These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

You’re not 22 – Let’s Hang Out!

Posted on September 19, 2013 by Naomi Bilmes

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From my blog:

Sometimes, hanging out with people my own age is just too hard. And I think I’ve figured out why:

The stakes are just too high. With people my own age, there is potential for deep friendship, romance, and a whole lot of fun; there is also potential for a whole lot of fuck-up. Sometimes, to avoid the fuck-up, you just have to avoid the whole thing all together. So those are my thoughts on that matter.

Thankfully, this week I had the privilege of spending time with people out of my age group: little kids and older adults. (I say “older adults” because some people insist on calling me an adult. I will fight that label to the death until I can scribble something other than “student” when filling out the “Occupation” column on any sort of medical form.)

But anyway, I’ll start with the non-controversial category: kids!! I got to babysit this week for the first time since coming to Israel. The kids are one (girl), almost-three (boy), and five (boy). The family is visiting from the States for a month and the parents needed a little time that they could actually call vacation (or just go to the grocery store). I know that three kids is a lot to handle, so I was planning on being exhausted afterwards…but I wasn’t. I was energized.

Because the kids were so amazingly cute. The five-year-old gave his parents a hard time about leaving, but once they did, he was all smiley and pretended there were monsters in the bedroom that we had to hide from (and giggle while doing it). The almost-three year old possessed the wonderful middle-child characteristic of not needing that much attention, so while his younger sister sat on my lap and his older brother talked my ear off about dinosaurs, he contentedly threw his paper airplane at my face and narrated its path. When his parents got home, they told me he had a fever, but I never would have guessed based on his cheery airplane-throwing (not eating any of his dinner was kind of a giveaway, though, now that I come to think of it). The younger one doesn’t talk much yet, but she smiles a lot, and a hug or a lap-sit can solve almost any problem. I was quite disappointed when I had to put her to bed and stop looking at her wide blue eyes, straight blonde hair, and beautiful Russian-ballet-dancer face.

They were MUCH better behaved than Calvin.

Oh, and these kids don’t have a lot of fancy toys. After a little computer time, we spent the majority of the evening throwing paper air planes, tossing balloons, and wandering around the balcony looking at the moon and the cats. And of course, some piggy-back rides were in order.

Aside from the Overall Adorable Factor being a 10 and the rare simplicity with which these kids played, another unique aspect of the evening was that these kids are religious. The five year-old-boy has peyot and the almost-three-year-old boy wears an insanely large kippah that looks like a hat. I realized later that its purpose is to keep his not-yet-cut hair out of the way.

Markers of their religious upbringing also came up in our conversation. When we were chatting about dinosaurs (something even religious kids talk about), we mentioned meat-eaters, and I asked the older one what his favorite type of meat was.
“Cholent meat!” he replied joyfully.

That was a new one for me.

Later in the week, when I babysat for only the cholent-lover (the other two were asleep), we spent an hour drawing dinosaurs and writing stories about them. In one of the pictures, we decided to put a person.

“Is it a lady or a man?” I asked.

“A lady.”

“What else should we draw to make it look like a lady?”

“A skirt!”

“A skirt. Okay!”

“And a hat.”


“For tznius.

Oh. Right.


During dinner the first night, the oldest boy sat in his chair staring at his fish stick.

“Do you want to eat?” I asked.

“I don’t know what bracha to make!”

Together, we eliminated the possibilities. Was it a fruit? No. A vegetable? No. Bread? No. Crackers? No. Only one thing left (as it clearly wasn’t grape juice): shehakol! – which is the blessing for everything else.

Okay, just a few more: their picture books were all about finding lost middot (positive character traits), and we made sure to say the Shema before bed. I was also asked why my skirt wasn’t as “wide” (long) as their mom’s. It was amazing to see so many things that entered my awareness later in life already present in the lives of these young kids (except the shema, of course – my parents did that with me, too). It made me wonder… What sort of lives they will have? What sort of impact will strict religious observance have on their young minds?

But now on to the big people – the adults. On Sunday night, I was lucky enough to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday with her. She and her husband also just had their first child, so it was kind of a “you’re an awesome new mom” celebration, too. A few other friends were there, all of whom were older than me and had so much wisdom to offer (or at least a funny story about being a tour guide in Israel for a family who wanted to get blessings from a Hassidic rebbe). Again, a nice change from the social pressure-cooker of young twenties life.

On Wednesday, however, I spent time with people even further from my age: one of the rabbis at Pardes and his wife. I had been invited to their house for an upcoming Sukkot meal, and the tradition is that instead of asking “What can I bring?” and tip-toe-ing around the questions of “Is this kosher?” or “Is this kosher?” the student guests come over ahead of time and help cook. Needless to say, I was thrilled with this option. I always feel like I’m bringing something pointless, redundant and/or hazardous to general human health when I bring a typical gift (wine, chocolate, teeth-rotting gummies), so feeling like I was actually contributing to the meal was hugely refreshing. Plus, I got to schmooze with two very wise people.

The rabbi is the sous chef, and he’s quite the seasoned chopper by now (he can talk while dicing and still emerge with all of his fingers). While we meticulously cut bell peppers and carrots, he told me about his family, his previous jobs, and dropped any manner of other hilarious comments about Judaism and the Jewish people (this is the man who coined the phrase “Jews for Exegesis” in his lecture on Tuesday).

His wife, meanwhile, is the master chef. While we marinated tofu and sautéed vegetables for a mammoth pot of soup, we talked about our shared love of creative writing and she told me about occasions in her life that had merited her writing original poetry. I admired her calm manner and polite instructions; I know that when I have strangers in my kitchen, it’s very hard not to tell them that they are doing it wrong. But my hostess was a pro at being a hostess even before the event began.

So those are my out-of-age-group adventures for the week. It’s amazing how much I can learn from little people and big people (although I kind of already guessed the “big people” thing from spending time with my parents and grandparents this summer). But the fact is, I need my peers too. Only with them can I talk about the real stuff – the stuff we’re all going through at the same time. The stuff that no one else even wants to talk about. The stuff that makes the stakes so high.

The fact is, that sometimes I just have to take the big risk; I won’t be twenty-two forever.

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