Yael Levy

Jewish Chick’s Night Out

Dancing away the religious-secular divide

My bones were aching like a flu was coming on when Ma called with the news. “Your cousin got engaged to a blonde. You knew he wanted a blonde?”

I hadn’t known he wanted a blonde. I did know that I felt sick and wanted to go back to bed.

“Nu, what’s doing?” Ma asked.

“My friend Anna, the writer, told me to write about my life.”

“What’s to write?”

“She says I cross a divide. A religious and secular divide.”

“This Anna is from Brooklyn?”

“No, she lives in Israel.”

Ma paused. “Yeah, Israel. Tell Anna I also cross a divide and you learned that from me: People are people. And they’re all nuts.”

“I’ll tell her, Ma.”

“So you’re still going to that Persian dance party?”

The back of my head felt like someone had kicked it in with a sledgehammer. “I don’t know, Ma. I’m a little tired.”

“You should get out. Go to parties. It’s not normal you spend your whole life with kids. You should mingle with other adults.”

“I really don’t want to go,” I said. My achy muscles and joints felt so dull that I couldn’t imagine socializing, let alone dancing at a Persian belly-dance shul party. “Only I told Sheri I was going and I don’t want to stand her up.”

Ma agreed. “If Sheri took a babysitter and made elaborate arrangements to get out — you’d better go.”

It was good to have Ma as the tie breaker. We hung up and I dragged myself out of bed. My kids helped me get a clean outfit together, my husband now on babysitting duty. “When will you be back?” he pleaded.

“Half an hour. Will show my face and leave.” I brushed my sheitel, dabbed on lipstick, took my pink flowered purse and keys, left the house and drove to shul.

The sisterhood members of all the local shuls were coming together for a night of unity at the grand Beth Jacob Synagogue — Atlanta’s primary all–are-welcome Ashkenazi shul.

A female guard stood outside, formidable in her protective gear and holding a huge German shepherd on a leash. “Are you here for the Jewish Chick’s Night Out?”

I smiled and she let me in.

Inside, the lights were dimmed to a hazy glow. Women from all the synagogues had joined efforts to create a sumptuous buffet of roasted chicken, Persian rice, Israeli salads, fried eggplant, stuffed grape leaves and pita with hummus.  The women sat around tables draped in purple linen, chatting, laughing and picking at their plates of food.

Scanning the room for Sheri, I observed the scene: old and young, religious and secular — all the women of the Atlanta community mingled. Some wore slacks and others skirts; from second-hand shops through Lenox Hill retail. Women who worked as physicians, scientists, and lawyers chatted with stay-at-home moms.

And we all sat together at the same tables.

A young woman dressed fashionably in a crisp white shirt and black tailored slacks gave a short speech. She said that gossip is speaking with judgment, and this destroys us. However, speaking with compassion is a gift humans have above all other creatures. Our kind words encourage others, which heals and rebuilds the world. “Let us set aside our differences, and focus on our similarities,” said the speaker. “Let us appreciate each other for who we are.”

When she was done, all the sisterhood members clapped in unison and I went to find Sheri. She hadn’t wanted to come, she told me — she was so tired — only she didn’t want to stand me up.

And then the Sephardic women got up with gauze scarves trimmed with coins, the DJ blasted Middle-Eastern thumping music, and everybody took to the floor and danced.

The rebbitzens danced. The teachers did too. The pregnant ladies gently swayed their bellies, while the doctors and lawyers moved to the music. All superficial differences faded away as everyone ululated and danced together to the pulsating belly-dance music on Beth Jacob’s dance floor.

“Which shul do you go to?” I asked a white-haired woman.

“Actually, I’m not Jewish,” she said and smiled.“I just came for the party.”

“Anything new?” Sheri called out over the pounding music.

“My friend Anna — she wants me to write about the religious-secular divide.”

“Is she from Brooklyn?” Sheri asked.

“Nah. Israel.”

“What divide?” Sheri asked.

The music played and the pain in my joints slowly lifted.

I watched the ladies dance together and shook my head.

“Beats me,” I said.

About the Author
Yael Levy holds a J.M. in Law & Religion from Emory University School of Law. She is the author of Brooklyn Love.