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.

The Boys Are Back In Town

There’s a pit in my stomach.  It’s there because of a stupid video I watched that I didn’t want to watch but that I had to watch because I felt compelled by the title and hoped that I would see something different from what I did see.

It was stupid, really.

There were some kids, and they wanted to have their fun…so they tried to protest something that is all the rage these days here…and no one supported them, officially, and everyone agrees that they were just silly and young and wanting to provoke…

But I got a pit in my stomach.

The boys look just like the boys I grew up around, the ones who wanted a bit of fun one night when I was fifteen and lost in a new place…so they gathered under my window in our new, not-quite-finished house that my mother hadn’t bought window shades for yet…and when I saw them I turned off the light so I could get ready for bed…and a beam of a flashlight shone in my face as I started to raise my shirt…and I heard laughter…and spent the rest of the night huddled on the floor in tears.

And they also look like the boys who gave my little brother letters to give to me…letters that spelled out the words they never had the courage to say to my face…but words I started to believe…words that damaged me.

And they look just like the other boys who walked the street with their hats and jackets…and met me at night…for this or that…but never had to suffer any consequences…even when I had to leave…because they always pretended…they were righteous.

When I was sixteen I wrote a letter.

I wrote about the boys I saw…and what I thought when I saw them…and how they were pushing me away from everything I thought was true…and that I was confused because they were supposed to represent the epitome of everything ideal in my life.

I got a response to my letter.

A veiled response.

“You bring up important issues facing our society.  I understand your pain and know that this is a big problem.  Unfortunately, it is not the right time to publicly address these issues.”

It is over a decade later.

And there are those boys damning my childhood ideals all over again.

I know these boys might be different.

They might not have that evil streak in them.

They might just be caught up in the excitement of trouble.

But they put a pit in me that is starting to sprout and take root.

I wonder who teaches them right from wrong.

I wonder who tells them it’s ok to scorn people.

I wonder who tells them it’s ok to call people names.

I wonder who sees them smirk and jeer and still loves them.

And I wonder at myself…because I am embarrassed by them.

I want to distance myself from them.

I never want my son to look like them.

I never want to associate myself with them.

And I am pushed even farther away…

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.

 

 

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 that 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…