…Her grandmother was too practical for automobiles.
“They are the beginning of the end for our country” she would say. “Even if everyone else thinks otherwise. You see, little one, the speed of the body – for that is what cars are, really, the speed of the atoms in your body, rattling like bullets against your being – the speed of the body leaves no time for the knowledge of God in your soul. How can you, with all that sound and air rushing past you? Grandmother Shahrzad had smiled. “And the same thing goes for your essence.”
“Where are we going, Maman Bozorg?” Zadi had to skip to keep up with her grandmother’s strong legs.
“No questions, joon-e man. Not yet. Just silence. Just follow the silence. It will lead you down all the right paths, sooner or later.” (The Margaret Thatcher School of Beauty, by Marsha Mehran, pg. 72-73)
I’m slightly in panic mode. I know that having a lot of classes and speeches to write this time of year is normal for rabbis. I just have never been in that position before.
Last week I taught every day but Friday (normally I only teach 2-3 days a week). In addition I had to write a piece for the newsletter, a sermon for Shabbat davening, and a sermon for the start of Slichot.
For the newsletter I took something I had written before and changed it a bit. The Shabbat morning one, I wrote while I was in Sydney. And the slichot one, I tried to write on Friday, but really wrote an hour before I gave it. I am proud of that one though, the rabbi after told me that it was a great sermon and really set the tone, and that it would be a good one to give even if there were 1000 people in the room (instead of maybe 15).
But now I am looking at this upcoming week. I only have two classes. I will most likely have to write for the newsletter and the sermon on Shabbat (both because I have been doing this basically every week since I got to Australia, but also because the rabbi’s wife is due any second). And in addition I have to make sure that the women’s speeches are taken care of for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I will also be speaking during the prayer service to give explanations, but I am also giving a sermon the second night and the second day of Rosh Hashana, and the sermon before Yizkor on Yom Kippur.
I also feel like I need to plan Yom Kippur now because I will be going on a trip (which I am very excited for) right after Rosh Hahana. So much to do!!
I have no clue what I want to say yet! It needs to be meaningful and powerful- both to me and to the congregation. I wish I had time to sit and learn. I wish I had people to talk through ideas with.
I know that it will all get done. I know that this is the new role that I will be taking on, and it’s great to really just be thrown in there. But for now, I am in a bit of a panic.
I believe that in theory it is possible to be both modest and stylish. When one dresses “modestly” it doesn’t have to mean that they are wearing frumpy clothing that doesn’t fit properly and in drab colors.
Dressing modestly should not mean that one needs to look like they are old. Nor should it have to mean that one needs to wear lots of layers, something under, something over.
But unfortunately it does for the most part. I think it has become this way for a number of reasons.
- Somehow modest came to be that one wears bland colors and everything must be covered. When modest dress is taught, most of the time it is that a woman needs to cover her body so men don’t “get distracted”. So it is obvious that would mean that clothing should be large and unflattering.
- For some reason the longer the sleeves and skirt length the more expensive they are. I have found dresses that the sleeves go to mid-bicep or longer, and the bottom for the dress goes to my knees, and it isn’t open completely in the back – but then I look at the price tag and easily it will be $100, but usually much more. I can’t spend $100 per dress for my every day clothing. Even in the Facebook group that shows modest clothing that you don’t need layers, the clothing they show is on the more expensive side. It is cheaper and easier to wear layers (even though it doesn’t always look so great).
- If you are willing to wear something over/under then you have many more options of clothing to buy in general. Most dresses are short and have no sleeves (I still don’t get why this is true in the winter too). Or i find, that if it does have sleeves then it will be a mini skirt; or if it is long then it will be sleeveless or backless. So it is just easier to have a pencil skirt to wear under or tight longer sleeves to wear under.
At times I wish we were still in the 1950’s (or really a bunch of years in the past) – but really only for the clothing. The dresses were pretty, but were also modest. I want to go back to a time that one could be modest and stylish. I don’t want to look like I don’t know how to get dressed. I don’t want to wear things that don’t fit. I don’t want to have to wear layers, no matter what the season is. I don’t want it to be obvious that I am dressing in a modest way. I want to look pretty. I want to feel beautiful.
The past three days I have spent in Sydney. My main purpose of being here was to teach classes, but I was only teaching for one hour a day, so the rest of the day I got to explore.
On the first day I was taken to Bondi, and was told that I must take the Bondi-Brodie walk. I have to say that it was breathtakingly beautiful. I forget how much I love the water. Even though for a lot of it there were people around (it is a very popular walk for tourists and place for locals to jog), there were moments that I could just stare out into the water and find a moment of silence.
There was one moment at these rocks, where the water came crashing in, and all I wanted to do was burst out into tears. I am not sure why- but that was what I wanted to do (I didn’t though some seeped out.)
On my second day I stayed in the city and went to the Opera House. It is amazing that a building can also take my breath away. I know that it is quite simple, that it is just a white building made of concrete and tile – but still, there is something actually magnificent about it, I can’t really say what though.
A friend told me that I must take the ferry to Manly, and so I did. Once again I was in the middle of the water. Hearing the waves around me. At times seeing buildings. At times seeing mountains and trees. And at times all I saw was water, as if there was no end.
Following the Opera House, I took a stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was pouring rain, which I felt made it even more romantic and beautiful. There are giant trees and gorgeous flowers. It is so vast that there was on overwhelming silence of people, and all I could really hear was the birds, the wind, and the rain falling on my umbrella.
Something about traveling to places alone is that there is a lot of time for silence (which at times is great, and at times less so). I was able to stop when I wanted on my walk in Bondi to just sit in the quietful noise and think. I was able to just sit on the boat listening to the waves and the birds and the motor. I didn’t have to talk to anyone (most would think it strange if I really think about it). I could let the crash of the waves silence everything else, giving me an opportunity either to focus on my thoughts or to silence those as well.
My time here in Australia is great. I am really enjoying the work- teaching, meeting people, going to events at embassies. At times it is really busy (this week I’m giving 5 classes and 3 sermons…) But all in all, I feel like I am doing what I want to be doing- which is really amazing.
I also realized that I have friends, which is really nice. I was sitting at Shabbat lunch with my house full of people, and thinking to myself, wow I’m here for 6 weeks and I have friends.
Something I realized though this weekend is what it means to be known as “the rabbi”.
So, friends of mine convinced me to go on Jswipe. I am not so into it in general, but I figured ok, if I don’t find someone to go on date with, maybe I will find new friends in the area. I have tried Jswipe a few times before, and usually no one writes me or swipes right. But someone did, and then we started talking. And it turned out that he lives very close to me and is part of the Jewish community (there is only one here). And so when he asked what I am doing here, and I said I am the scholar in residence, his answer was “oh, I heard about you…” Yes, there have been articles about me, and it has been spoken about in the shul’s newsletters – so everyone has heard about me. But then our conversation goes to what it means to be a female rabbi, and not anything else. He even went to drinks with the rabbi, and apparently spoke about me (problems of a small community) and there he was told to learn with me. I even met him at the community Shabbat dinner, but he was talking to me as if I was the rabbi, and that was all he wanted to know.
Last night I went out with friends for drinks and then dancing. The rabbi was there too. And every so often someone would comment about how fun/funny/strange/great that they were out with two rabbis – that it doesn’t happen very often.
I have been places before when they have found out that I am studying to be a rabbi- but at the same time I don’t need to say anything to them. But here, there is no hiding it. It is the only reason that I am in Australia. Everyone I have met has met me because of my role as scholar in residence (ie. assistant rabbi).
It is complicated – because one the one hand, I will want the respect that comes along with the title. But on the other hand, I want to just be me. I want to be able to go on a date or go out with friends or just do things, and my title/role is not my entire identity.
I want someone to see that there is more to me than being a female rabbi. I don’t want that to be the entirety of the conversation (yes, I understand that it is something unusual, and so people find it interesting). I don’t want them to be afraid to touch me or say something to me because they are holding me on a pedestal.
So here is to finding out what it is like to date where my role is that of a rabbi…
Anyone have any ideas? Suggestions? Life experience?
I have been called a radical. I have been told that I am changing history. I have been told that I am changing the role of orthodox Jewish women.
When these things are said to me, sometimes it is out of disgust, saying that I am ruining all of Jewish authenticity. But I have to say that most of the time it is said in awe and love.
I never meant to be a radical. My mother always told me that I marched to the beat of my own drummer. I looked around and saw what was around me, and from that decided what I wanted to do. I grew up in an era that I was taught that I could do anything I put my mind to- and so I did. I am very thankful to have been brought up in such a world.
But to me, what I do is just what I do. I go and do what my heart tells me to do. I do things that I enjoy. I do things because I think that they should be done. When I first started at the nursing home in Israel I wanted to run a ball for the residents who needed the most help in their daily living. My boss and the social workers looked at me as if I was crazy, but let me continue with my idea. It turned out to be the best event – residents were talking; people who normally were stooped over, sat up for a bit; the entire atmosphere was different – it was actually noisy (in a good way). It all happened because I had a crazy idea, but was willing to go with it – why not try it out.
I get asked often why I want to be a rabbi, and people tend to be shocked by my answer. To me, it is the most logical profession for me. It is not because I want to start a feminist revolution (although in what I do, it is what is happening). It is not because I want to be like a man. It is because it takes all the things I love doing (and I think I am good at) into one job. So yes, when I came up with the idea it wasn’t really something that could be done. And there still aren’t very many female orthodox rabbis around.
So if following one’s heart instead of the norm, being able to play “outside the box” means that I am a radical, so then yes I am a radical.
When I was younger, I found Shabbat really boring. It makes sense though. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV. I wasn’t allowed to drive anywhere. We lived in a town without kids my age, and so it meant just hanging out with my family for 25 hours. It also meant just taking a break from everything- which as a kid, why do you need a break?!
When I went to college I started to appreciate Shabbat. I looked forward to the 25 hours of my week that I would not be in the library. I would not have any meetings or rehearsals. I would just have time to sit, hang out with friends and maybe read a book for fun. When I directed plays, my actors always knew that they would have 25 hours off a week. We were still going to get everything done, but they had Saturday to do whatever they wanted. I never understood how people did school work for 7 full days. I did not think that people had to keep a day in the same way I did, but to take a day that they are not writing papers or doing research. Take a day to wonder outside, see what is going on in the city, or just chill with friends.
Only last week I was talking to someone at Shabbat dinner and she found it great that we were at a dinner for about four hours and there was not a phone in sight. We just sat and chatted. She thought that having one day not to be totally connected to the outside, but to take the time to be totally connected with people was great.
There are still times that Shabbat frustrates me. Times that I am with my parents and there is nothing to do besides going to shul, so over the 25 hour period I read 3-4 books. Or when I have no one to share the day with so I am just sitting on my own.
But I think that in general I take it as a day to sit back and recharge. This week was one of those weeks. My timing was off for everything. I thought a class I was teaching was 30 minutes earlier and had a slight panic that no one showed up. I thought a school group was supposed to come and hour earlier. I arrived for a meeting exactly on time, when I thought that I would have 15 minutes to do some work. So in some ways it was no surprise that on Thursday at 4 it dawned on me that it was Thursday and I had no plans for Shabbat. [This was a time that it was frustrating to be single, for if I had a partner it would not be a big deal to just make a meal for the two of us, but being alone, it is just not nice.] And so I emailed the rabbi and invited myself over. I went to sleep earlyish on Friday night, woke up lateish today (I get to shul at 9:30 instead of my daily 8:30), and after lunch went home to read.
So now I feel a bit recharged. This week is also going to be a busy one, so hopefully the recharging will last until at least next Shabbat.