmetrical lines.

My torturous attempts at blow-drying resulted in puffy, frizzy, waves. Straightness was out of my reach except for on those rare visits to the hairdresser for a cut- from which I emerged with glossy locks, content until I couldn’t drag out the days any longer, my hair needed to be washed, and returned to its natural wavy state.

I counted the years until I’d be able to wear a wig. I already knew which wig I would choose; it would be fall below my shoulder in beautiful straight layers.

I didn’t count enough years. Fast forward a decade, and I was still making do with my own hair. A lot happened in the meantime. I discovered the wonders of the straightening iron, and finally straight hair could be mine. Then fashions changed, wavy was “in”, and I decided my hair wasn’t too bad after all.

Now I had a new challenge, proving that my hair was my own, and hadn’t been shaved of the head of an Ukranian peasant girl. Because I was a frum female in my twenties. And everyone knows that all women of this advanced age must be wearing a wig.

When I pulled back my hair in a headband, the Yeshiva-guy-I-didn’t-marry told me it looked like I was wearing a fall. When I cut side bangs, full bangs, again that was the latest Shaitel trend.

I stood on the roof of a hotel, watching my friend’s Chuppah, the wind blowing my fresh-from-the-hairdresser hair in all directions, and I was glad, because maybe now it would look messy enough to be obviously non-Shaitel. Then I trooped down the flights of stairs with my friends, and sat around a satin cloaked table with them, looking from one to the next and envying their glossy, perfectly set, “babylissed” curls and what they represented- lifetime membership to a fraternity I was locked out of.

When I was miraculously granted the key to the club, I was too busy with planning a wedding to give much thought or time to my soon-to-be-mandatory head covering.

I tried on a Shaitel. It looked OK. I bought it. It cost a packet, but then so does everything else that goes with getting married. I didn’t think twice until after the wedding.

Suddenly I stare in the mirror and see a stranger looking back at me.
The straight hair I once envied now feels fake, and flat. I long for my own natural curls, with all their messiness and lack of discipline.

Maybe I should buy another Shaitel, a curly one. “If that’s what you want, you should get it.” TCO tells me.

But looking at the price tag, from the viewpoint of a newly married, it seems like a horrible waste of money. More than a dining room set. More than wall to wall bookshelves. More than an extended honeymoon in Europe. Just so I can look less married, more “like myself”.

Wearing a wig does save time, I plop it on without a thought to what’s underneath. Wearing a wig does symbolize something I’ve been waiting a long time for. But wearing a wig, well, it’s wearing a wig.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The "Who-She-Dated" Blacklist

I try not to be a typical newlywed. In fact, I never really liked newlyweds, caught up in their own little blissful worlds.

One common newlywed trait is matchmaking. And for newlywed bloggers- the complaining that goes with it. Suddenly singles are "pushy" and "picky" and "ungrateful" I swore never to switch roles quite so drastically, and I hope I'll stand by my word.

But yes, I am guilty of being a newlywed; of the type eager to make matches. And some things really do get me upset.

True fact - We don't know who we are going to marry until we marry them.

I have lots of different types of friends; some are loud, some are quiet, some are shark and some more easy going; basically every friend is different.

And that's normal. Most of us have more than one friend, and usually our friends are not identical.

In other words, we get on with all sorts of people.

So why, when it comes to dating, is there a perception that a girl can only date one type of person. And if a girl went out with a guy who's not exactly the same as you, then obviously you can't go out with her. Because "If she went out with Shimon she can't be right for me".

Clarification: She only dated Shimon, she didn't marry him. And it was a blind date at that. Maybe she dumped him after one date? And even if she didn't, even if she - shock-horror -dated him seriously, why does that rule her out for you?

Your friend Yitzy is friends with Shimon and with you. Why can't a girl go out with and get along with Shimon and with you? (Obviously not simultaneously)

I keep hearing the same line. "But she went out with him. She can't be right for me." Who knew drinking coca-cola with a guy boycotts a girl for life?

This is my first Shadchan rant. Sorry for crossing over to the dark side.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bye Bye Shidduch Resume, Hello Career Resume

Now that I've quit my evening job (shidduch dating, for the uninitiated) , I've been able to give a lot more thought to my day job.

That and the fact that suddenly mortgages and bills are eating up a major chunk of what used to seem like a generous enough salary (when all it needed to pay for were clothes).
I've discovered that there aren't that many employment opportunities in Jerusalem in my field. And have started emailing out my (non shidduch) resume to companies all over the country.

If I start commuting I could probably make a significantly higher salary. (yippee)

But then I'll have to pay for a car. There goes the pay raise. (boo hoo)

But I'd have a car. (yippee)

But I'd have at least one hour less time a day. (boo hoo)

I GChat with a former colleague. She's married with a kid. She's quit her job after having a baby, and has been trying to get back into the workforce for more than a year. She has a great resume, and impressive skills. And she's still jobless.

"They all ask me how I plan on balancing work and family life" She tells me. "Then they hire a man instead of me."

It's there, but you can never prove it, never blacklist or sue.

Companies will prefer to hire a single man than a woman with kids. And what if the man has kids? That's OK, because everyone knows men can "compartmentalize". What if the woman is single or doesn't have kids? She can just get away with the sin of her sex. (Obviously there are women that break the rules. But I'm guessing many of them joined their companies while still childless.)

My friend claims that now's my last chance, if I want to change jobs. Now, when my stomach is flat, and I don't need to juggle daycare and long hours.

On the other hand job security will be a big plus when I do eventually enter that beautiful state of nausea and hormonal madness, and want to take sick leave for checkups, and extended maternity leaves. The job security I'll lose if I leave.

It's the best of times and the worst of times- for a career change that is.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shana Tova!

OK, I know Rosh HaShana has been already. But it’s like Tashlich right? I can push it off my new year’s post to before Yom Kippur, or even up until Hoshana Raba. (Hey I made Yom Tov, that’s a ton of cooking and I don’t even know how to cook, so gimme a break.)

Once upon a time I wished my friends Shana Tova in person - we met in school, in Shul, “around”.

Then came the phone calls – we’d moved areas, switched schools, started Seminary.

Text messages were next – a constant beeping of poetic wishes throughout the day.

I blame Kosher phones for the shift to mass emails .

But emails are so 20th century. Nowadays we wish Shana Tova intimately to our close friends – using Facebook Statuses, Tweets, and of course – on our blogs.

So Shana Tova everyone! Thanks for your loyalty, if you’re actually reading this, after my neglect.

Blogging more regularly- that's my new year’s resolution. Together with finishing my novel. Oh and being a better person etc. etc., but we don't need to get into that.

Truth is I have been writing - just not in my old haunts. Check out the Yom Kippur and Sukkos Mishpachas for my stories (by Sara Shamansky) I’m in the third Calligraphy in a row, which I think is kind of cool.

With proceeds of said stories I ordered an IPad (money is a great motivator !) and hopefully I'll get more blogging done on my new toy.

I’m also back at pounding away at The Matchmakers Diaries, so expect to see some new chapters up soon. ( If any of you still remember the plot... )

Anyway, may you have a happy and meaningful year, and may all your wishes come true.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"In your condition"

The seats are all taken. I stand next to TCO, both of us clutching the hand rail. Through the front window we see old ladies leaving the Shuk with their shopping trolleys and cutting in front of the traffic. The bus crawls along Aggripas street, the driver trying not to run over any of the old ladies.

Now before I continue, I better clarify one thing. I'm skinny. That's my body build, and even 6 months of no exercise hasn't changed that. We're on our way back from a lunch date, so I'm wearing a new tunic top from my TJmaxx spree in the US, My shoes and hat also match, and I'm feeling pretty fashionable.

Then a middle aged woman makes eye contact with me. She's sitting in a single seat by the door. She asks me I want to take her chair. I shake my head.

"I'm fine." I say. I wonder why she's asking. She's older than me by at least two decades.

She stands up, and gestures to her seat
"Maybe she's getting off the bus as this stop." I think.

I move down the aisle to right beside her. As she stands up, I'm ready to take her place. Then a man blocks me. "I was here first." He says loudly. Heads turn in our direction.

"Then I'll stay here." The woman says. "I wanted her to sit, in her condition."

They both look at me.

In my what?

I have a millisecond to act. I don't feel like announcing to the entire crowded busload of passengers that I'm not pregnant. Sitting down seems the easy way out. I do it instinctively, without thinking.

So she stands. And I sit.

Hopefully she'll get off at the next stop, and then I won't feel so bad.
She doesn't.

She continues standing, by the door. Does she notice now that my stomach's flat?
I clutch my stomach, covering it up. Pretending the phantom baby is kicking now. My one mission is for the overly kind stranger not to find out that I'm a fraudulent pregnant woman.

"Do you have stomache ache?" TCO asks, from where he's standing next to me. He somehow missed the previous dialogue.

It takes 15 minutes and 3 bus stops of guilt before the good Samaritan finally gets of the bus.

I've learned my lesson. Wearing a tunic top carries consequences.

Meanwhile my friend from Kiryat Sefer shared horrific tales of daily commuting by bus, with morning sickness, in her first trimester when she wasn't obviously "showing" yet, and standing throughout the ride, no one offering their seat. She threw up every day, as soon as she reached solid ground again.

You can’t win.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hidden Tresses

"I wear a hat at night." She says it matter-of-factly.

"You wear a hat to bed?" I try not to sound shocked. She's not Chasidic, she's not even Chareidi. It seems rather extreme to me.

"Yes, I decided to keep my hair covered at all times."

That's the point when naughty questions pop into my head, like when exactly does she show her hair, but I bite them back, being the nice frum girl/woman I am.

"Oh." I say instead. "I don't cover my hair at home."

"Unless we have guests of course." I add. I've got my reputation to mantain.

"Of course" She says.

"I mean it's a good thing, covering your hair all the time, I guess… There's that story with the woman who merited torah scholar sons because the walls of her house never saw her hair…" It's a Bais Yaacov classic. I always hated it, but that part I leave out.

The conversation leaves me thinking.

I don't cover my hair at all, except when I have to, i.e. I'm outside, or there are (non related) men around. (Halachically I heard that in her own home a woman doesn't have to cover her hair even if there are strange men around, but I'm not going that far, it would make them, and me, uncomfortable. )

It's hard enough covering for a woman to cover her hair, so why make it even more difficult?

Or am I missing something here?

Maybe the reason is logistical - when there are older kids around, it confuses them to see their mother without a head covering?

And maybe there really is some mystical Tznius benefit?

It's a bit like the great "what to wear to the separate swimming pool" debate. It's about extra sensitivity. What can I say, I don't have it yet.

So what do you do, or plan to do, in your homes- bare it or share it?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mrs. FnF

I'm suffering from a dreadful case of writer's block. Well maybe it's more like newly-married-and-haven't-blogged-for-six-months block. But in any case I really want to get back to blogging, since as I revert into a 9-6 working gal who cooks supper and does laundry on the side, I feel like I'm losing a part of myself, a very precious part, that I was rather proud of.

So my half year anniversary resolution is that I'm going to blog again. I won't write, that's too scary now, the blank white word documents stare back at me when I try to write. Instead I'll simply share the things I'm thinking, and hopefully, one day, this will be the blog it used to be.

Or in other words – Hi readers, I'm still alive, please come back. Anyone?

One thing I still haven't gotten used to is my new "title".


Is he speaking to me?

I'm not a "gveret", a lady. I'm a "bachura", a girl. (That's I I'm lucky. Usually I'm a "motek" or "chamuda" or "mami".)

But suddenly I'm a grownup.

The taxi drivers, the cashiers at the supermarket, the clerks at the bank, they are all treating me with new found respect.I've been working for five years, paying taxes and handling bills, releasing multi million dollar projects and investing in a pension plan. But then I was still a kid, according to the voices on the street.

I find it funny that one wedding ring and one hat/sheitel/scarf, is what makes me an adult, a lady, in the world's eyes.

And I wonder, when go secular women get to escape their "bachura" status? Because they wear no telling head covering. Or is their ring finger being surreptitiously checked every time they step foot in public?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mikvah Madness

It was too late. I was naked when I found out the truth. I clutched the towel around me and stared at her in horror. I was trapped.

Only I could make such a stupid mistake. I missed all the clues- the sandy path that was longer than I remembered; the sign post for the Mikvah Keilim I didn't recall; the type of women inside- I should have known something was wrong when I saw the women. Nine of them, lined up in a row, one empty chair in the middle that they seemed to have saved for me, ready to interrogate me; the questions- how long I'd been married, how many times I'd been here before; the blessings that I wouldn't need to be back the next month.

"I've been married six years and this is my fifth time at the Mikvah" one woman proudly told me. I tried to do the math in my head, while the other women congratulated her.

The woman sitting behind the till wore a thick turban. She wasn't Simcha, the Mikvah attendant I'd come back here for. I'd travelled all the way, decided the long journey was worth it, because Simcha had been so understanding and easygoing the last time, my first time.

Maybe Simcha was inside, I told myself, I hoped. Or maybe this was Simcha's day off.

"Bath or Shower?" Mrs. Turban asked my neighbors, and one by one they disappeared down the corridor.

Eventually only I and Mrs. Fifth-Time were left. "Bath" she said, "I need a good long soak."

So the shower was free for me, and to it I was led.

"You can take anything you need from the shelves; a comb, a brush, anything else."
"Oh, I got ready at home." I said.

"You still need to comb your hair" she said. She sounded stern, or was I imagining it? Simcha hadn't sounded like that, Simcha had been nice.

"Ah, I forgot." I said.

Her face stayed in a frown.

"It's only my second time here" I said, "My first time since the wedding."

Her face relaxed a bit, she opened the door to the bathroom.

When I rang the buzzer, I hoped Simcha would be the one to open the door on the other side.

She wasn't. Mrs. Turban walked in, carrying what looked like a miniature tool kit, spread out on a towel.

I pulled the towel tighter around me. I felt exposed next to her thick stockings and starched clothes.

She sat down and spread the sharp and shiny tools on her lap. She told me to stand in front of her. She lifted up my hand, and picked up a nail file.

"I want to leave my nails the way they are." I told her. "My Kallah teacher told me it's Halachically fine."

"Who's your Kallah teacher?" she asked.

I named her. Mrs. Turban gave a hmpph, and started filing my nail.

"But I don't want to do that." I said. "I want to leave my cuticles the way they are."

That's when she stopped, and looked at me, in the eye, for the first time.

""Here we follow the Rabbonim." She said. "Here we file away the cuticles. That is what the Rabbonim said we should do. This is the Chareidi mikvah."

And that's when I realized what I'd done. I'd gone to the wrong Mikvah. There were two of them, one next to the other, one "standard" and one "Mehadrin". Last time I'd gone to the standard Mikvah, where Simcha worked, but somehow now I’d landed up in the Mehadrin one. I used to think my bad sense of directions was a joke, but this wasn't funny.

I wondered if it was too late to make a run for it. I pictured myself, running through the streets in my towel, with Mrs. Turban chasing after me with her nail file and scissors. I stayed.

I read too many Naomi Ragen horror stories in my teens, of prying attendants, intimate inspections and humiliations. I used to dread the day I'd need to dunk.
Then before my wedding I learned that the responsibility to be prepared for the Mikvah would be mine, and mine only. The Mikvah attendant's main task was to see that I was entirely immersed in the Mikvah's waters. She would also be there ahead to help me, to remind me of things I may have missed, to offer to look in places I couldn't see myself, such as behind my ears. She would have no further authority. The decision when and how to dunk was mine, and not hers.

I felt better.

But that's not what was happening now. "Here we follow the Rabbonim." The words echoed in my mind. There was no arguing with that, no respecting my wishes.
My hands hurt for a few days, where Mrs. Turban had picked and snipped at them. Worse than that was the feeling inside me, the feeling of humiliation, the fear that slowly ebbed away.

Because when "we follow the Rabbonim", then whatever I say won't help. It's my body, but they are in control.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sshhh, I'm back

I owe a big apology to my readers. I disappeared, and it wasn't very nice of me. All I can say is that planning a wedding sure takes a lot of time. But at least I'm back now :-) And I missed you!

One of the big differences with married life is the sudden secrecy that veils your life. There are two of you now, and the things that go on between you should remain between you, should be private, intimate, told to no one, shared with no one. That's right, that's good, that makes sense.

And it really is wonderful, being together, sharing a life and a home and a future with someone you love, who loves you. It's so good you don't know how you survived so long on your own. It's like tasting heaven. It feels like a dream you don't ever want to wake up from.

Yet still the secrecy bothers me. I wish I'd been more prepared for the halachic aspects of marriage, the physical aspects of marriage. Nobody told me, because nobody talks about it. Ten sessions with a Madrichat kallah are supposed to cover all of that. One woman, one hashkafah, one bank of knowledge; it's not enough. There's a new voice inside me, crying that it wasn't meant to be like this, feeling betrayed by the silence. Knowledge is power, that's been my motto throughout my life, and suddenly, in one of the most important aspects of human life, of Jewish life, I feel like an ignoramus.

I would have like to read about more than the sweet platitudes of married life. On the internet I only find the PR, the comparisons of Mikvahs with Spas, the marketing of Niddah laws as the secret for a perpetual honeymoon. Is it only me who finds it difficult? Do no other women ever struggle with some of the laws of Taharat Hamisphacha?

And now I want to write, want to break the silence, but keep coming up against a brick wall. The wall of privacy, of modesty, blocks me from speaking.
I don't want to stop blogging. I don't want to lose that part of me. I may not be single, not be in Shidduchim any longer, but I think my blog was and is about more than that.

And I don't want to stop being open. I don't want to start spouting out surface sweetness, all the time hiding what's really on my mind.

I guess I'll just have to find the balance. Somehow.