Monday, February 27, 2006

Shabbos in Jerusalem: Dinner with Neve Yaakov's Elite Yeshiva Boys

Some people put on a black hat and the whole world - G-d's whole
Torah, all reality around them - turns black, too.

I had dinner with such creatures Friday night.

My hosts - a friend from Seattle and her husband - were informed of my
upcoming arrival on Thursday night. They already had planned guests -
5 young Yeshiva guys from Neve Yaakov's prime (I'm sure) Yeshiva.
Being that it is not of Neve Yaakov's tradition to have Yeshiva boys
at the same table as a female, my hosts immediately called their Rabbi
for advice.

What does their Rabbi tell them?

"Just introduce her as your sister."

I can elaborate on my impressions of a Rabbi who would suggest such a thing, but I think anyone reading this is just as nauseous.

If something is immodest or inappropriate, why does it matter who I
am? And is this really a circumstance that warrants making a guest
uncomfortable - let alone lying?

I brushed off the absurdity very casually. Some things are so
ridiculous that you can't even try to deal with them in a real way.

I had time to ready myself for the assumed awkwardness that would take
over the night as soon as the young lads arrived. Me and my friend
tested out the best seating strategies. So much thought can be put
into trying to be good, that evil and exploitation are oh so close.
Defying the point of sensitivity to modesty right there, we plotted
out potential circumstances with each seating arrangement. Totally
ridiculous, right? But if I would have refused to play the game and
said, "Whatever, I'm sure it will be fine" then surely I would have
been the one causal with modestly, careless with sin.

In the end, we decided on my friend at the head opposite her husband
and me sitting closely to her left. Two of the unlucky boys would have
to sit on my side, on chairs carefully placed at a good distance from
me.

The circus started as soon as the young men arrived.I was never
actually introduced or officially recognized, so no real lying ever
took place.

Wait, back up.

I was recognized, alright.

I never felt myself in the presence of so many male minds like I did
just then. Boy, was I recognized. In a way that went beyond eye
contact, a good Shabbos, or my name. The five young dappers all
huddled on one side of the table, so to avoid actually approaching the
side with my seat that I was now standing behind.

I immediately felt embarrassed. I would practically hear their screams
of "Oh no! What now?" and, drum roll please "Who's going to have to
sit on her side?" It was so obvious what was going on underneath their
hats, inside their flushed out brains.

A total violation of all that is sacred. Right there across the table from me.

Kiddush had to be made. The night had to go on. Two of the boys from
the end eventually had to come to my side.

But the war wasn't over.

They both rushed to my side and had a silent argument over the seat
that was farthest from me. My hosts were making final preparations to
kiddush and the table, so perhaps these boys thought their pathetic
show went unnoticed.

But not by me.

The outright recognition of my female standing made me feel like my
nakedness had just been spread out like a tablecloth. I'm not
accustomed to such outright and deeply rooted immodesty and actually
felt my cheeks get red and my hands shake. It's only the small hint of
comedy in the whole thing that held back my tears.

One of the boys must have finally realized his own ridiculous. He
relented. The other guy won. After inching the seat beside me a little
further away, he took his seat.

I wanted to slap all of them. Like a mother might slap her child who
wanders into the street. Someone has to wake these guys up from their
dangerous slumber, from their blind existence. They think they;re
doing something so right, but their black view of the world has
blocked them from the very reasons they proceed like they do.

They were trying so hard to be holy, but they brought pornography to
the Shabbos table.

----------

To those five yeshiva boys,

You look holy. I'll give you that. Your Rosh Yeshiva would probably
drown in pride from your performance, I must say.

But why did you have to splatter such a chaotic scene? Why did you
have to make an explosion from my presence, and reveal my insides to
each other? Why did you choose to be so aware of me and turn the table
to sin - to total corruption of modesty? Who were you to make me a
victim of your game?

Hear you me. Trust me.
I believe in modestly.
I believe in sacredness.
I believe in the sensitivities that should exist between male and female.
I believe in the strength of certain realities, and the awareness they require.
I believe in borders, and healthy barriers, and the beauty they promote.

I also believe in living the message.
I believe in peoples' feelings.
I believe in being inward, and maintaining subtlety there as well.

And you?

You believe in the external.
You believe in rules, in a game.
You believe in the power of sin.
You believe in violent refusal to sit aside a girl at a Shabbos table.

Of course, one of us looks and feels more righteous in the end. Great,
go for it. But don't do it in modesty's name. Modesty and sensitivity
had nothing to do with Friday night's events.

I hope you boys realize and solve the modesty crisis you've created
for yourselves. Before you get married, hopefully. But meanwhile,
please hold back the game, the insane intrusion of others' desire for
true modesty and sanctity.

Keep things in the right place. Don't' spill your issues with sin and
sexuality all over the Shabbos table.

There.

You can go back to your Gemara now.

11 comments:

Hadassah said...

Heh heh... Sorry this si the first comment I've made on yuor blog, Mim. :o( Man... I don't know where to start. It's like one of those underlying messages ("do what feels good" on a coke bottle), that no one has the guts to point out. Their obbsession with the concept of sin, is just the tip of the iceburg. Mim, keep writing. Keep exposing the truths. You're revealing the light to many. Rock on sistah.

Anonymous said...

You go girl! Blow it open, reveal it all and don't hold back anythiing. You rock the Jewish world. Keep on Rockin and Rollin Mim. You are our personal Jewish private investigator/journalist. You are and eye that sees and a soul to be reckoned with. How true and well written! :)

Mayim said...

Incredible post. Mind boggling how on target you are. And with such crystal clarity.

Mayim said...

Sorry, my last message was meant for your post on Kiruv.

I actually disagree with this post and think you are being too sensitive about the issue.

But otherwise, your other posts are so on target.

Mayim.

Anonymous said...

i've gotten the impression from the blogs i've read that you are someone who truly loves all fellow Jews... so i was a little taken aback by this post. i'm sure the meal must have uncomfortable for you. i can only speak for myself- i try to see insensitive behaviors like these as the way that others are working on themselves. it's easy to say that their spirituality shouldn't come at the expense of anyone else's comfort- but, well, they ARE guys; they're (hopefully) still maturing; they don't think too much about other people's perspectives- and to them, they probably felt truly uncomfortable and did not know what to do. i don't mean to excuse the rudeness; i feel it was wrong. but i do feel that we need to respect others' sensitivities- they were sensitive to the situation, and felt a threat to their spirituality (which isn't necessarily right or wrong- not everyone feels that this is the correct way, but not everyone has to be the same) and then there's all that stuff about live and let live and not judging others... different Jews have different ways... we can respect the differences even if we don't always agree with them.

Mimi said...

Hadassah: Glad you finally got your act together :)

Anonymous #1: I really absorb everyone's encouragement, and yours was specifically energizing -thank you.

Mayim: I agree. I am sensitive.

Thank G-d.

I appreciate your comments to my blog (including this one!)Your opinion matters always. But this piece wasn't really an opinion piece - it was an experience. You may see it differently, you may have had a different reaction. That's the beauty of you and me, the differences that can layer two people.

I am aware that this piece might strike different people the way it struck you - I can see how someone might be turned off by its strength.

I will say, though, that there is a core to the issue I wrote about that I am not sure is worthy to NOT be sensitive to.

Keep in touch.

Anonymous #2: If I were to write a separate piece, in which I was not looking through the lens of disturbance and pain I experienced, I could have elaborated on these boys strength and goodness. Truly loving all Jews is something I strive for in every circumstance, and I asure you that this one - albeit more challenging - was no exception.

This experience, however, was painful for me - not just "uncomfortable." It's good to be tolerant and accepting of peoples' differences. But then there's also right and wrong, there's also messages and attitudes that need to be looked into. You may disagree. But the personal nature of my experience holds true regardless.

Stay in tune. I need you around. Really. You're an important part of this process. If you were comfortable revealing your identity, I'd love to talk to you further. My e-mail is in my profile.

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Lovin' this ride - lovin' all ya'lls feedback.

-Mimi from the hilltop

Dov said...

Well said. I'm not a woman, so I lack the genuine perspective that you have, but I'm a human being, and I think that's perspective enough here.

Anonymous #2: The author's entire point as I see it is that the situation lacked a sensitivity that comes before whatever was the impetus for the other party to act as they did, and that this sensitivity was masked and cast aside instead. Understanding the importance of that sensitivity, and practicing that as the author did in the situation, is understanding something about what it means to love your fellow Jew and person, something you nearly accused her of lacking.

It is important and healthy to look at and address things like this in the right forum. We would be remissed if we were to simply say that everyone has their way, live and let live, and have no opinions. We must respect and love, obviously within a framework, and yet discuss and question in the right context and with the right approach.

Mimi, you really strike deep at something I personally feel very strongly about, and I know so many others do too. As you said, in the name of being "religious", we often forget about the core of who we are and should strive to be, things Judaism itself aims to bring to light.

Let's take off the masks, clear the pollution.

Anonymous said...

this is anonymous #2... i'm sorry, mimi, if i minimized the painfulness of the experience. and to dov... i guess i didn't express myself clearly enough- see, maybe i'm coming from a different background but i see a little bit of where those boys were coming from... in my environment, boys and girls don't talk to each other- not even "good Shabbos" or "hello." these are the boundaries that have been set up. (i'm not going into the validity of them; it's a separate subject- i personally feel the pros usually outweigh the cons.) but anyway, when you encounter someone with a different yardstick, it can be insulting- i remember once someone came to my house collecting tzedakah, and he asked me to put the money on the floor. i was initially insulted- i'm giving him money, and this is how he acts? eventually i realized that this is his way of being close to Hashem, of safeguarding himself- and he's entitled to it... and also, it's nothing personal. i can't really be insulted by something like that because it's so not about me. another thing- often, when people are in a process of growth, they become a little extreme, and later find more of a "middle path." when you're learning a lot of new amazing information, it can be hard to assimilate it and integrate it and still interact in society. so to further give the benefit of doubt to those boys- it's possible that they're learning about new boundaries and trying to make sense of them, and are not sure where to draw the line... but i have hope that they'll improve! (i agree, if someone is doing something truly wrong, a "live and let live" attitude is not appropriate. sometimes we have to redefine what's right and wrong- which can be hard to do without being subjective.)

Shame on you!! said...

I can't believe you can make regular Yeshiva Bochurim look so undignified and rude!!

What were you to expect of them?? To casually jump at the open chair beckoning beside you??!! That's pathetic and self centered.
Why didn't you just politely turn down the Shabbos at your hosts for "that week" and maybe shown up on another occasion. Had you not known that there would be five Bochurim there?? Are you that naiive to expect what was coming to you, when you so readily agreed to show up for Shabbos?? This post is garbage. Shame on you for showing up at that house and placing everyone else (including your hosts I'm sure) in a very awkward and embarrassing situation.

Mimi said...

Shame on you!! (er, me): What would I expect? For them to be what you call "REGULAR Yeshiva Bochurim." No, not to "jump" into the seat next to me, but to have some privacy about their standards, not spill them into every molecule in the atmosphere. After all, is that not the goal of modesty?

You base your objections on false claims about my feelings and the circumstance, so there's really not much more to reply.

Please stay in touch. Perhaps, sometime, I'll write something that will touch you in a more positive way.

Thankfully - though UNshamefully -yours,

Mimi

Anonymous said...

i think this outrigth lashon hara- you could have written the article w/out mentioning the name of the Yeshiva oe neighborhood. So i agree w/ shame on you, though on different grounds. I'm very surprised. please make your blog kosher for ppl to go on without worring about finding references that are lashon hara.