Friday, October 10, 2014

Creating Awareness and Opening Worlds

I grew up within a New York Ultra-Orthodox community, though our house adhered to a slightly less stringent more "Modern Orthodox" lifestyle.  In practical terms, it meant that while we were fully committed to the principles of Judaism and the Torah, we also functioned in and enjoyed the real secular world.  My father and mother worked, television and movies were a given,  my mother did not cover her hair except to go to synagogue or perhaps a religious event, we took family vacations which included playing tennis (in shorts) and mixed swimming, and a college education would never be sacrificed for any reason.

As I grew up, in an attempt to define themselves more clearly, American Jewry moved to the right and I remained in the same place, I felt comfortable in myself, essentially proclaiming myself de facto as less religious, more in the realm of "Conservadox" (or Masorti in Israel), more open minded and tolerant than some in my family.

But I decry boxes of any kind, and try not to apply labels under any circumstance.  Every religion on the planet seems to be veering towards the extremes, and I find that both sad and terrifying.

In deciding upon the education of Raphaela, I wanted her to be exposed to the traditions, ritual and values in which I was raised, and so I have chosen to send her to the Nationalist Zionist Religious stream of kindergartens and schools.  She can always create a course for herself when she matures and does not live in my house.  At the same time, I take great pains to point out the importance of acceptance without judgment, teaching her that there is always more than one opinion and more than one way to interpret the word of law.  God is a being of love and mercy, he/she is not waiting with a box of fresh lightning bolts to punish us at every mere thought or mis-step.

This mis-match between our home and her school came to a head this weekend, when Raphaela was helping me set the table for Shabbat.  She put out three chairs, one for me, one for her and one for "the father," whose stand in was her favorite spotted leopard doll.  When it was time to cook, and make the blessing on the candles, it was clear that this is a woman's job, and when it came time to make the blessing on the wine and the bread, the fire works started.  My daughter, the child of a single mother and feminist, insisted that it was preferable for the imaginary father/leopard to take charge, because it was "the man's job."

I explained that in many families, Orthodox or otherwise, a wider and more fulfilling role has been found for the woman, and that God would not mind at all if Mommy made the blessings, considering that we have a special arrangement IE in that at the moment, there is not father actively living with us.  Raphaela did not buy it, unfortunately, and it will be my responsibility to open her eyes; treading that very fine and dangerous line without saying outright that her teachers are not infallible. 

My girl child must know that the only real limits on her life and her personal growth are the ones she places on herself.

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