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Six is my favorite number. Has been since I was six. I really, really liked being six. I loved first grade and my marvelous teacher Mrs. Lacy, who told me to always do my best (something my parents remind me of regularly). I loved going on my first solo plane ride and experiencing Disney World with my grandparents. I loved being a munchkin in a “professional” production of The Wizard of Oz. I loved becoming a big sister (again!) with the birth of baby (ahem–almost 23-year-old) Olivia–whose own blog is definitely worth a click. It was just a good year.
It’s my sixth shabbat in Jerusalem, and this week’s blessing comes from a Philly music friend who is NOT a rabbinical student. When I first got to Philadelphia five years ago, I didn’t think I would be able to make non-RRC friends. I was so busy, and I tend to be way too socially shy for my own good. But, I love to sing. Despite my fears, I auditioned for a new chamber choir: PhilHarmonia.
There’s something special about music friends. At some point I’ll dedicate a proper post to the impact that music has on my life as a future rabbi and as a human being, but for now I’ll just say that music opens a deeper place in me than almost anything else, and friends who sing with me have access to that place. I’m glad to have gotten this blessing from a choir friend I couldn’t even imagine making when I first got to Philadelphia. It makes me wonder what things I can’t imagine are waiting for me here.
I admire your pursuit of truth, understanding, and your commitment to community. We need more people like you, and we are cheering for you.
I’m not gonna lie– this one made me blush a little. Yeah, I’m after truth and understanding in my communities. Sometimes I wish that I weren’t. I wish that I were content to sit back and observe and let the world and the people who dwell in it be where they’re at. I’m usually not. This semester, I’ve really been trying. There are so many bits of life here in Jerusalem that push my social justice buttons, and I am constantly stuck on the tug of war rope, not knowing whether to pull, to dig in my heels, or to let myself temporarily stumble a little in the other direction. I am a guest to this land and to this culture and even to the American-based movement in which I am studying. I want to honor that by learning and appreciating both the parallels and departures from my Jewish “home base.” But that can be hard. An anecdote from yesterday:
(This would be a good moment to explain that Sukkot is coming. It’s the Jewish Harvest Festival, and it’s got some pretty sweet relics of religious syncretism from who knows when. Either that or this ritual was always ours and we’ve just held onto it for ages. For Sukkot, it’s traditional to buy a lulav and an etrog. An etrog is a citrus fruit kinda sorta like a lemon. A lulav is made up of three leafy/reedy plants. As part of the celebration of Sukkot, you wave the lulav and etrog around.)
Yesterday, a bunch of students from the Yeshiva went on a lulav and etrog buying adventure and then proceeded to the shuk, the huge market place in Jerusalem. I was with a female classmate of mine who wanted to buy, among other things, pickles. We went up to the stand and the picklemonger saw my classmate’s lulav sticking out from her cart.
(This would be a good moment to explain that, like many, many mitzvot-commandments- that traditionally must be performed by all men, women are not obligated to shake the lulav. They can, but they are not expected to and in some traditions are discouraged from participating.)
My friend ordered her pickles and the picklemonger (this is now a word, red squiggly line. I don’t care what you say) looked at the lulav and asked: “Is that for you?”
My friend replied with a simple “Yes,” to which the picklemonger responded, chortling, “Where is your kippa?”
(This would be a good moment to that explain that, despite their being no legal Jewish ruling regarding the wearing of kippot by men or women, the expectation here in Israel is that religious men will wear a kippa and religious women absolutely will not. Married religious women cover their hair but not with kippot. In the States, women can wear kippot in many communities, but in Israel women who wear kippot on the streets are often heckled.)
My friend didn’t reply. The picklemonger continued: “Do you know how to use it?” He then proceeded, before she could answer, to mime the proper way to shake a lulav. My friend informed him stiffly that she had learned when she was very little and took the pickles. We headed off.
What were we supposed to do? We could have educated the picklemonger about practices in liberal Judaism, or we could have told him that we were both rabbinical students and watched his head spin as he tried to understand what that could possibly mean, or we could have just assumed that he meant well and gone on from there. But none of those felt simultaneously worthwhile and authentic. So the interaction has stuck with me. I don’t feel particular emotional investment in it, but it’s yet another reminder of just how icky it is not to be seen for who you are and what you know. There are countless examples of this within the Jewish world (certainly not only connected to gender) and it’s something we desperately have to work on across the board.
On a happier note, I love the idea of people cheering for me from afar, even if this blessing writer did invoke the royal “we.” I’m very lucky to have this opportunity, and it’s tough, and I’m grateful and sad and excited all at once. At least yesterday’s shuk trip resulted in some excellent falafel (and a six-pack of Israeli brews and a bunch of spices and pecans and challah and pita and hummus and really I can’t complain at all). Shabbat Shalom, folks.