It’s Birthright season again – when thousands of young Jews are busily bused though the country, getting an epic experiential intro to Israel.
We host group after group of Birthrighters for Shabbat meals at our home. Group after group I hear the same quintessential query from the females, “Umm, forgive me for asking, but why do you cover your hair like that?”
Underneath the cover of that question is a whole bevy of cultural constructs & assumptions.
Underneath the cover of that question is a genuinely perplexed young woman. A young woman raised on the American white-bread of progressive ideals… quality ideals like women’s empowerment, equality, self-expression.
A young woman who is probably herself full of her own questions of identity, body-image, self-worth.e
A young woman who has been decidedly over-dosed on media’s mixed messages about women… Where the Miley Cyruses of the world claim to be feminists as they strip and strut their most intimate parts on stage, making indelible impressions on impressionable minds.
All the while concerned citizens may protest & criticize but can do little to undo this new multi-million-dollar image of what it means for a woman to be sought-after, successful, empowered… sexy, glitzy, untethered.
And then they come to Israel and eat matza-ball soup with me, this middle-aged mama with a shmata-wrapped head.
Generally, the sub-text of this young woman’s question is a bewildered post-feminist gasp, ‘Don’t you feel oppressed by having to tie that rag around your head?!’
I then – most gleefully – get the chance to bust out my own mixed message to an impressionable young mind. A mixed message of being both traditionally ‘modest’ as well as most thoroughly & modernly self-expressed. I loudly lay down my own spoken-word rendering of what it is to be an Observant Jerusalem Jewess crowned with this urban-turban of a head-dress.
Because, for me, this shmata is a statement; it symbolizes thousands of years worth of religious idealism & rich spiritual strivings. This shmata, for me, puts the Miley Cyruses of the world to shame not for their immodesty but for the shallowness of their engagement with reality, history, spirituality.
I situate myself deep in the trenches of an irrefutably patriarchal Jewish tradition… honoring the breath-taking wisdom of this system all the while trying to bring progress from within the system.
Trying to raise a family, build an organization and share a vision of Judaism & of life that best resonates with my deepest sense of what is right. And yes, my mix of messages takes the form of a shmata wrapped most decorously around my head as I bust out my own homemade riffs on the how’s and why’s of this here hair tie:
I cover my head in protest
to Miley Cyrus
and a culture that
to the true beauty of
a woman’s sense of dignity.
Where decades of hard-won progress
is undone by a single
- a fatal twist
in what it truly means to be a feminist.
These are the many strands
of my stand against
a society possessed by a quest
Where 12-year-old girls
try to fill the holes
in their souls
with high heels, halter-tops
& rhinestone-studded hose.
I throw my hat
into the ring
to state the obvious
that female empowerment
is found within.
Judge me not by the color of my skin
and how much of it
Judge me rather by the content of my character
- not the contours
of my figure.
For on this cotton
a Manifesto of a Kabbalistic-feminist.
I enfold the mystic
into this fabric’s every twist.
comes to express the sacred covenant
While all the while
marriage in the modern world
is but a crumbling institution
a house without beams
where our children suffer
for our indiscretions
divorces & indecencies.
Please, don’t get me wrong
I am not a prude
not a preacher
not a governess
but a mother
and a lover
who takes her sexuality seriously
- mystically -
for I have tasted ultimate Oneness
through the two-ness
known as marriage…
And like a treasured swaddled infant
this two-ness thrives best in containment
So, yes, please, let’s talk about femininity
about what it really means to be a feminist
a woman, a wife,
a mother, a builder
because when it comes to self-expression, my sister,
- I got that one covered.