This Temple Speaks for Me

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

Broken bodies stumble across the floor as sunlight beats against the windows, demanding the right to shine in this desecrated space.

Pages, soaked in the bloodred color that paints my history, rustle in the winds of hatred blowing through these trembling walls.

The temple heaves in uncontainable sorrow.

I cannot speak as the vigil gathers outside, swarming the streets with wretched grief.

Candles flicker in shaking hands. Eyes well with loss and disbelief. This is not where we were meant to gather together and remember.

I cannot speak as the graves are dug. The soil of a foreign land swallowing up vessels punctured by bullets that drained the lives held within.

I cannot speak as the world spins again and the sun knocks against my darkened heart.

I cannot speak because my tongue is bound by words too shallow to hold the depth of pain that rises from my roots and rips my carefully constructed identity down to the naked truth of who I am and who I will always be.

I cannot speak as a Jew, alone in this crowd of comforting rhetoric that leaves me feeling wrung out and dried.

I am persecuted and hated. I am thrown to the lions and left to die. I am misunderstood, mislabeled and misbelieved. I am held as a beacon and obfuscated in contempt. I am riddled with gunshots, stabbed with steel terror and run over with crushing rage.

I cannot speak from inside this temple.

This temple speaks for me.

 

 

On Equality in a Kindergarten

She wants to make the gan Reform,” she says to her assistant.

I feel my cheeks burn and I almost turn away.

But…I can’t leave my son this way…in a room where he is taught subtle discrimination and stereotypes.

So I speak up because this is where it starts…in this room with 3 and 4-year-olds running around an incompetent teacher who doesn’t understand me.

That was not my intention,” I say loud enough to assert myself and so that my son can hear.

I just don’t think the boys should always be the chazan [prayer leader].  There is nothing wrong with a chazanit.”

The assistant smiles.

You know my sister-in-law was a gannenet in a Reform gan.  I know what you’re talking about.”

I breathe deep and try to control the feelings rising up within me.

No.  You don’t understand.  My son told me that only boys can be the chazan.  And when I said a girl can be a chazanit, he laughed.  This is not about religion.  This is not even about prayer.  This is about my son believing that girls can’t be a chazanit.  This is about my son believing there are things girls cannot do just because they are girls.

Oh…I see.  You know you really are a unique mother that you think about this.

I almost lose it.

“I want you to know that if he were a girl…this conversation would have happened the first week of gan.  I want you to know that I am angry at myself it took so long for me to speak to you about this.  I want you to know that I believe in equality.  I want you to know that as much as I aim to empower my daughter, I aim to teach my son what it means to be equal in a world that sees him as something more because of his gender.  And it starts here.

She smiles.

“You know, I heard a segment on the radio about discrimination in the workplace.  They said that people are discriminated against all sorts of things.  The color of their skin…where they come from…their religion.  If I hadn’t heard that I wouldn’t understand you!

“Yes, but here is where you start!  Here is where you educate the children about equality!  In this room!”

She has this blank look on her face and I know that she thinks I’m some sort of crazy feminist burning bras and damning the man.

I look around the room.

The boys and girls are all mixed up together…and they come from different parts of the world…and in so many shades of skin-color…and they speak different languages at home…and they pray differently…and they love like equals…and they fight like equals…and they feel like equals.

I tell my son there will be a chazanit because everyone can lead a prayer to a God Who sees them as equal.  I say it loud enough to ensure that the gannenet and her assistant can hear me…and I walk out of the room, wondering who I was begging to be educated.

Defrosting

Let it go, let it go

Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go

Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care

What they’re going to say

Let the storm rage on…

“It just makes me not want to be religious anymore,” I said.

She couldn’t handle it.

So she had him call to clarify the things I was confused about.

He explained how he was just as confused.

And somehow that made it all much clearer.

At one point I told him how I felt.

I told him how hard it is for me.

How every time I do something I don’t fully understand, I have to choose to believe that it’s right.

How I need to accept the yoke of God every single day for the burden it is…because it’s a burden for me.

How, when I see thousands of people screaming together about the God I think I recognize and the Torah I assume is the one and only there is, I am tempted to throw the yoke off because I will never be validated for my struggles.

He listened.

He sighed.

He heard.

Then he had to hang up.

“I love you,” he said.

I burst into tears.

“I could have used this 15 years ago,” I sobbed as I put down the phone.

“It all could have been so different!”

I cried and I cried…

Because my father taught me how to question but forgot to tell me he was still looking for the answers…

Because I thought there must be something I was missing if everyone else seemed to be happy just accepting things…

Because there was an entire world that was collapsing into itself and no one else thought to care…

Because I wanted so badly to connect to the religion and the culture I was born into but just couldn’t…

Because I felt so isolated in my quest to find God…

And also…

Because they should have sent me to that school that wasn’t religious enough for my family…

Because they should have shown me grey in a black and white universe…

Because I didn’t have to fight it so fiercely when there was another, legitimate way…

Because I didn’t mean to hurt them by rejecting what I thought was their belief…

Because all I ever wanted was to be as satisfied with life and religion the way I thought they were…

My father is the most brilliant man I know.

He has never stopped learning and changing and growing.

And I am watching him muddle through things I can’t navigate…and it doesn’t seem to shake his belief.

So for today…I will stay strong.

I will stick to my code…the one he taught me…and I will follow the law I believe in.

Because no one has the right to take that away from me.

It’s funny how some distance

Makes everything seem small

And the fear that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all

Let it go!

Black and White and Green All Over

It’s hard to write this.

I don’t really want to, but I saw something today that made me realize there are people out there that cannot say what I am going to say, but desperately need to.

So I’m voicing it.

A few days ago, my husband took my daughter to the bus.  We need to go to a bus stop in a different neighborhood – one where we don’t belong.

There were signs plastered to the wall behind the bus stop.

Cartoons…pictures of scary looking monsters in IDF uniform chasing sweet looking kids with side-curls…and of course, three young boys were standing in front of the posters, taking in every minute detail…absorbing someone’s agenda casually.

We’ve seen this before.

Once, my daughter picked up a piece of paper in the park.  I didn’t notice until she had already pointed out the bad chayalim.  I ripped it up in anger and couldn’t explain any of it to her.

I just said it was garbage…and we don’t pick up garbage from the floor.

My husband tore down those posters as if that could change anything.  People walked by and looked, but no one stopped him.

Today, I was on the bus.  I got on at the beginning of the line, near the train station.  A soldier sat in the seat in front of me.

I barely noticed him until I saw the flash of white and green…

And I realized that he was changing, on the bus…

He buttoned his white shirt up to his neck…and it was only then I noticed the beard and the black kippah.

He fiddled with his shoes and peeled off his pants, revealing the black pair he had on under the green.  Then he began to tuck in his shirt.

Two minutes.

It took two minutes for him to transform.

The green was stuffed into a giant shopping bag, and a man wearing a different uniform sat in front of me.

I messaged my husband.

There’s a chareidi soldier on the bus changing into a white shirt.

He has to or a 4-year-old will call him a Nazi.

He’s changing everything, even his shoes.  And he has black pants under his uniform.

My husband responded.

Can you blame him?

I looked at him again.  He wasn’t even that young.  He probably had a family.

No, not at all.

Just makes me sad.

I really wish I could tell him he looked holier in green.

I got off the bus a few minutes later.

There were posters hanging on another wall…

And I am certain I won’t live to see redemption.

A Giant Falls

When a giant…

…comes crashing down…

…from heights unknown to man…

…it is only natural…

…that some…

…will try to climb…

…his fallen frame…

…and proclaim…

…something…

…or other.

I only wish…

…I was strong enough…

…to move a mountain…

…to reveal…

…the crater…

…formed…

…when the giant fell.

These Three Weeks

The fires crackle again…it’s that time of year…

The fields rustle…and gently sway…as the flames leap closer…

Towards dried stalks of wheat and barley…an offering…

Burning…burning…burning…

Where are you?

Shouts the snaking river of heat…

Searching…for something more…something real…to consume…

And the walls…surrounding her…hiding the pain…in the name of salvation…almost ready to fall…

They will hold fast…stay strong…just for a little more…

So that…the white ball…of exploding fury…can light up…from within…

The walls…falling…down…down…down…

Until the days pass…and the nights reign…and the fires come…again.

When The Tigers Broke Free

“Are you excited that gan is almost over?” I ask my little girl as she cuddles up to me.

“Umm…yes…no…no!”  She’s uncertain and for a moment I think she doesn’t really understand what summer vacation is.

Her face scrunches up as she digs into her mind for the words to express what she means.

“I’m really not excited because I don’t want to say goodbye to Gila.  Cause I love Gila and Yochi.  They come every day…so I love them the best.  The other gannenot only come a little and also Ayala already isn’t coming anymore and we clapped for her….but I’m gonna miss Gila.”

She rambles on a bit more as I brush her hair.  And then she’s out the door and I am left reflecting on the experience we all had this year at her kindergarten.

*

She wasn’t yet three when we put her in a gan in the chareidi (ultra-orthodox) area we were living in.  Kindergarten is kindergarten; I didn’t think I should care too much about the religious level of the gan she was going to.  All I knew was that it was an all girls gan and the mothers were asked to wear socks.  To me that wasn’t a big deal.

She went every morning cheerfully enough and I was satisfied.

Then we got the call around Channukah time that our daughter, while lovable and sweet, wasn’t actually communicating in gan and was speaking gibberish to the teacher.  They were convinced she had difficulty picking up Hebrew and that she had major sensory issues that were inhibiting her development.  It didn’t make sense.  She was speaking Hebrew in the parks with her friends.  Everywhere I went people commented on how flawless her Hebrew was.  I couldn’t understand so I went along with their suggestions and tried to register her for a special gan for the following year.

In February my request was denied unless I would go to a few different evaluations with her to confirm other learning issues.  They wanted her exposed to Hebrew for at least another year before they approved a special gan for language issues.  I wasn’t going to start looking for problems I knew didn’t exist, so I decided that we’d wait another year.

The teacher had a baby and a substitute teacher finished the last few months of the year with the kids.  She was young and loving…and she though my little girl was so smart and advanced.  She even walked her home every day and whenever she saw her on the street she’d give her a treat.  My daughter suddenly started talking. It turned out that she had been acting like a baby with the gannenet that treated her like one.  Babies speak gibberish.

Then we moved and registered her in a public gan.  Religious…not Chareidi…

Guess what?

No problems.

She had a great year.  She speaks Hebrew like a purebred Israeli.

But that’s not all.

Last year she had a party to celebrate all that she learned.  It was called a Mesibat Shabbat.  It was all about what you can and cannot do on Shabbat.  The girls did projects with their mothers depicting the Lamed Tet Melachot (39 Laws of Shabbat).  We did Borer.  We wrote out the word with beads…the first letter was all three colors, the next three letters were each color separated.  We showed how you can’t separate things on Shabbat.

Borer is a complicated law.  You can take the good from the bad, but not the bad from the good…but that’s just for food.  When it comes to organizing and putting things away, it gets confusing.  I mess up with that most of the time.
She was three.

She also learned about death.  And she learned about reward and punishments.  She talked about Mitzvot (commandments) and Aveirot (transgressions).  She was told complex stories about Rabbis that didn’t make sense.  She was taught the kind of Judaism that ties you down and beats you for being human.

This year she had a party too.  And they sang songs about Hillel and Akiva…and about Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers).  She sang V’Ahavta Le’reiacha Kamocha…love your friend like yourself…and they chanted “Ezeh Hu Ashir?  HaSameach B’Chelko…Ezeh Hu Chacham?  Halomeid Mi’Kol Adam”  (Who is rich?  One who is happy with his lot…Who is smart?  One who learns from everyone…)

Then they danced and sang and ate breakfast with all the parents.

We used to think that we wanted to raise our kids in the Chareidi system and that we could teach them to chill out a little.  That was before we had this year.

*

I watch my daughter skip off happily to her third-to-last day of gan.  She knows a different Judaism now.  She loves Hashem and knows that He loves her.  Yesterday she told me how much she loves this ‘Aretz’ (land).  She sees things in brilliant colors and although she’s still afraid of death, she is no longer scared of growing up.  Cause when she gets big she wants to be an Imma and then a Savta, and maybe even a Gannenet.
And I…I am different now.  I see the world the way she is being taught to see it.  I am no longer resentful of Chareidi society.  I don’t judge them, but I no longer care to join them.

Mistakes are hard to acknowledge…embracing them and learning from them is even harder…but when the greatest changes come from the worst mistakes…we somehow begin to appreciate how wrong we were…because it makes everything we are doing now seem so incredibly right.