Taking a Stand for Sarah Tuttle-Singer

This is a sacred space.

It is my quiet – where my thoughts flow across a clean, white screen with no smudges and smears.

It is a private space with a door opening to the outside allowing others to peek in within the safety of words drawing boundaries with their intimacy.

I write boldly about my feelings in the most cautious way.

I use words that make it clear I am in control, and you have no place here.

I don’t get many comments or likes.

I get viewers…readers who peek into my soul and know that they belong on their side of the glass…watching and listening while minding the signs.

KEEP OFF

PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH

DO NOT CROSS RED LINE.

I drew the lines carefully and consciously when I first began finding myself in this sacred space. I was afraid of any response – afraid someone else would enter and rip me apart. I wrote deeply always from a place of feeling…of individual perception…of no judgment.

I feel…I am…my heart…my soul…

Rarely you…you don’t belong here in my innermost feels.

It was a good strategy, even though it isolated me in the blogosphere and kept me under the radar.

But I need to shatter the walls for a moment to talk about Sarah Tuttle-Singer.

For years I read her words with an eagerness pulling at my heart.

Her sentences painted pictures I could immerse in; her thoughts turned me inside out and forced me to re-examine where I thought I fit in.

And I watched her sacred space fall prey to hate.

Vicous, horrifying hate.

But I’m a coward, so I continued lurking and quietly congratulating myself for keeping my little corner here empty.

I don’t want to be a coward.

I want to stand up and say how much I respect her as a writer, how much I admire her courage to face off against all the assholes. I want to stand beside her and swing at each jerky fastball heading her way. I want to claim how little of a shit I give about our differences and how much I connect to our similarities.

The thing is, I’m scared of you.

Here’s the biggest secret I hide beneath my broken past…

In my here and now, with all the pain and suffering behind me, I am what you some of you would call a liberal fucktard. I am so open-minded my brains sometimes fall out. I lean wildly to the left even as my roots try to pull me towards the center. I fight for equality and understanding and acceptance. I’m not always articulate, and I don’t have an academic background to lean against. But I’m a severe empath, and I get ravaged by other people’s feelings.

I’m also deathly afraid of you yelling at me.

I retreat and retreat until my head is deeply embedded in any sand it can find just so I don’t have to defend the thoughts I can barely control.

And then I read words I recognize as my truth, and I have to stand up and join the fight.

I don’t know if I can do more than this.

I don’t know how much my heart can take.

I may go back to bleeding all over this space the way I always have.

I may seal myself in and curl into the ball on the floor you don’t have to address.

But for this one moment, I am standing up and screaming out to the world from inside my warm, safe cave.

Just shut up.

Sarah Tuttle-Singer should be able to pour herself out onto blank pages without you telling her to die, or that she should be raped, or that she is evil.

You don’t have to like what she says, or who she is if you want to make it personal.

You can disagree with her and try to debate whatever you want with her.

Enough with the hate I can feel sizzling through my screen.

Maybe try to listen.

To open up and see her soul. It’s right there in front of you.

It’s beautiful.

 

 

 

To Sleep Or Not To Sleep…That Is Not A Question

Shavuot.

That little holiday no one ever focuses on.  The one where we celebrate receiving the Torah.  The one where we eat cheesecake because someone thought it would be a nice cultural addition to a Jewish holiday.  The one where I’m supposed to keep the kids quiet all morning so my husband can sleep after an entire night learning.  The one I’m not supposed to resent because, as a woman, I should be happy accepting that I don’t NEED to learn or that I can get my portion of Torah through my husband’s learning or that I can learn plenty of things other than Gemorah…

Well, guess what?

Not working…non of that…

Want to know why?

Because my husband won’t be staying up all night.  Not this year.  Not after years and years of frustration and anger every Shavuot night.

Want to know why?

Because when he was a little boy and was supposed to be learning the Aleph-Bet in order to read all those big books he was eventually going to be learning all Shavuot night, he was getting hit.

That’s right.

Smacked around by the teacher because he got the word wrong…or got distracted…or made a joke…or because the teacher was mad at his wife or kids…

So now he can’t make much sense of the letters that were beaten into him and doesn’t want to stay up all night getting depressed.

And me?

I’m a woman…a second class citizen according to the Torah and don’t you dare try to pacify me with your theories.  And yeah, when I was a kid my father was upset that his sons didn’t want to learn with him, even as I begged to be taught because learning with me was a favor to me while learning with the boys was a commandment.  It’s ok…I don’t want to learn now anyway…I just don’t want you to make me feel like I’m supposed to dance with joy that there’s a holiday to celebrate receiving something that sits on my shoulders like the yoke that it is…something that is not always wonderful and beautiful…something that sometimes makes me feel dirty…small…insignificant and sometimes very lonely.

I’m Jewish because I was born Jewish.

I’m religious because I can’t not be – and believe me, I tried…

I’ve been taught that when the Jews said “we will do, and we will hear” all our souls joined in, regardless of whether or not they were in bodily form.  Well, I’m not sure that’s true.  I don’t think I was there.  I don’t feel like I was there.  I’m pretty sure no one measured someone’s worth in pages then…or thought that it didn’t matter if you were a nice person or a total shmuck as long as you knew how to learn…or said that someone who learned a lot knew about science and math and philosophy…I’m pretty sure people just accepted something with a willingness to explore it and see how it would work for them.

So if I was there most of the people I hear talking were at a different event…not my Matan Torah…

I’m about to end my sarcastic, painful and resentful rant.

Just know this.

My husband is a good person, a learned person, a highly intelligent human being with a great grasp on reason.

I am his wife – his equal, his partner…

And we’re going to be sleeping this Shavuot night,probably full of cheesecake because a little culture doesn’t kill anyone, and we are not going to let all of this get us down.

So there!

Well, It’s About Time I Got Around To This…

We talked about that one place in my heart that I can’t get over.  It comes up occasionally.  We talk it over a bit.  He wants me to try to find a solution.  I usually nod my head and try to forget again.

This time it’s sticking to the walls of my brain, begging me to at least give it some words strung together as a validation for the anxiety it manages to produce.

Life is all about work.  My experiences in the past have taught me enough to get by.  When there’s a hitch, I’ve got some great tools lined up in my handy toolbox for all types of troubles.  Sometimes things need the ax, and that’s when I cut toxic people or things out of my life, and sometimes a screwdriver can tighten up loose ends.  Construction is full of demolitions, repairs and creation.  (Forgive the coarse analogy.  When you live with a carpenter you’ll understand…)

But I don’t have to tools to deal with this one…

It came back to me when I saw a picture on Facebook, that wonderful site that has horrifying memories lined up, waiting to hit you with a friend request, a friend suggestion or a notification that you’ve been tagged.

We were standing on the stairs of our school in our uniforms.  Arms were thrown over shoulders and faces were arranged in more flattering angles as the group posed for someone.  Click.  And there I stand, right in the middle, with strangers all around.

Everyone was tagged and the comments were the usual banter of teenage nightmares.  Someone else, a friend of someone who knew someone, piped up about the only one not tagged and provided them with my married name.  And I was promptly tagged.

I don’t know how we became that group.  My family background, religious affiliations and basic thought processes makes the friendships seem off and misplaced from where I stand today, but back then I was confident and comfortable with it.  Maybe that was my mistake.  Maybe I should have known that they could never really be my friends…

It’s not a long story, it may not be a story at all, but the memory is of me, trusting in the friendships a teenage girl cultivates for what seems to be centuries, confiding in my close-knit circle, reaching out with pain and an honest desire for help, and watching the arms recede from my shoulders, the faces turning away, as I was left standing on the stairs, alone.

At sixteen, the only safety a girl knows is the circle of friendship that she devoted her entire life to.  At sixteen, a girl needs to know that she has someone to lean on.  At sixteen, a girl can feel like dying when she realizes that, at sixteen, her world turned on her, spit her out, and never thought about her again.

So, don’t be my Facebook friend because you were curious to see whatever happened to me.  Don’t pretend I didn’t exist as you blithely tag yourselves around me.  And please, please hear me when I tell you that the way you treated me when we were sixteen has etched it’s way into my heart and is now clawing on the sides of my brain demanding to be revealed.

You abandoned me.

At sixteen.

And it still hurts.

There.

You can get the ax now.

Why Beit Shemesh Means Nothing To Me

Back in Setember, I wrote a post about the situation here in Beit Shemesh.  I wrote mainly out of frustration with my new hometown, and because mothers were bringing politics to the park.  I responded to a conversation held in front of children on this blog, although looking back maybe I should have kept my personal ideas as locked in as I did when confronted with the angry shouts and accusations against Chareidim, while sweet Chareidi boys played less than two feet away.

I heard some things that day that made me cringe.  Later on I read worse thoughts on a Facebook group I wanted to join.  The group was formed to show suppor for the girls and parents of the school, something I felt was a positive, wonderful thing to be a part of.  Except, comments such as “a dead Chareidi is a good Chareidi” and “let’s project scenes from Baywatch on their buildings” made me feel so disgusted and embarrassed that my opinion changed.  My disgust and frustration flew from my fingertips, becoming, as usual, a blogpost.

Life in Israel, was hosting thoughts on the Orot Banot saga and welcomed guest posters.  I submitted my post, hoping that it would reach a wider readership, particularly the mothers who shared the park benches with me and who were part of a community I thought I wanted to join.

Then I received a panicked phone call from my friend.  She begged me to come be at her side as her sister lay dying.  I rushed out the door with an apple and my computer, thinking I would spend some time writing and possibly provide my friend with a distraction.

The intensity of that day ripped me apart and I completely forgot about my life or the lives of anyone living in the war-zone that is Beit Shemesh.

It was long past midnight and an angel’s life was drawing to a close.  I sat in the waiting room, taking a break from the pillar of strength I had morphed into.  I wanted to check back into reality.  I needed to connect with the real world, where people took deep breathes, related to each other, and didn’t have to say goodbye to their daughter, sister and friend.

I checked in with the blogosphere and noticed that people had commented on my post.  I was excited and curious to see what sort of response I had generated.

My hands were shaking as I read comment after comment of what felt to be people telling me I’m stupid and invalidating my opinion. My words were picked apart and harshly criticized.  Although most of the article was my ranting thoughts, the point that I wanted to give over was summed up in the last paragraph.

“Let’s protect all the children.  Maybe we should start by leaving this sort of discussion outside the park.  I moved here so that my children could be raised in an environment of tolerance and acceptance.  That my children could be accepted and so that they could accept others is dependent on what they hear at home, in school and in the park.”

No one managed to hear that part.  They just went on about me and my ‘groundless’ opinion.

I closed my computer, refusing to respond, walked into a hospital room and watched a young girl die.

In my soul, I lost a little bit of faith in humanity.

In my heart, I lost respect for both sides of the story.

In my mind, I made a promise not to care.

I live in a home full of warmth, love and tolerance.

And I do not go to the park.

You Menuval You

Guest post from the amazing husband who rants really well and doesn’t realize that if he can dictate awesomeness, there’s nothing stopping him from writing it out, except maybe horrible spelling. 🙂

This past week we leined Parshas Kedoshiim, where Hashem gives us the command Kiddoshim Ti’hiu.  Many of us know the Rambam’s commentary on these words.  To sum it up, don’t be Menuval B’Rishus HaTorah, disgusting with the permission of the Torah.

What the Rambam means by this is open to interpretation.

I’ll tell you my take on it.

If you refuse to get up for the 80-year-old woman but jump up like your pants are on fire when she sits next to you, you are a menuval.

If you get upset and self-righteous when a pregnant woman dares to stand next to your seat on the bus, you are a menuval.

If you incite hatred in the name of the Torah because of your fear of change, you are a menuval.

If you think ignorance is piety, you are a menuval.

If you deny your sons and daughters the right to follow other ways of our holy Torah because they are different from yours, you are a menuval.

If you can hate an entire nation for what a few grouchy men did sixty-three years ago when the thought of you didn’t yet exist, you are a menuval.

If you take great pains to avoid looking at a woman while you shove past her on the street, you are a menuval.

The list could go on forever.  I’ll stop before my emotions run through the page.

In short, being a Kadosh is putting our petty differences aside and smiling when we offer those in need a seat.

Off The Derech

I went off the derech, you know.

I walked it a couple of times.  I kicked the ground where it was soft and beat it where it was hard.  I turned over stones to reveal long-forgotten imprints.  I lifted logs and marveled at the slime and grime.  I stepped in crap, cursed the asshole who dumped in my way, and scraped the bottom of my shoe clean with broken glass.  I took a break, sitting down at a crossroads to rest my screwed-up head.  I watched and listened for a long time.

When I had enough of the constant negativity, when I could no longer stand the choking, rigid lines, when I knew not what to believe, when I hated myself for sitting by as an active witness, I got up and I left.

Just like that.

Only…

Here I am again, sitting at the crossroads, waiting for that moment to come.  I’m not sure how I landed here again.  I have no idea when I forgot what it was like on this beaten track.  All I know is that not much has changed.  It is the same old story, the same old song, but this time the devil’s here with me.  He’s holding out the contract, asking me what it will be.  The acrid stench of misplaced passions burning reaches me from the east while cold winds of apathy hit me from the west.  I’m torn between my heart and my mind and the pressure is mounting.

The devil waves his fiery pen in front of my gloomy eyes.  I need to tell him now, he is insisting, tempting damnation so persuasively.  I have no choice, I must do something.  I grab the pen and grip it through the searing pain of roasting flesh.  With all the hate that has built on this road of shame, I force the smoldering tip towards his wretched throat.  I split the lies open in one jagged line and watch them pour out, swirling around him unrelenting in their need to be exposed.  He shrivels up and dies without a sound, smoking at my feet at the crossroads he had pirated for so long.

I get up and I leave.

Just like that.

On Coming Out…

Well, after much thought, anguished decision-making and painful realizations, we finally decided to do it.

We decided to say no to Chareidi.

Whew.

It’s out there now.

I will be digging my comfortable jean skirts out from under all the black and my husband will, once again, don his blue shirts.

Sounds funny to be basing Chareidism on what we wear, but that’s really the source of this whole thing.

When we decided to throw out our old image and just jump in and do it, we thought we already were Chareidi.  I mean, how far off could we be?  It seemed as though we shared most of the ideological parts of the society.  We just looked a little different.  We thought if we just blended in on the outside, everything would match up perfectly…

Hah!

Here are some memorable quotes that made us see the light…

“Oh, I want to be an architect because I can make a lot of money and support my husband, who is going to be the next Rosh Yeshiva.  And I’m only going to work four hours a day and the rest of the money will be from Bituach Leumi.”

“You only have one oven?  You follow Reb Moshe Feinstein?  Oh, so you take the easy way out.”

“The OU is just a little better than the Rabbanut.”

“The reason why Americans don’t wash Negel Vaser after touching toilet paper is because they’re too weak to keep halacha fully, so they need heterim.”

“If you want to get a good apartment, you really have to apply yourself to your learning.”

“Why do you have to embarrass us by working?”

“We’re very open-minded.  My son just decided to go out to work, and the family is adjusting to it.”

“Of course you are Chareidi.  Just put your peyos up, wear a white shirt and a hat and jacket, have your wife tie her tichels up, only wear nude stocking and cut down on the color, and when you give your son an upsherin, don’t let him stand out, cut his peyos short.”

So you see, it didn’t really work for us.

We’re getting the hell out of here…