Monday, September 10, 2012

FORBIDDEN -- What my daughter saw in Jerusalem

Orthodox Jews are forbidden to watch television, go to the movies or museums where they might see images of naked men and women.  Women are forbidden to appear in public without covering their hair or to wear clothing that fails to cover their lower arms, their necks or their knees.

Men are required to wear what we regard as a uniform -- a yarmulke or a black hat, black pants, and a white shirt.

There are foods Orthodox Jews cannot eat and books they cannot read.  In other words, the secular world in its myriad dimensions is off limits to them.

What my daughter saw as she strolled through Orthodox communities in Jerusalem or joined the huge crowds at the Western Wall were hordes of Orthodox Jews, separate in dress and manner, carrying a prayer book in one hand and in the other hand, the whole of the secular world, their iPhone.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Menachim is the friend I made on American Airlines Flight 16.  I was traveling in Economy and there was an empty seat next to me -- for which I was grateful.  At the very last minute before take off, an Orthodox Jewish man claimed the seat. 

He was not someone I would have chosen as a seat mate.  I am a secular Jew, with a particular antipathy for fundamentalism in any form.  However, in the past few years, one of my grandsons chose ultra Orthodoxy as his way of life, which has troubled me very much.

A short time after the plane took off, without any thought, I turned to my fellow traveler and said, "I think it's beshert that I am sitting next to you."  He smiled and said that beshert (it's fated) usually refers to a mating situation and he didn't think I had that in mind.  Among other differences, my seat mate appeared about forty years younger than I am.

From that point on, Mechachim and I talked, laughed, and had drinks together.  To my amazement, I liked this man.  That flight was the start of our friendship.  We have talked many times on the phone.  He has visited my home and I have been at his home for a Purim party.  He has invited me to join his family at Passover -- although I was unable to accept.  He invites me to lunch with his wife.  We have shared beliefs and feelings about many things.  There is no doubt in my mind that we are friends.

My most recent experience with Menachim was when he brought me some special matzohs for Passover.  We sat and talked for a while about his faith, our children, and my feelings about my grandson's Orthodox lifestyle.

As he was at the door, almost to leave, I turned to Menachim and said, "If I weren't against your tradition, I'd love to give you a hug."

The next morning Menachim called me.  He said he had told his wife about my wanting to hug him.  Her response was, "You should have let her.  She's an old lady."


I first met Vivian in an exercise class.  I was impressed with her energy, her air of confidence, and a quiet presence I thought of as dignity.

I made some friendly overtures to her, chatting before class started and suggesting we go to coffee sometime; but it was clear Vivian was not interested in our getting together.  She always left with her friend Alice, a long-time friend.

Vivian left exercise class long before I did.  I was surprised when our paths crossed in a book club we had both joined.  Vivian had an extraordinary knowledge of modern and classical literature -- which we all appreciated.

Vivian was much more a member of the book club group than she had been in the exercise class.  I attributed it to the fact that, without Alice, she was much freer to interact with all of us.

Eventually, Vivian and I became friends -- as close as some of the friends in my past.  How was that possible, I asked myself?  We didn't grow up together; we weren't in the same class in kindergarten, or high school, or college.  We never pledged to be (BFF) best friends forever.

Vivian didn't know my story, my parents, and she didn't dance at my wedding.  We weren't professional colleagues.  She never met my husband -- nor I hers.  She never shared the intimate secrets of my life's various stages.

How, then, could I regard her as a close friend -- but I did.  We knew each other's older selves and we shared what it meant to grow old.

But, like many of my friends of my past, Vivian died, and I miss her.  She was my friend.