We’ve taken a lot of steps to create a new life for ourselves the past few years. Now that my daughter is embarking on a longheld dream of attending an arts high school in just a few days, more exciting changes are yet to come.
Sometimes we marvel that Ultra-Orthodoxy was ever our life. I mean, boy howdy, I was so in it. But not my daughter. She knew from a very young age that it was not for her.
It’s been an adjustment back to civilian life. I am still really surprised when rabbis, and community and educational leaders respond with respect and compassion. I encountered so much cruelty, abuse and chauvinism in Orthodoxy, that it was simply the norm.
Now, when I reflect on it, I mostly feel an enormous sense of relief that we got out. I suspect I have a window into how slaves must have felt when abolitionists helped them to escape.
That is not to say that I haven’t known extraordinary individuals along the way. I’ve also been been met with so much kindness and everlasting love.
But it’s surprising how much it still feels like I’ve left a cult. Sometimes I’m like a young deer finding its legs.
Nowhere do I feel that more as when I engage in dialogue with Orthodox male rabbis. I think they are surrounded and validated so much by the expectation that they know best, that they don’t hear their presumptive tone.
Now that I’ve spent a few years in the modern world again, encounters with Orthodox rabbis are jarring. I’ve got all this feminist literature and perspective in my head, ideas that guided me for a long time, that permeate my understanding today. The patronizing, the rebukes, the sheer sexist condescension is no longer as familiar to me. A strong, outspoken woman’s voice can sound quite harsh to them when they’re accustomed to having most of the room to themselves.
In the Orthodox world, a woman is deemed unattractive and repugnant by dint of holding an opposing view to a man. An Orthodox man typically walks through his world with his authority unchallenged. If ever a system is “rigged”, Orthodoxy is it. As a consolation prize, we are told women have equal power, with the caveat that our power must be silently contained.
And now, on the American national stage, we have Trump. He’s like the worst of Orthodoxy on steroids. You know the out of control men who shout and throw things at Women of the Wall, or who ban publications that out pedophiles, or who think all Arabs are terrorists, or who shame women for a multitude of reasons…Trump is so much worse.
The fact that America has allowed such a twisted individual to gain access to so much national and international power reveals the deep misogyny and hatred still just underneath the surface of our society. His campaign is like one long PTSD episode.
Within religious communities, we tend to expect that goodness prevails. Because our participation in this community is wrapped up in our deepest spiritual feelings, it’s that much more devastating when we discover crimes and cover ups, or even simply everyday callousness.
In Israel we see this manifested in the ways that the religious right are so intrusive into the rights and liberties of Israeli citizens. It’s an imperfect democracy, in need of reform in every sense of the word.
Here in the United States, we have just begun to get used to freedom and equal rights for all. We’ve made significant inroads as a country. Whenever I feel impatient with Israel, I try to remember that our country only began to take equality seriously after nearly 200 years.
But now, abdication of these hard won freedoms is looming on the horizon. What makes no sense is that America would want to adopt the same Sharia type policies as the enemy it professes to oppose.
Perhaps it’s not only that the terrorists in the east resent and despise the west. Perhaps it’s that we are not willing to embrace our freedom and progress enough.
What motivates terrorists? Blind rage, deep misogyny, conviction that only their religious and world view is true.
We cannot, will not, thrive and prevail by desperately holding on to our commonality with the ugliest components of their ideology. Oppressing women, controlling women’s bodies, rape culture, banning religions, rejecting gays, denying voice to the minority experience…these are the hallmark of the ideology of terrorists.
My daughter recently asked me why it is that women have always held less power in the world? The answers are at once simple and complicated, the same we are still grappling with thousands of years later.
Nearly all the world’s narrative has been founded on duality. Good vs evil, man vs woman, etc. And within this, the female always stands for the vulnerable, the less powerful.
But now, the world is turning on its axis. We see this in religion, in culture, in law, in matters of finance, and in the assumption of who holds power.
I’ve lived in two worlds, the old and the new. I understand how persuasive it can be to go against ones own best interests. Especially when your community and world history is predicated on this. Patriarchy, whether manifested in religion, politics, or terrorism, is a dark shroud.
If we want to understand what America and democratic nations need to do next, we need to understand what we are really dealing with. Israel was created by the modern Jew. America was created in bold and brave rebellion.
To defeat terrorism, to move the world forward to its own natural and spiritual destiny, to see an improvement in our individual lives, those that were universally held back and subjugated need to become more. We have to deliver a fundamental change.
It will ‘take a village’. And it will take a modern woman to lead our nation and our world into daylight.