Monday, January 30, 2012

I stood by

Personal Statement, application to the summer Tikvah program, spring of 2011

     I stood by.
     My Jewish sisters gathered at the Western Wall, and I stood by.
Stood by and watched as they sang their prayers on Rosh Chodesh Av, praising God and defying the shouts they provoked. I had written about these women, described and extolled their fight, their desire to be unmarked, undivided, uninhibited in speaking to God as they wished, where they wished. I believed in their mission, was personally distraught over the crowdedness of the women’s side of the mechitza, over the restrictions I felt upon my chanting, my expression, my being. I supported their call for religious freedom. I had come to see them, to maybe add my voice to theirs. But I found, that day, that I could not stand with them.
     I was uncomfortable, afraid, agitated. Prayers were protests; what was meant for God was directed instead against detractors. The Torah became something to possess, to display. Hallel became a freedom march, a production for video cameras. Judaism became a battleground on the first day of the month dedicated to remembering the dangers of turning against each other. I did not come for battle. I came for worship. And so I stood by, watched as others fought my battle for me. But I am ashamed to say there was another reason I stood by.
     I did not respect them. I did not respect myself.
     These women were united in their struggle but somehow I saw them as motley, mismatched. Many were not Israeli. Many were not Orthodox. I did not believe that others would consider their claims or their methods traditional, within the bounds of the system. I did not want to be on camera with them; I did not want other Jews seeing me with them; I did not want to associate with these women, to have my face next to theirs. I shied away from allying with the subversive, the rag-tag, the eternally outside voices of change.
     I wanted to be normative.
    All of the labels that I had managed to accrue over the years – female, pacifist, bisexual, idealist, tallit-donner, kippah-wearer, storyteller, song singer – all of these liberal, freeing things boxed me in, made me a ‘type,’ made me feel I needed to prove myself in order to be respected. I might be egalitarian, but I better not play guitar on Shabbat. I might consider laying tefillin, but I better do so in my own bedroom. I might lead Neilah, but I better not make a fuss if a man is always chosen to lead Kiddush in my own home. I might feel the call to learn and counsel and teach and, gosh knows, even prophesy, but I better not become a Rabbi. I could not be a hippie, I could not be loud, I could not be joyful, I could not be defiant. I could not cut my hair. I could not be one of ‘those women.’ I needed to make myself generic, not cause a stir, not isolate myself. Of course, even in my most restricted moments, I was far from being a conformist. But I did not always broadcast the ways in which I did not quite fit in.
     Only in that way would I be taken seriously. Only by operating within law and custom, only by dressing smartly, behaving modestly, studying sources earnestly, would I encourage others to respect me. 
     Only then, I reasoned, would my views ‘count.’
     I reflect on that day, and I remember another time, a very different time, the first time I met with the Wall, about six months earlier. I had thought of wearing a skirt. Instead I approached the Wall as myself, in jeans and hiking boots. I walked closer, looked up, considered the division between light stone and dark sky, walked closer, closer. This is me, I declared. And I brought my ancestors with me, all of those who had not been privileged to reach the spot themselves. They did not mind my jeans, my boots. They did not mind my queerness, my silliness, my feminism, my doubts. They also did not care about my observance of Shabbat, my resolve not to show cleavage during services, my refusal to listen to music for three weeks out of the year. All that mattered was that I was finally bringing them to the Wall. I was their descendant, their passionate, devoted, intelligent, proud, questioning, fiery girl-child. 
     I think back on this earlier meeting between God, the Wall, my ancestors, and me, and I am suddenly tired of the struggle to be seen as authentic, to ally myself with those who are seen as authentic. I do not know what to make of my own dismissal of my kin that day in July. In my fear of ostracizing myself, I had ostracized them. 
     There are many ways in which I need to grow, many things I need to learn, many decisions I need to make. But I now know that I already have a place among those who matter. Maybe it is with the Women of the Wall. Maybe it is not. 
     But I will not stand by again. 
     I will simply stand.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I think I'm glad

I was riding the express train back up north. The 1 train started off going slightly faster than us, and I watched the people in the other car as they passed us by. Then their train slowed down to make a station stop, and we seemed to go faster and faster, and the people passed by me in the opposite direction, and I could see the outlines of the train cars, could see how strange it was that we were in these massive mechanical train cars, and I could also see bits of the station through three sets of windows, and then the people were gone and we were hurtling through the near darkness alone again.

We were already past 72nd Street. At one point I stumbled, caught myself, looked up at the man standing closest to me, hoped I hadn't run into him. Our coats were poofy enough that I might not have noticed. But he was not paying any mind.

He started singing ever so quietly. Humming, perhaps. Wordless, but I knew it.

Some...times in our lives...we all have pain...we all have sorrow....

Ever so quietly. I felt the need to connect, to acknowledge, to put myself into his awareness, his singing. If he had been playing the song on a saxophone in the middle of a train station, I would have stood there a bit and sung along, harmonized. It would have been fine. It would have been fun. As it was, I wasn't sure what to do. Things were too quiet, too personal.

But...if we are wise...we know that there's...always tomorrow....

I went ahead and harmonized. So, so softly. I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted him to notice. He did not, and I think I'm glad. But what would have been the issue?

We got to our stop. He hesitated in front of me, and I asked him if he was getting off there. He smiled faintly and said he was, and then he left the train, and I followed. I became happier with the smile, calmer, more comfortable.

I had been thinking about saying, "Good song." Just some sort of recognition. Some sort of bond. But for whose sake? I didn't say anything. We went up the stairs. One person was between us by the time we got to the turnstiles.

I had started singing again, melody this time, louder than before. With words. Why not, I figured. What was I afraid of? But he never heard, and I think I'm glad.

The song stayed in my head for a while. Maybe I'll pass it off to someone tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

A purpose

Are You My Rabbi?
~One Bird's Quest~
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Friday, January 20, 2012

Washing potatoes

I was washing potatoes
and a song came on iTunes
that I didn't think I wanted.
I went to skip the song
and instead started dancing.
I twirled so quickly
that my glasses flew off.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

That kind of hippie

Met new people tonight. The three of us sat in Whole Foods drinking coffee and hot chocolate.
One asked me what I wanted to do in my life. Didn't have an answer at the moment, so I gave one that I was pretty sure about a few days ago: to be a witness to the good in the world.
"So you're that kind of hippie," he said.
I got home and drew.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

It just sort of happened like that

Comrades of a sort

First it was just us two, me and the boy with unkempt dark hair, a backpack, and a slightly feminine face, at the first stop on the 1 train. We were uncertain that the train was running - only saw one person on it - and from that moment of shared uncertainty onwards we were comrades of a sort. An official-looking man assuaged our fears, and we started to settle a train car. He sat down, I sat down on the other side of the car doors, and he moved to sit across from me. We had a bit of a wait.

The boy asked me what I was reading. I said it was a prayer book. Praying is good in subways, I said. There's the time for it. He asked what it was - a "Tanaka"? A Torah? A siddur, I said. Are you Jewish? I asked. Yes, he said.

Before the train left the resting station, a man joined us a few seats down with a mustache and a book. I wanted to ask him what book it was, but I didn't. He was most of the way through it.

The boy had been visiting a friend and watching Nicholas Cage movies. I had been visiting a friend who was about to leave the country. He was going to take a train home from Penn Station.

Fifteen teenagers joined us. They described themselves as drunk. They sang Happy Birthday to two members of their group, adding a remix each time that changed up the rhythm. One girl spat on the floor a bit. A couple of them were quite acrobatic and made good use of the vertical and horizontal poles. The boy and I shared looks - some amiable, some shocked - and smiles. I laughed out loud once. I wondered what the others who joined us on the train thought of the teenagers. I wondered what the boy thought about teenage drinking.

We arrived at Penn Station. I was standing, leaning my back against a pole, facing down the length of the car. Have a good evening, I said. You're leaving? he asked. No, you are, I said.

He stood and said, I'm Matt. I'm Molly, I said, and he shook my hand. It was nice to meet me.

That's my brother's name, I said to Matt as he left the train.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Awww sounds

A fellow woman and I made awww sounds while watching a baby rat try to scramble up a vertical concrete part of the subway tracks below us in order to follow its parent. It succeeded, eventually, to our delight and relief.
- Times Square stop, Q track

Friday, January 6, 2012

To talk

To talk
Press, release
And wait for
Steady light

- Instructions, emergency intercom, 2 train, Manhattan

Thursday, January 5, 2012


My mood improves dramatically when I eat.

This evening:
1. Dinner with friends
2. Phone calls with friends
3. Michaels arts and crafts store (the name does not bear an apostrophe!!)
4. Returning library books
5. Buying wine (I was called Sir! Because he was still thinking of the person he was last talking with. He was slightly mortified. I was cheerful. He calmed down.)
6. Buying fruits and challah

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Whole Foods

I picked out tomatoes
and brought them to my face
and their vines smelled overpoweringly
of home.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Questions for Angels

הוא הולך פנימה. בחדר יושבים מלאכים. כמה מלאכים שומעים מוסיקה. כמה מדברים על הכוכבים ועל החלומות של אנשים. כולם מהר שקטים כשהם רואים את הילד. הוא לא מדבר שלוש דקות.פ
אז הוא אומר:פ
כמה דגים יש בים?"ד"
המלאכים לא אומרים שום דבר.פ
הילד אומר:ד
כמה דלתות יש לבית השם בשמײַם?"ד"
המלאכים לא אומרים שום דבר.ד
הילד אומר:פ
כמה דרכים יש לידידתי?"ד"
המלאכים לא אומרים שום דבר.ד
הילד מגיע לסוף השאלות שלו ופונה לצאת. אבל קרוב לדלת הוא פונה ואומר שאלה אחרונה:ס
 על כמה שאלות אתם עונים?"ד"
מלאכה קמה מהכיסא שלה ונתנה תשובה:ד
על שאלה אחת."ד"
המלאכים יושבים בשקט והכנפײַם שלהם גדולות עם צבעים נוראים. המוסיקה שרה ורוקדת, צוחקת ומחײַכת....ד

He walks in. Angels sit in the room. Some angels are listening to music. Others speak about the stars and the dreams of men. All hush quickly when they see the boy. He does not speak for three minutes.
Then he says:
"How many fish are in the sea?"
The angels do not say anything.
The boy says:
"How many doors are there to the house of God in the heavens?
The angels do not say anything.
The boy says:
"How many roads are there to my beloved?"
The angels do not say anything.
The boy reaches the end of his questions and turns to leave. But near the door he turns and says his last question:
"How many questions will you answer?"
An angel rises from her seat and gives an answer:
"One question."
The angels sit in quiet, and their wings are great with fearsome colors. The music sings and dances, laughs and smiles....

- Hebrew B, journal entry, fall 2009 (before I learned past tense). 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Make sure you got your phones

Make sure you got your phones!
Make sure you got your wires to your phones.

For any positive comments, my first name is ____ and my last name is ____....For any negative comments, my first name is Jack and my last name is Frost.

- Bus driver, upon arrival in New York

Ring in the New Year with James Taylor

Something in the Way She Moves

I enjoyed this Sunday evening.
More songs here