These and Those

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

Just a jump to the right?

Posted on March 31, 2014 by Sam Stern

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From my blog:

Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?

SamsteIt was 3:30 on a beautiful Friday afternoon when Judy and I started to embark on our big trip to Alon Shvut. The plan was simple: go tremping, make a left, find the green garbage cans, go down the stairs opposite said garbage cans, knock on the door. This turned into tremping with Sam’s hair stuck in the car door, making a left at the wrong gate, finding a map to navigate the community, walking past the garbage cans we wanted, and greeting Zvi’s son as he was taking out the recycling. But we made it.

I could talk about the amazing food we ate, how incredible Zvi’s family is, our how the community is so beautiful…but you should go and experience that for yourself. I could also recount all of the embarrassing stories his daughter shared or the even more embarrassing conversations that took place at the table…but I was told by his oldest son that those conversations were NOT to leave the table. Instead, let me share my inner dialogues.

My davening experience this Shabbos was amazing. Sure, we didn’t sing any of Kabbalat Shabbat and the service went even faster than where I normally go. Yes, things were a little out of order and the nusach suddenly changed on us. However, my kavana was spot on; I was truly connected with my prayers. This is a feeling that I’ve been lacking lately, so I started questioning what was so different. Why did I feel so comfortable in my seat and completely undistracted from the rest of the world?

And then it hit me: I wasn’t on the other side of a see-through mechitza. Nope, I was standing in the balcony, up and away from everything that was taking place in the men’s section. And I liked it.
(I was warned by one of my rabbis that if I were to say this in Pardes, the reaction would probably be to stone me…please don’t.)

This thought scared me a little. The last time I was davening in a balcony was when I spent Shabbos in Efrat. I remember coming back to Jerusalem thinking I had at least figured out what I didn’t want in a mechitza. Yet now I liked it!? This gap needed to be reconciled.

In typical Gemara fashion, let me make an analogy. My year here is starting to sound much like the way the Gemara is formatted. A question is asked, a conversation starts, the conversation gets wayyyyy off topic, and then somehow the original question is concluded and they move on to the next question (okay, not always but we’re going to roll with it anyway). I came to Israel with a lot of questions about my observance levels and various customs. At a certain point, life happened and I put most of these questions on the back burner. They were still semi there, but they couldn’t be my main focus. Countless conversations have been had these past couple of months- some related to the original thoughts, but most were completely off topic. And then I had a “sh’ma mina” moment while standing on that balcony. Do I have concrete answers? No. But I sure do feel at ease about this conversation.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized just how scared I am of going home and having my community see just how far to the “dark side” I’ve gone. This surely isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this fear, but now I can finally put it into words. Most people are only going to see the “end product” without having knowledge of the conversations and thought process that I took to get there. To make another analogy, it’s like reading the Shulchan Aruch without analyzing the discussions that took place between previous halachic authorities. The absurd halachos that we may or may not follow today may actually have logical reasoning behind them.

A friend asked me the other day when I was going to stop doing things that the Beit Din wanted me to do. I found this question incredibly intriguing considering there’s nothing I’m doing today (except for unnecessary, weekly lady learning classes) that I’m not doing because I want to be doing them. It seems like so many people here are making the wrong assumptions about my reasoning behind various practices. If this is what it’s like in such an open environment, what’s going to happen when I head back to America?

It’s amazing what would happen if we stopped assuming and starting diving into the deeper conversations. It was mentioned in class the other day that we often put up our defenses because we’re afraid of reality. But how scary can reality be…it’s the only solid thing that we have to go on. I dare you to start asking about the hidden dialogue behind peoples’ actions. You’ll probably come to discover that you’re wrong about almost everything.

And on that note, feel free to confront me about my skirt length, lack of being shomer negiah, (anti)interest in making aliyah, shabbos observances, davening affinity, and new-found love of balcony mechitzos… your assumptions are definitely wrong.