From my vacation last year, where I encountered the same wonders as I did this Chanukah.
Since landing in Israel nearly 17 years ago to begin what was to be quite a life adventure, I’ve heard many “only in Israel” stories. Yet I’ve never come across an “only in Eilat” one; not until this week where I experienced it first-hand.
I’ve been reading so much in the press recently about the totally crazy, over-the-top “religious” women in this country going to all sorts of extremes in the way they live their lives in the name of “modesty.” They look more like Arabs now, covering everything but their eyes and their overall behavior seems to be becoming detrimental to every part of Israeli society, simultaneously giving lots of very good, warm, giving haredim a bad name.
As soon as I learned about these women, try as I might, I couldn’t for the life of me work out how they could in any way be described as “religious.” Is this really what G-d was thinking when He gave us the Torah?
I wouldn’t exactly call myself learned but over my many years of Jewish education – both at home and school – I feel I may have picked up a thing or two. One of the first questions G-d asks us on reaching olam haba is “did you enjoy my world?” We are also unable to ask G-d for His forgiveness before we have gained it from those in His world whom we have hurt. These two idioms give me the impression that we need to live in the world in a real way; work in the world; go shopping in the world; and do everything that requires us to interact properly, appropriately and kindly in the world He so kindly bestowed upon us.
Which is why it just makes no sense to me that these women are living in this way and spitting at people who are not dressing in the way they want them to dress. That is Judaism? That is orthodoxy?
Actually I think it was in Eilat this week that I experienced true Jewish orthodoxy for the first time in a very long while. I was zocheh to encounter some truly passionate individuals, entertainers, who were breathing and living Judaism in the most accurate sense of the word.
Behind the backdrop of a screen that read in Hebrew, “Then Samson called to the L-rd and said, ‘O L-rd G-d, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee…’”, women were singing, dancing and telling the Biblical story of Samson. True, they weren’t totally covered up and yes indeed, they probably were giving the men in the audience something to smile about. But at the same time, they were neither pole-dancing nor trying to sell their bodies for cash or any other horrific degradation to a woman’s body the Bet Shemesh crowd insinuate with their over-the-top expressions of disgust. And guess what? They were living G-d’s true will; they were enabling people to truly enjoy His world.
The following night the same somewhat scantily-clad women were up on stage singing and dancing to songs including: Adon Olam, Moshiach and Avinu Shebashamayim (forget the title of that song). What were they saying? How were they encouraging the audience to enjoy the evening’s entertainment and at the same time on some level, realize Who controls the world? By coming out onto the dance floor and encouraging little kids to do some circle-dancing to the dulcet tones of “Master of the world; we want Moshiach now and our G-d is in Heaven.” Yes, oh heaven above, it was boys and girls together! But guess what? These kids who sit in day school and learn about Judaism who may not go home and keep all the intricate laws of Shabbat, to me are way more religious and have a far deeper understanding of what G-d wants in the world than the bossy Bet Shemesh spitters.
We are so privileged to live in the land of Israel. So let’s try doing that. Let’s try living and stop criticizing. Let’s try doing what Hashem originally set out for us to do – to live, love and truly enjoy in his world. Because that is what any kind of Judaism is truly all about. And maybe in the near future I’ll be able to widen the spectrum of the “only in Eilat” story to an “only in Israel” one.