Saturday, February 14, 2009


I haven't been around that ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem in years. But it's the only neighborhood my ultra-orthodox sister knows when she comes to visit that I agreed to meet her there on Friday. I pity her because she never had non-Jewish friends and doesn't know where Jaffa Street is, even though she comes here every single year to visit. She stays at her grandchildren's place. They're here for a year or two while their husbands learn Torah at some ultra-orthodox institution. And sis was astounded because I didn't know where Arzei Habira was.

I met sis on the main street of the Geula neighborhood and since it was Friday, the crowds were fierce. I told her I was looking to buy newspapers, but walking up and down the streets, I realized that not a one store was going to sell me or anyone else for that matter, non-kosher, secular newspapers.

I passed by a music shop, but you can bet Britney Spears or 50 Cent was nowhere to be found, and that the salespeople probably never even heard of them. Jewish bands, Hasidic singers, boys' choirs - yes. And there were enough of those performers/bands to fill up that store. One day, I'll just peruse to see what exactly they all sound like. Perhaps different Hassidic sects have different music and maybe it even sounds different? Who knows.

I wondered if the American bakery - Brooklyn Bakery was still in business. It was, and it was packed with people that we went over to the long-running Gerlitz bakery, which had wonderful challah bread and cakes.

I passed by a store that sold evening wear, and was surprised to see that some of the dresses were sleeveless. Probably the religious police had never come into the store. I kept taking them off the rack to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Even I felt self-conscious in the neighborhood with my dress which was cut a couple of inches below my neckline. Everyone else was much more modestly dressed than I was.

The store owner knew I wasn't from the neighborhood and complained, "People don't think there are any nice dress stores in Geulah." I told her she was right. I actually loved the stuff in her store and told myself I'd buy something here for the next wedding of one of my kids - as the prices were the same prices as an outlet.

My sister dragged me off to some dull clothing stores and marvelled at how cheap this ugly brown sweater and checked brown skirt were. She loved them. I hated them.

I told her I was looking for a beautiful challah cover and maybe I'd find one cheaper than I would at the tourist shops downtown, but wherever I went, the covers were more gaudier than the next. My sister was surprised at my disappointment and couldn't understand why I didn't like the silver fringes surrounding the covers. I told her I like the more modern designs, not the old-fashioned stuff. I couldn't find anything modern here. Nothing. Nothing in light blue or purple or orange or red. Not clothing, shoes or challah covers.

Now I know people wore beautiful clothing in biblical times because the bible always mentions crimson, scarlett, purple, blue and other lovely shades. So where did brown, black, grey and navy blue become the de rigeur colors of the ultra-orthodox?

Friday, February 13, 2009

To Be Or Not To Be

Well the elections came and went. Ho hum. No big deal for me. I voted for a party that didn't get any seats in the Knesset - Green Movement/Meimad. I always seem to go for the losers. The best thing about election day on Tuesday was the day off work. I told my kids "See? THIS is what a Sunday is like pretty much all over the world." I ran to get my son shoes for the upcoming wedding, and a birthday cake for the ungrateful coot I'm married to. He turned 50 that day. 50 going on 15.

But I was reflecting on people who don't seem to be what they really are,or who others perceive of differently than they perceive of themselves or whatever....Here's the picture.

Today, my son was watching a game - not sure if it was soccer or basketball. But the names being called out by the announcer were so familiar.

"Abarbanel take the lead"
"Abuhatzeira has the ball"

I'm thinking to myself - Abarbanel is a 15th century Torah scholar from Spain and Abuhatzeira is the Baba Sali. What are all these Holy Men doing on the Sports Channel?

And my Arabic teacher met me in the lobby in the building where I learn Arabic and was talking Arabic to me, but when we entered the elevator and were surrounded by non-Arabs, he didn't seem to "hear" me when I tried to speak back to him in Arabic. He doesn't especially "look" Arab and wanted perhaps to blend in more with the surrounding Hebrew-speaking Israelis.

Last Friday I went to my Jewish Renewal service in Jerusalem. I didn't want to stay overnight that evening, preferring to relax on Saturday at home. With no public bus transportion on the Sabbath, I was grateful to have an extra 60 shekels to cab it back home. Actually, this is quite a cheap rate compared to the more expensive Friday night rates, but I had made a deal with an Arab taxi driver around a year ago to take me back home from Baka in Jerusalem at a good rate. I called him after the potluck meal around 10:00 pm. He came promptly. Driving past the guarded entrance to Maaleh Adumim, the guard stopped him, and asked him if he were coming back out in the next five minutes or so because he will have a passenger going back to Jerusalem if he does. The taxi driver answered him back in unaccented Hebrew - he was putting on "Israeli airs" I could tell - and was thrilled that this wasn't a "car check". "See" I told the cab driver. "This is the reward you get for giving me a cheaper rate. You don't have to do that for the person going into Jerusalem, though."

Sunday, I went to pick up Hubby's suit for the wedding in Maalot Daphna, an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The suit was at my sister's sister-in-law and I put on a head covering for the occasion so as not to distress her. I didn't know if she would have been more distressed at seeing my hair because of religious reasons, or because it's half gray and half blonde, in desperate need of hair color. After I had picked up the suit,I wandered around the neighborhood taking it all in. I still didn't look like a native - even though my hair was covered and I wore a modest dress. Everyone knew I was an outsider. You see "they" all dress in navy blue or beige or black. These ultra orthodox neighborhoods are rather colorless. I had on a scandalous orange coat and I could see everyone's eyes on me. I wandered into a fruit store where the owner insisted I was a psychologist. I insisted I wasn't. He continued:

"Wherever you go, they will say you look like a psychologist."

He was big and bulky and I couldn't argue with him. Who would want to? And of course he knew better than me. He knew what I was, even though I didn't. It seemed so simple.

I sat at the table this evening, and my husband looks at me with disdain. I'm wearing a dress.

"What are you? Religious now?" And goes back into his cave. He comes out later with rants.

"You buy yourself clothing and the party's over! Why don't I get clothes?? You're SELFISH!!" He repeats this a few times. I shake my head. I had offered to him the same budget I had for clothing this winter, but his answer at the time (last week) was "I don't need anything until the Spring." So - fine. Hey, I won't argue with people that don't "need" anything.

My kids' conversations around the dinner table focused on those awful Leftists. Then they looked at me and laughed. Oh no! Mom's a Leftist. I try to explain that liking the sons of Ishmael doesn't make one a Leftist. But it's no use. They know what I am, better than I do.

It seems everyone does.