Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Airing Dirty Laundry

There's a battle going on in my town that is hurting my heart. I don't know what to do about it. I know if I speak up on the maillist (which has been going nuts over this), I will get stomped on. But this is weighing on my mind. How can I not speak up? But what do I say? No one will listen if I start jumping up and down, yelling, "but we're all the same!!" I'll get my head slammed if I even try anything religious. I've found a number of quotes, just in davening that address the hate that is flying. But no quotes like that would fly. I'm stumped. And heartbroken. Considering the last time I commented on a thread on the maillist, about dog poop, I had my head bitten off. So since I suspect anything I could post to the Modi'in list would be dismissed out of hand, I'll post it here. Hardly anyone will read it, but at least I will have spoken up somewhere.

The background: According to nearly everyone involved, at a recent Chol HaMoed event in Modi'in, a Charedi woman went up to to a man performing a clown/juggling act and asked if the female volunteer he was using could be switched to a man. The performer stated the woman asked "very politely." He agree to switch, the audience protested, the female volunteer was reinstated and that should have been the end of it.

Except the Modi'inites are now out for blood. The email list for the town has become a basket for vitriol, for anti-Charedi rants to be spewed without limit. The few times someone has spoken up about the hate language being used, they have been viciously shot down. People have requested that the moderators stop this topic already, but nothing has been done except the posters writing back to say stop asking that the topic be stopped. If I hear the term "free speech" one more time, I may scream. Everything has been claimed from Holocaust comparisons, to keeping women from performing is illegal, to who does this woman think she is, to keep them out of our town. The whole situation makes me very sad to think that we can hate each other so much. How we feel about ultra-Orthodoxy's marginalization of women is a valid issue, but not one that is being discussed here.

We should appreciate that this woman approached the performer and spoke "very politely" to him. There were no rocks thrown, no demands made, no names called, just a quiet request. We, as a community, reject that request. We reject the beliefs that are behind that request. That is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with making a request.

The performer chose to honour her request. We, as a community, disagree with his choice. What was behind his response, we can't know. Was he just trying to be nice? Did he think that's what the majority wanted? Did he just want to avoid an argument? Did he not even think about it, because he was focused on his act, so he just said yes because it was easier? Who knows.

We, as a community, rejected that request. We do not believe that women cannot be on stage. We do not believe that men and women should be separated in public. We do not believe that women have no place in mixed public events. We made that very clear, very loudly.

We should proud of that. Instead, we are using terms like "Modiinistan" "those Charedi people" "keep them out." We are generalizing, we are making them the "other."

We are being hateful.

There are no two ways about it. We are secular and Orthodox, we are left-wing and right-wing. We are business executives, blue collar workers, military officers, mothers and fathers. We are respectable, and we speak of respecting each other.

But that is not what we are doing right now. And what we are doing right now, as a community, makes my heart hurt. Generalizations, rumours and negative talk have no place here. We spoke up, we put our collective foot down. No one is saying we were wrong.

Let us be the example of community. Let us turn this around and stop talking about what didn't happen, and instead talk about what did. And this is what did:

1. Someone politely made a request that was objectionable to our community.
2. We said no, that is unacceptable to us. And we were heard.

Please, let us be proud that we spoke as a community. Let us take comfort in the knowledge that as a community, be us secular, orthodox or somewhere in between, we have essentially the same values and the same goals for our community. To live together, peacefully and with respect for each other.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Defining Freedom

One of the most common gripes heard just before Pesach (usually from me) is, how the heck can you call Passover the Festival of Freedom when we are slaves to our kitchens the week before? Many of us start preparing immediately after the holiday of Purim, cleaning rooms and closets, emptying our refrigerators and cupboards of anything that remotely resembles Chametz, checking our couches for those sneaky little Cheerios that get down into the cushions (or in my case, stuck to the back of the couch).

Then we spend days scrubbing our kitchens, emptying our cabinets, boiling, burning, buying new to prepare for this seven- (eight if you live outside of Israel) day holiday with its strict rules. If we’re cooking for the first night, the Seder, then we have to “turn over” our kitchens at least a day before. All the regular dishes and cookware has to be stored away, and all the special Passover pots and pans brought out. So we spend a day living in limbo – the kitchen is cleaned for Pesach, but we don’t have the Pesach supplies out yet, so we can’t cook anything. Therefore, we go out for pizza.

With all this preparation and hard work, how could this possibly be freedom? And then, when the physical work is completed, we have the psychological work of having to figure out how to cook food without the ingredients we’re used to having. Want Passover noodles in tomato sauce? You can’t reach for that jar stored in your pantry, remember? It’s Chametz, forbidden during Pesach. Want to make some Passover brownies? Uh-uh-uh, don’t touch that vanilla. You need that special Passover vanilla. I baked a few times this year for the first time during Passover and realized I don’t have Pesach measuring cups. I did a pretty good job of guessing, but that went on the list for next year.

So where, exactly, does this freedom thing come in?

I have a couple of thoughts on this. The first Seder was celebrated when we were still slaves in Egypt. We didn’t know freedom yet. Now when we hold Seders, we’re too exhausted from all the preparing to think about freedom. Okay, so that connection makes sense. So we’re not meant to be free the first night of Pesach. Now, define freedom. We left Egypt and left slavery behind, but did that mean we were free from work? Heck no, we were on the first day of a 40-year journey through the desert. We still had to get across the Sea of Reeds yet! Not to mention all the stuff we were carrying; y’know, all the goodies that the Egyptians so kindly gave us to wish us well on our desert trek. We had battles to fight, doubts to overcome, Golden Cows to build, terror to feel, Torah to learn, an Ark to shlep*, a Mishkan to build, a law-abiding society to create... Makes kashering my oven look like a day in the park.

Freedom is not an absence of hard work. It’s not an absence of rules. Shabbat, with all its rules and restrictions, gives me such a sense of freedom: I may have piles of laundry to do, but they’ll have to wait, I can’t do laundry on Shabbat. I need to enter bills into the family budget? After Shabbat. I feel not one whit of guilt for sitting around for hours straight reading (my guilt is reserved for when I sleep through the alarm and miss shul).

My second, more light-hearted thought was that Pesach is a little more free in Israel, where it started. Yes, it’s easier to get kitniyot-free products outside of Israel, but where I lived, if you didn’t get your Pesach goods two weeks before the holiday, you didn’t get your Pesach goods, period. The stores ran out and didn’t resupply (although, unsurprisingly, mayonnaise and Kedem grape juice were plentiful throughout the holiday week). Unless you have small children, you’re really not supposed to go out and buy milk or eggs during the holiday; stock up before. Here in Israel, we do our Passover shopping the day or two before, with few exceptions. Here, when we decided in the middle of the week to make matzo-lasagna (trust me, it’s better than it sounds), we ran to the local market to get Passover pasta sauce. Eggs? No problem. Milk? Sure. It’s just easier here. It takes less planning. And much less stress.

It’s a hard holiday, to be sure. And I’m still trying to put my kitchen back together and find all the non-Pesach things I stashed away at the last minute. But I’ve once more celebrated our Exodus and been forced to think about what that means. And now I’m free to think about what I’m going to do with all that leftover matzoh...

*Forgive my artistic hyperbole. Carring the Ark was a mitzvah, it was not a shlep.