Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Being an Ultra-Orthodox Woman

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman, means hearing other people talk about me like I’m a fish in an aquarium.

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman means being told by Ultra-Orthodox male politicians that I am not interested in having women representing me in government. That I should vote for men, and they know best.

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman in Hi-Tech, means working for 15+ years, holding a graduate degree, and still hearing secular men, professors of sociology, lecturing in conferences about promoting my participation in the workforce, like I am some kind of science project.

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman in Hi-Tech married to a Kollel student means paying taxes, but reading in Facebook comments that I’m a parasite. Because somehow, despite feminism, households with stay-at-home-moms are fine, but heaven forbid the mother should be the one working, not the father. 

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman means paying city taxes and school tuition, and sending my children to study in caravans instead of a school building. Terrified when the sirens go, because they don’t have a bomb shelter.

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman means that if I want to write for the magazines I read, I have to self-censor every word I write, and most of what I say I need to erase before it ever hits the keyboard.

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman means being told by magazine editors that I don’t want to see photos of women in the magazines I buy. Looking up to female role-models while all I get to see is their hands, their homes, or their husbands.

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman means needing to tell my seven-year -old daughter, when she builds a magnatile castle with her brothers – that her brothers’ photo can be in the kid’s magazine, but hers can’t. I can’t bring myself to use the word immodest, talking to my seven-year-old little girl. She must remain the builder behind the scenes.

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman means that anything I say that doesn’t jibe with the party line- means I’m not really Ultra-Orthodox. I can go to the right schools, wear the right clothes, pray in the right Shul, and send my sons to a Talmud Torah - but if I think anything I'm not meant to -and kal v'chomer if I say it or write it - I'm obviously a fraud. 

Being an Ultra-Orthodox woman, means staying silent.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Diary of a Fall

It’s a funny thing, how those moments that change your life slip up on you, discordant chords in the rhythm of life, that inflate into a storm.

Putting my barbie dolls in their drawer, coming downstairs for supper, my parents telling me, happily, like it’s a good thing, that we will be making Aliyah to Israel in the spring time. As if that didn’t mean leaving my home, with the rose bushes in the front lawn where I posed every year in my birthday dress, and the pair of trees in the back where my big brother kept promising to build me a tree house when he came home from Yeshiva, and the ancient trampoline where I could lie spread eagled and count the clouds, the weedy grass where I picked daisies in the summer,  the shul where the old man gave me raisins in a red Sun-Maid box. As if Aliyah didn’t mean leaving my friends, the complicated school yard games we had been leading since before we could remember, of who’s-who’s best friend, and hide and seek, fairies and witches, and running away from the naughty boys who fished in the puddles for worms, which they hung up on sticks and tried to stick in our faces. I was seven years old, but after that meal, the plans and questions and tears, over rice and meat and baked potatoes, I knew my life was changing.

Pulling into a forest on the side of the highway, so my sister could take a phone call. Chasing my nieces between the trees, pushing them high on the rusty swings, coming back to the picnic table to see my big sister in tears, being comforted by her husband, not telling me what’s wrong, Driving to a flat in the center of Tel Aviv, opposite Ichilov hospital,  hosted by a Chasidic family there to do Chesed, where my mother led me into a small room, and told me the doctors said my father had six month left to live, he had cancer and it had spread.

Lying on the sand, next to my friend, soaking up the August sun, blissful that first summer out of high school, seeing a woman in a long skirt, running awkwardly, clumping through the sand towards us. Recognizing my neighbor and sitting up, between the towels and ice cream wrappers and a white film covered sun-screen bottle, hearing her voice, quick and agitated, telling me I need to get  dressed, need to come quickly, my father is back in hospital, I need to be there. Taking my friend back to pack up her stuff and go home, forgetting in my laptop drive the CD of the movie she brought with for us to watch. The wedding planner. I don’t think I ever gave it back to her. I forgot to, after a week sitting in the ICU, watching drips and beeping lights and my father dying.

There were good chords too, the type that evolved into harmonies. Perching on a damask sofa, in the lobby of the King David hotel, watching a liveried doorman argue with a young man in a black hat, not wanting to let him in. Going to see if that was my date, the last in a long line of Shidduch dates,  thinking this young man was good looking, happy to find out he was the boy I was waiting for tonight. Discovering we both came from a long line of loyal soccer fans, that we shared this Yichus.  Enjoying the next two hours, not wanting the date to end, suggesting we take a stroll in the nearby rose garden.

Lying in bed, reading a magazine, trying to distract myself from the familiar waves nausea of early pregnancy, when the phone rings. Answering with a “what’s wrong”, since my husband never called in the middle of a soccer game, worrying he had an asthma flareup, hearing he fell, he broke his arm, I should come right away, they called the ambulance. Phoning a babysitter, getting dressed, forgetting to turn on the headlights as I drive, ignoring the honking cars, dreading a late night at Terem, a husband with an arm in a cast for weeks.

Thinking it was another mild annoyance, like the time my daughter broke her wrist or my son needed stitches. Never dreaming that this was a storm.

The moaning the in ambulance as it bumped over curves, a night in ER, sitting in a hard plastic chair next to the gurney bed, pleading and fighting and giving up to the insistent apathy. Accepting a release letter, not realizing we were returning home in no better shape than when we arrived.
I hear his words now, buried in between the groans and shrieks of pain- “my hand is tingling.”, “it’s all pins and needles”, “I can’t move it”, “I can’t feel my fingers”.

Days of nursing him, in between the restless kids and cranky toddler, and throwing up in the toilet. Propping him up on pillows, jumping when he screamed if I accidentally bumped the bed, which jolted the broken arm, on the phone with doctors and helpful rabbis, pulling every string I could think of.

The relief when surgery was scheduled, watching his bed being wheeled back into the hospital he shouldn’t have been dismissed from, thinking soon things would get better.

Surgery waiting rooms, hospital recovery rooms, weeks and weeks of juggling, being responsible for husband and children and work and money and the little life growing inside me.

Wanting to scream every time time anyone complimented me for coping, because – what choice did I have? And I wasn’t even sure I was coping, if it came to that, if I dug too hard, but I had to try.
Seeing the black and white paper with the bad results, launching into another round of waiting on hold for medical advisers.

Praying that this will be a dark cloud that will pass over us, and not a new and thorny path. Wanting to pray but remembering the other times I prayed, and what happened then. Scared to pray, scared to insert the line of “Refuaah Shleima”- complete recovery, into the silent Amida prayer. Scared to add a name into the prayer, a loved name, a name from my own family, scared of what that means, to us, and to our life.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

All It Takes

This story of mine appeared in Mishpacha's Sukkos Calligraphy.  It's one of my favorite stories so far, so I wanted to share it with you guys too. It came under a lot of fire from Mishpacha readers, and I'm interested to hear what you have to say.

I am a woman, at last. I look at my face, enveloped by the wavy brown sheitel.  The wig frames my narrow cheekbones; the pony masks my too high forehead. I turn my head from side to side and enjoy the swish of the silken mane. I look like any other young woman, young married woman.
"How much is this one?" I ask.
"Ah, you chose one of our best pieces. A hundred percent European hair, soft and silky. You have good taste"
Many would suck in their breath when she names the figure; I don’t. I'm prepared for the expense. I've been waiting for this day for years, too many years to count. Not in this way, no, my dreams were more fantastic, but this will have to do.
"I'll take it" I say. "When will it be ready?"
"Wonderful! This sheitel is meant for you! It fits on you like a glove. Just a wash, we'll give it. Do you want us to curl it? Many kallahs like curls, for the sheva brachos."
"No, the natural waves will be fine. But when will it be ready?"
"Don't worry sweetie, you'll have it in plenty of time for your wedding. It will be in Sivan yes, after Shavuos?"
Shavuos will be too late for my flight. I think quickly. "Lag BaOmer" I say "I'm getting married on Lag BaOmer, I'll want to pick it up before that."
"Ah, a short engagement" Ruchi the sheitel macher smiles. "No patience, ah."
Who is she to speak of patience? She looks like a teenager still, and is obviously showing. She probably got married right after seminary.
"No, you could say my patience has run out."
I look solemn as I speak, not as a blushing bride should be. Ruchi gives a nervous giggle.
What things does a married woman need?
Not much, it turns out, besides for a wig and a ring.

There is a jewelry store on my block, but a heimishe store will expect me to come on this important mission with my chassan, or at least my future shvigger. It's simpler to drive across town, to the mall, a large cement and glass structure, where nobody knows or cares that a bride is resorting to shopping by herself.
The gold glitters in the window. I never used to go into stores like these, gold and pearls were not meant for me. When I needed new earrings I went to a costume jewelry store, and bought cheap colored glass flowers set in copper, they felt less like real jewelry. Because jewelry is something a husband buys, that principle was deeply engrained in my psyche, despite my friends telling me I was being ridiculous and old fashioned.
I stare into the window now, at trinkets laid out on blue velvet, ready and waiting for an adoring husband or a starry eyed girl. I am neither, but I step closer, and the glass doors slide open, triggered by a sensor.
"How can I help you?" a man is standing behind the counter, he is short and dark skinned, with white hair growing in random tufts.
"I need a wedding ring."
"Yellow gold or white?"
"White." I decided on white gold in tenth grade, when Chumi and I planned our weddings in the back of my chumash notebook. White gold goes better with diamonds.
He lays a tray of rings on the counter in front of me. I pick up a plain band, slip it on my finger. It feels good.
"I need an engagement ring too" I say.
"Diamonds or Cubic Zirconia?"
I want to tell him diamonds, but I say "CZ".
I choose a simple ring, a plain setting with a small round stone.
The rings both fit me perfectly, they don't need adjusting. That’s me, good old Ravi, even my fingers are average.
He adds up the figures. I open my purse to pull out my credit card.
"Will you want an engraving?" he asks.
“A what?”
"An engraving on the inside of the ring. A line of poetry or something. Lots of couples are into that nowadays"
"Oh. No. That's ok, thanks." I try to smile.
I stride into the shul hall, confident in my favorite beige suit. My high heeled shoes match perfectly. When you’ve been in shidduchim as long as I have, you learn to put together a chic outfit. I’m no longer the shy seminary girl on her first date- some would say the change came too late, but at least I can enjoy it now, with no pitying glances. I lean forward to pour myself a drink, and stand twirling the cup in my hand, ever conscious of the new sheitel swaying at my shoulders. I’ve flown halfway around the globe to be able to wear it.

I not only covered my ponytail. I covered my lack, my loss.  I’m not poor Ravi anymore. I’m Liora Avigail Cohen, a married woman. The name Ravi stuck with me since kindergarden, but finally I’m rid of it, and starting a new life with the new name.

A young woman comes over to me. Dina she’s called, she introduced herself as we were going into shul.
“Good Shabbos Liora. Did you enjoy the service?”
“It’s was lovely.” I say. “So spiritual.” I’m telling the truth. Finally I can daven without feeling eyes in my back, and whispers in the corners, checking how much I sway and how many tears I shed. Finally I can walk out of shul without well meaning women coming over to tell me that they pray for me, and that my pleas can open the gates of heaven.
“I’m so glad you liked it! We are really excited about having a new family in our community, I’ve been telling Tziporah and Yael all about you. Come, I’ll introduce you to them.”
Soon I’m standing right in the middle of a circle of women.  They all seem genuinely happy to meet me.
If we’d met a short while ago, they’d be throwing me pitying glances, and I’d be giving my best put-together-and-not-desparate-yet-desperately-in-need-of-a-shidduch performance. I love the sensation of freedom, freedom tinged with fear.
“Where’s your husband? Dovid you said his name was? Yitz has to meet him”, says Tziporah. The question I’ve been preparing for ever since I set this plan into action. This is the real test.
“He needs to sort out some stuff back home.” I say, keeping my voice casual. “Work stuff, you know… I came ahead to get the house ready.”
“Oh my! You poor thing. All alone for Shabbos! You have to come over to us! Don’t worry, Yitz always tells me off for making way too much cholent. “
“I couldn’t. “ I say, and then let Tziporah persuade me. Test number one passed successfully. They aren’t the least bit suspicious, why should they be?
I know her as soon as I see her. My height, but wearing uncomfortable looking heels that add a few inches.  Dark brown hair falls to her shoulders in straight strands, frizzy from too much blow drying. She’s wearing nude tights, a short black skirt with beaded pink flowers, a matching pink button down sweater.
Liora sees me looking her way. “Simi Berkowitz” she whispers. “Nebach, poor girl.”
I nod. That used to be me, I was the “poor Ravi”.
“Such a shame.” She carries on “But what can we do. Levy’s friends are all married, of course. I did try suggesting her someone once. Oh, so what did you say the dressing is for your strawberry salad?”
I want to go over to her. But what can I say? “Hi Simi, can we be friends? I know what you’re going through. Maybe we can hang out some evening?” Yeah right, like I can do that. I made my choice. I look down at the shining gold rings on my finger.
“Some orange juice, a drop of honey.” I list the ingredients for my salad specialty.
This is the best decision I ever made.
Some of my life stayed the same. At work there are the familiar grey cubicles, and standard issue computers. The blinds are always down, and block the view outside. I could be back at headquarters, for all the difference it makes in the office. That’s global corporations for you.
And at home, well they were right, I do miss Abba and Ima, and my nieces and nephews popping in and out.
I chose an apartment that’s outside the Jewish neighborhood.  I didn’t have a choice, I couldn’t risk surprise visitors, and had to make sure no one could see who exactly is -or rather is not- coming and going. Sometimes the loneliness hits me in a wave.
But when I go out- to the Neshei play, the Chinese auction, the Simchas, every Shabbos at Shul- I live for those times.
Because finally I’m part of it, part of the community.
 "Ravi, Ravi Cohen!"
I spin around.
A tall blonde woman is walking over to me. I've never seen her before, so how does she know my name, my real name? Have I been found out?
"You haven't changed a bit. Why, as soon as I saw you I was like, there’s Ravi from Camp Ditza"
I force my lips onto the semblance of a smile. She leans forward and air kisses my cheek.
I still have no idea who she is. I’ve never been good at remembering names; an advantage when it comes to dating- most boys’ names forgotten a week after going out with them, my mind left a blank fresh slate - but when it comes to female acquaintances I wish I had a better memory.
"I don't remember you being from around here." A safe, neutral, response.
She laughs, "Yeah who'd have thought that I’d end up so far from sunny L.A. Life can sure be surprising.  And what brought you to this neck of the woods?”
Camp Ditza, L.A., the pieces click into place. Shoshi something-or-other. She slept in the bunk bed on top of mine, and she got the most points at the bowling alley at night activity. Hopefully she’s not in touch with the other girls.
“Warm community, a job nearby, the usual.” I try to sound confident.
“And don’t forget the great schools.” She says with a smile.
“I don’t have kids yet, we’ve only been married a year or so.” My voice trails off.
She knows how old I am, she knows what stage of life I should be in, if my life went according to pattern, but she hides her surprise well; I’ve got to give her that. “Oh, newlyweds, so cute. It’s a great period, enjoy it!”
 “Great meeting you, we have to get together sometime!” I say in a breezy voice, inside wishing that she stay far, far, away from me in my new life.
The door bangs shut behind me. “I’m home.” I call out. I know there’s nobody to hear me, but I speak anyway, in my new nighttime ritual.
I drop my purse on the floor, kick off my shoes. The apartment is a mess, but who cares? I take off my Shaitel and carefully place it on the foam head. I stare at myself in the mirror, no costume now, just my familiar frizzy ponytail.
If only there really was a Dovid. If only I really did have a husband.
How long can I last here, before they get suspicious? How long can I claim my husband is away for business, or sick, or davening in the local shtiebel? When is Shoshy what’s-her-name going to call our old friends from Camp Ditza, and do the “guess-who-I-bumped-into” routine, and discover that Ravi never did get married, such a sad story.
I’ll stay as long as I can, and then I’ll move, take off, disappear. Maybe I’ll try again, somewhere else, somewhere further away. Maybe I’ll have to go back, to my old life.
But whatever happens now, I know one thing. It was worth it. For this short, wonderful period, I belonged.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I have time. Four weeks to be precise. Wonderful beatiul amazing vacation. The reason? I quit my job. Don’t worry, I made sure first that I had a new job to go to. I'm ever concious of being the sole breadwinner of the house. But I carved out for myself this month of blessed freedom in between jobs. “To Write.” I said.

So I didn’t make plans, didn’t even commit to woking on the thesis that’s haunted me all year, freed up my diary and my days for one mission, to finish my book.

I have the most time on my hands since I started working, after college. That was a long long time ago.  I had big plans.

But so far I’ve read at least ten novels, gone to the pool, slep till midday, basically did everything except write.

The irony.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How I Forged my EL AL Ticket

We are bumping along in the airport shuttle bus, my hand luggage clutched on my knee.

 “I’m so glad we are flying EL AL” I say happily. “The way to the states was such a nightmare with Iberia” (who knew it takes 30 hours to fly from Tel Aviv to Madrid?)

TCO just nods. Men are like that.

“Next time we are flying ELAL both ways. I can’t handle a connecting flight again. Besides, their service is so much better.”

Famous last words. If life was a movie, dramatic music would have been playing in the background at this point                              

“Flying has really changed” I say to TCO, pulling out a folded pieced of paper from my purse. “Remember when you had to go to the travel agent and he’d give you a little plastic pouch with tickets that were blue ink booklets?”

Little did I know that I would soon be longing for those days. Oh, sweet 90s.

We hand over our e-tickets to the EL – AL clerk behind the check in counter. She inspects them both, asks for our passports. She types away busily, calls over an older clerk. They both look at the screen, yak away in Spanish, type away some more.

“I’m sorry. She’s new at this. She is learning.” Says the older woman.

“It’s fine.” We nod, we smile.

“T?” They look at him, look at the passport.

“I reserved a window seat” he says. We reserved our seats ahead, the airline confirmed it.

“Yes, we see. One minute”

A few more keys pressed, and they print out a boarding pass for him.

Then they move on to me. More Spanish, more typing.  

Then they call over a third person. A man this time. His nametag says G.

He talks with them, looks at the screen, looks at me.

I look back. What’s wrong? Did they forget to order my Special Kosher meal?

“Your husband has a reservation. You, however, are not in the system.” He says to me.

“I’m not what?!”

“You do not appear in the system. You don’t have a place on the flight.”

“That can’t be. I confirmed my place, I confirmed my seat even. Look at the tickets – 27 A and 27 B. “

“You’re husband has seat 27 A, yes. But you don’t have a reservation. I will put you on Stand By.”

“But here’s my ticket.” I wave it at him.

“A ticket and a reservation are two different things. You have a ticket, yes. But you do not have a reservation. You are not in the system.”

“Your ticket was bought through Iberia. You’ll have to speak to them.”

“I have an EL-AL e-ticket number. How can I not be in the system?”

“Ah.” Now he is riled. “All you have is a piece of paper. That e-ticket, what is it? A piece of paper. Anyone can forge a piece of paper. You could have forged that.”

How can I answer to that? How can any passenger answer to that?

EL AL lesson #1: EL AL e-tickets are worthless, since they can be forged. How can you know you’re on a flight? Easy, hack into EL AL’s computer system. Don’t do a silly thing like trust EL AL to honor their e-ticket.

“But I need to be on this flight.”

“It’s none of my business. You should speak to Iberia. I’ll put you on Standby. That’s all I can do. But the flight is overbooked, there are no empty seats. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Ahah. “ TCO pipes up. “So you are admitting we have a reservation, if you are giving her a standby ticket! Why would you give her a standyby ticket if you think she forged the e ticket?”

EL-AL Lesson #2: Don’t use logic.

 “I don’t care what you are saying.“ says G. “I don’t care. I’m not listening. I told you, you don’t have a place on the flight. That’s it.”

“How about in Business class?” TCO asks. “Since you lost my wife’s reservation, you should upgrade her to Business class.”

This is the part where I start fantasizing about being upgraded to Business class. I mean, EL AL messed up, now they’ll have to find a solution. Silly me.

“We only upgrade EL AL passengers. You are an Iberia passenger. She will have to be standby”

“OK. So how about you upgrade one of your EL AL passengers to business class, and then give me her economy seat?”

Om second thought, I don’t care about flying Business class at this point. I just want to get home and out of this dark comedy. I’d go in the cattle cart if there was one.

EL AL Lesson #3: Don’t try and find a creative solution. Do not even consider trying to find a solution. 

“There are no empty seats in Business class. The whole plane is full. Full! There is no room for you.” G doesn’t even check the computer. He prefers shouting at us.

“Listen, you made a mistake, we accept that. But now how are you going to solve it?”

“I told you. The plane is full. Speak to Iberia. It is not my problem. I have to go now, the plane is boarding. Bye Bye”

G. is yelling. The other clerks, stand around, embarrassed. Then he strides off. We don’t know what to do, if we try going to Iberia, it will be too late, the plane is boarding soon.

Then our guadian angel comes along. The older clerk from before.

She steps up, whispers to us. “I will help you. I will find you a place. Don’t worry.”

Her face is kind. She isn’t shouting at us. She isn't claiming I forged my ticket.

She calls Iberia (something G. wouldn't deign to do) . “They have your reservations.”

She calls EL AL reservations “Your reservation is missing from the EL AL system. There must have been a failure in saving your Iberia reservation in the EL AL reservation system.”

A bug in communications between the two systems. It happens. It could be Iberia’s fault, and could be EL AL’s. Who knows.  I just know I'm caught in the middle.

EL AL Lesson #4: Don’t fly with a codeshare 

“There are empty business class seats, but I can’t give you one without my manager’s permission” G. is the manager, so no high hopes on that one.

She checks in the computer. “Some passengers have not shown up, I’ll give you their seats.”

“Here is a standby ticket. Meet me at the boarding gate and I’ll make sure you are on the flight.”

We trust her. We rush through passport control, and duty free. Find our angel at the boarding gate.

G., the manager, sees us and glares. We ignore him.

Boarding. The moment of truth. We go to the desk, she hands me a ticket. “I’m sorry you’re not next to each other. “ She apologizes. “But I tried to make sure you are close.”

We thank her again and again. I want to hug her.We board the plane.

And that kids, is how you “forge” an EL AL ticket.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taking Time

My friend is getting married next week. She's the last of the "chevra" to cross over to the dark side. It's her shower.We are sitting around a table piled high with wrapped up pots and pans and peelers.

"I want you all to give me advice now", she says ."One tip for a good marriage from each of you"

I suppose being the last to marry has its advantages. Not only do we know to give her already toiveled dishes, but apparantly we also can share advice. Well they can. I'm still a rookie.

One by one they mention giving to your husband and caring about him and encouraging him and all those other good traits

"It's important to still leave time for yourself" I say when it's my turn "Just because you enjoy being together doesn't mean you won't sometimes need your own space, your own time for the things you like to do"

The others look at me like they pity TCO, like I'm a selfish wife. I blush. Who knows, maybe I am.

I just learned that there are things I have to do, that are oxygen to me. Once I was married I forgot about them, I thought I didn't need them anymore. But I was wrong. The tranquility of diving into a swimming pool, churning through the water and letting thoughts bubble up. The high I get from writing, that nothing else gives me.

My newlywed friend has different outlets and needs. I hope she doesn't forget them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In Real Life

I found this post in my Ipod. It was written "735 days ago". That's back when I was single, skeptical of ever finding the right guy through a Shidduch date, and meeting quite a few of my online readers.

You read my blog. You like it, that's why you carry on reading it. You want to meet me.

You have this picture of me in your head.

You expect me to be vibrant and energetic. You expect me to be bubbly and charismatic. You expect me to be like my writing. I'm not. I'm quiet,  I speak softly. Often I don't speak at all, because I'm still thinking.

You either expect me to be rebellious and critical of society (based on some of my posts), or you think I'm flipped out, like my name( which was chosen by mistake, but that's another story).

I'm neither. I'm just another frum girl. The type you wouldn't look at twice if you passed in the street. I do have some criticism of society, but so do most people, they just don't bother to voice theirs.

And I think most bloggers are the same. We are good writers. But writing and speaking are two different skills.

We aren't pretending. We are like our blogs, but only inside. And only in one facet of ourselves.

Carry on drawing pictures of us in your heads. But know they are probably wrong.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fading Newlywed Bliss

Will this last forever?

I'm estatic, elated. I straighten my shaitel, half skip, half run.  I'm on the way home to my husband. I'm married, really married! And I have the most wonderful husband in the whole wide world.

Life feels like a dream. It's too good to be true. When did this happen, when did everything change, drastically and amazingly?  I'm scared I'll wake up.

Newlywed bliss; an enchanted fairytale that the two of you are living in. Everything’s wonderful, everything’s perfect. You're married! 

I wondered how it would end, when the happiness would dissipate. Sheer amazingness couldn't last, they told me.

"How are you?" My long married friends asked
"I'm so happy!" I said
"Yeah, newlyweds…"
"Don't you feel the same?"  I asked them

I didn't understand. Why should the happiness end, if you're supposed to be loving each other more and more, not less and less. Shouldn't you be becoming even more happy, as your marriage grows older?

Now I understand. It's not that your marriage wanes, it's just that life begins to infringe.

There are small things. You feel sorry for yourself because of tooth aches and the flu. You have worries and decisions- buying a house, taking out a mortgage, changing jobs.

You have to deal with finances, budgets, things that didn’t exist beforehand.

I’m still happy. Baruch Hashem! I want to thank God every day. But it’s not the same as in the beginning. I have to work a bit now, to forget the small worries, and appreciate my miracle.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'm Free

I’m free. I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to listen to anyone, I don’t have to care what anyone thinks of me. (Except for TCO, but then we agree on most things, so that works.)

I savor it. My short period of freedom.

I’m not in school, ducking into a store when I see a teacher or a classmate in the distance, anyone who will report my long jeans skirt, strictly forbidden by my Israeli Bais Yaacov.

I’m not in Seminary, I can’t get kicked out for speaking a boy. (Not that I ever did.)

Best of all – I’m not in Shidduchim.  I can go to a wedding with no makeup, I can be unfriendly to annoying yentas, I can even make shocking and controversial statements comparing the Shidduch scene to an auction.

We live in a mixed, non Charedi, neighborhood.  I could do cartwheels in the street and nobody would care. I wear a baggy old skirt and glasses to the supermarket. I never go to anywhere just to “meet people”.  When I try to decide if my outfit is tznius, I only have one criteria – God. Not the shadchans, not the rabbis, not society.
I should enjoy it while it lasts.

The cycle will start again. Maybe we'll move to a religious neighborohood, and start caring about the neighbors.We’ll need our kids to be accepted, first to Cheiders and Bais Yaacovs, where they’ll check the length of my Sheitel and if I wear black tights, and do we have internet at home. The next stage is Seminaries and Yeshivas, an especially tough scene in competitive Jerusalem. Some mothers stop driving, some fathers change Shuls, anything to pass the test. Then our kids will be in Shidduchim, by which point we’ll need to pray we are millionaire saints, living the holy kollel lifestyle in style, with enough money set aside to buy eligible son in laws.

It’s easy to tell me I should always do what’s right, never listening, never caring. But there’s the right way, and the smart way. I’d rather be smart.

But meanwhile –I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be. I’m free.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Five ways to show I'm not Pregnant

1.Throw back shots of whiskey. Liquor will do too. Anythig with high alchohol content. If no drinks are available, complain loudly about lack of booze.

2. Tell tall tales of extreme sports. Recent bungee jumps or skydiving is best. If the most adventurous you've been is walking up the steps insead of taking the elevator, lie loudly or make fictitious plans for next week.

3.Ostentatiously carry packs of feminine hygiene products into bathroom. Enough said. 

4. Ask to be the kvatter at a Brit

5. Leave a packet of contraceptive pills lying around

What not to do:

- Wearing tunic tops or any form of baggy clothes is stricly forbidden. Wear tight and form fitting clothes only. (Sorry rabbi.)

- Never be sick, Ever. If you are sick, don't tell anybody. Nausea is off limits, whatever virus you have.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Yeshiva Guys are Pedophiles

Events of the past week have fortified my belief. Yeshiva guys are all pedophiles. And so are their moms.

I get a frantic phone call from Mrs. Mom-of-Yeshiva-Guy.

“She’s 25! 25, not 24!”
 “Does she look her age?”
“Her age?”
 “You know, does she still look young, or does her age show?”

 Her age. In any other western society except for the one I live in (and possibly Mormons too) twenty five is considered young. In fact, women are considered to peak in the late twenties and early thirties – according to Cosmolitan. Check out the average age of most female celebrities (who aren’t exactly famous based on their IQ)

 But Yeshiva guys like them young. High school girls are illegal, but the good news is that most eighteen and nineteen year olds, fresh out of seminary in their sweatshirts and ponytails, still look like high school girls (and sound like them too)

 Then there’s the fact that by the time an average Charedi woman hits her mid twenties, she’s after three pregnancies, and hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in who knows how long. Plus she’s wearing a scarf, or at best a wig. Let’s just say she’s had prouder moments, looks wise (Nachas wise is another thing, we’re being shallow here).

 So yeah, maybe the typical Charedi woman in her mid twenties looks ten years older than her biological age. But please don’t generalize about the rest of us. When we find grey hairs, we’ll let you know.

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.