Cultural Geometry

I was never good at math. I was even placed in remedial in 8th grade, although I think that had something to do with my behavior. I struggled in 9th grade and then suddenly in 10th grade, something unexpected happened. Geometry and I clicked, like real friends. It just made sense; it just worked out in my brain. Before I knew it, I was figuring out “proofs” quicker than anyone in my class and I merely explained to my teacher why the Pythagorean theorem made perfect sense.

This sudden understanding of mathematics has always been a shock to me. Why suddenly did logic make sense, when it never did before?

Well, only recently did I begin to understand perhaps why. It seems to me that geometry parallels my very mathematical understanding of my cultural outlook and opinions.

You see in geometry, there is something called the “right angle”. In case you don’t remember, and I’m not doubting you do, a right angle is equivalent to a 90 degree angle and 4 right angles are needed to make a square — “four equal sides and four equal angles make a square”, states the definition of “square” on Wikipedia. The question is, if all 4 angles are consequently and exclusively “right”, how could there be 4 of them? More than that, if one is right on its own, why can’t one single right angle be considered a whole?

In this crazy, amazing, and unbelievably mixed up world, we all have our “right angles”. Our opinions are always right. From our corner, our stand point, at 90 degrees, we are 100% correct. From our angle, it can’t be the “other is right” because I am. And from his angle, it can’t be I am right. And from the bottom angles, it can’t be the top are right. And vica versa. But the fact is, all 4 angles are right and together it makes a whole. Completion. A square. (Yes, I know the world is round, but what can I do?)

I grew up with a Chabad father, Carlebach/modern mother, non religious grandparents who lived nearby, a myriad of first cousins streaming from Jewish reform to Amshinov Chassidish (and everything in between), and to make things more complicated, I went to a Yeshivish Bais Yaakov elementary school, a modern-orthodox High School, then to a middle of the line seminary, one Jewish college, and a non-Jewish college. I then decided to marry into the Breslov sphere (to a Baalei Teshuva might I add), and I went as far as living on the edge of Meah Shearim (true story). Then after my divorce, I went back to my original comfort zone, which today I would a call a mix of Modern Machmir/Yeshivish Modern and maybe Chardal. But just you wait Henry Higgins…there is more!

Growing up, my younger sister was medically fragile after living in an ICU for the first three years of her life. When she moved home, at age 3, we had 24 hour nursing in our house for the next 14 years. I was exposed to devout righteous Christians (Sue-Ann), Native Americans (Anna), ligit Indians (Anama), Haitians (Kay), secular Jews (Sharon), African Americans (Sandra), non affiliates (Elaine), and many “types” including a “practicing” witch (Deirdre), a woman who believed in ghosts (Linda), a kleptomaniac (Janis), a mentally unstable woman (Paula) and a missionary (Gale). I didn’t travel the world because I didn’t need to; everyone came to me.

So do I have the right to talk? I think so.

I stemmed from an upbringing where my mother would pass a church on Sunday and say to me, “Look at those wonderful people spending their day off praying!” This same mother, as I only have one (G-d bless her), is known to make anyone and everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, comfortable and appreciated. (My stories are plentiful!)

I have lived in so many kinds of Jewish communities because I moved 8 times in 7 years! Talbiah, to Nachlaot, to Monsey (twice), to Far Rockaway, to Arzei Habirah, To Beis Yisrael and…to Ramot. I have worked with so many kinds of people from Harlem-like public schools in NY, (with an anti-Semitic White-Plains principal), to a school in Yishuv Adam (with a very low socio-economic student body with many Ethiopians), to Chassidish schools and once again, everything in between.

What is so interesting is that everyone has their angle and ironically all their angles are right. Lately, I look around me and I can’t believe how much criticism, dishonor, disrespect and shouting (whether literally, or written on my facebook feed) is being articulated. Everyone is so against one another. Everyone, especially in the frum community, believes they are right.

Go ahead, ask me if I think Neturei Karta is right by burning Israeli flags in the streets of Brooklyn on Purim. Ummm, No.

Ask me if I would give a (stranger) Palestinian woman standing at the train stop with me a cheerful good-day-to-you smile? No again.

Ask me if I think all races, ethnic groups, religions, prototypes, color-skinned people, political standpoints, or cultures are correct in their stand? Absolutely not.

But I don’t agree or favor everyone because I have opinions. I am allowed to have them because it is my right as a living being but the point is — so are they. Whoever the they is.

We have way more than 4 angles walking around; thousands upon thousands of right angles in this world. Each one thinks they are right. Each one is coming from their angle. But the fact of the matter is, we can not be whole without one another. G-d created each of us to be “me” which is always going to be a mixture of my upbringing (even if we try to ignore it) and the choices we have made (which many times change).

I have had some trouble having this mind frame. The fact that I am so accepting and open to all kinds has made me a bit of a mosaic; an eclectic human being if you must. When I am asked who I would like to date, where to live, what to wear or where to send my kids to school, it’s hard for me. That is the downside, and a downside it is. (Especially living in perhaps the most polarized country that exists- Israel). However, the upside is this: I never (and I mean it) will judge someone by where they come from. I might be cautious around individuals, based on their exterior display, that have proven to be a part of a group that is disrespectful (or murdering) my people, hence me not chummy-chumming with my Palestinian neighbor. I might have strong Jewish and Israeli pride because that is my choice of favor. However, when I see a woman wearing a Burka, I do not label her a terrorist in my mind. When I see a Jewish woman wearing a Burka (and then some), I do not label her a sick psycho woman (perhaps sad, but who am I to label her sick?).

Recently, I went to a very special workshop given by my teacher, Rabbanit Yehudis Golshevsky. She did a pre-Purim experiment where she (being a Breslov woman who wears standard Chasidish clothing) together with another friend, put on different religious wardrobes (mainly defined by the head coverings). These wardrobes included; the American girl staying in Israel for a year (holding an ice coffee), a woman in a full fledged black covering (everything covered!), a high class Belz woman (elegant and poised as can be), a modern orthodox girl (coolness written all over her), an Israeli authentic Chasidish woman (with a phone stuck in her tichel as she walked; the iTichel as they called it)….and a few more interesting takes on people. The point of the exercise was to teach women that our exteriors really have an effect on us and what we wear, and how we wear it, will make us feel differently. I took that message, but I took another message as well.

I take the message that there are so many types of people. So do the math with me. Its simple: It takes 4 right angles to make a whole with equal sides, and without that, there would be no vessel with walls to contain the human race and its many cultures. I have never outwardly preached my opinion politically or religiously, but I dare say, don’t you agree?

About the Author
Sarah Nathan made Aliyah in 2007 from NY- single and passionate. She has two kids and lives in Jerusalem.
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