Saturday, November 17, 2012

In Those Days In This Time - On Jerusalem's Friday Night Air-Raid Siren

Soon after lighting candles and welcoming the Shabbat Queen an unusual sound broke the serene air in the hills of Jerusalem. Air raid sirens sounded in the capital city. It was not a test. It was not the system malfunctioning. Hamas was in fact sending rockets towards Jerusalem. We gathered in the safest place we could given the number of kids we had with us in the 90 seconds available (less because it probably took us 30 to realize what was going on). Everyone sat on the floor in the hallway and we played games for a few minutes and then continued with our usual Shabbat activities. 

Jerusalem. A city Islam deems to be holy. Though many of the thousands of rockets that have landed in Sederot and in the former Jewish communities in Gaza over the past 12 years bore the words al-Quds, this is the first time missiles landed near the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

What a deeply holy moment to sing zemirot this Friday night in the Jerusalem community of Armon Hanatziv, a neighborhood with the most breathtaking view of the Temple Mount and to sing the words with newfound awareness:
יִבָּנֶה הַמִּקְדָּשׁ. עִיר צִיּון תְּמַלֵּא. 
וְשָׁם נָשִׁיר שִׁיר חָדָשׁ. וּבִרְנָנָה נַעֲלֶה. 

To be among the people living a thousands year old dream. To live in Jerusalem. To not wish for the fulfillment of the words in the zemer but to be the ones who left the exile and are not merely bearing witness to this miracle of return but to be actively engaged in rebuilding Jerusalem. Why have we merited to live in this generation? I can never know. I am in awe. Every second, every breath with every fiber of my being I am eternally grateful. 

Hamas cannot take away our Shabbat. They cannot take away our Jerusalem. So many tried before them before being relegated to the trashbin of history. 

This is the month of Kislev. Soon we will celebrate the independence day of the second temple period, Chanukah. for eight days we will kindle the lights of the chanukiah and as we sing hallel in honor of the autonomy we held over Israel in that time we will sing in wholehearted gratitude for the merit of living under Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel in this time. 

Thank you G-d for giving us this opportunity to live your Torah in the most real way. Thank you for opening our eyes and our hearts. Thank you for bringing us home. Please guard over our soldiers as they fight to guard over our Land. 

Wishing us all a blessed week. 

Just as we are the generation of the ingathering of the exiles may we be the generation that sees the rebuilding of the Temple and coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Funhouse-Mirror Prism of Yitta Halberstam

For the record, Yitta Halberstam's recent article in the Jewish Press, "Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim" has officially been denied as satire. Hashem Yerachem.

The tyranny of Yitta Halberstam who beseeches that if her diatribe “helps even one girl in shidduchim”, then it will all be worth it. I wonder, help one girl how? Halberstam may be willing to sacrifice herself and suffer the same bloody end as a certain well known historical figure whose name many in her community will deign to utter aloud, but at what risk to her Jewish sisters, to women everywhere? At what expense to the Jewish people? And ultimately at what price to humanity?

The Jewish community in all it colors, from vibrantly hued to the desaturated, is not immune from the culture of “now” and quick-fix attitude to so distort our priorities without considering the long term ramifications. Purportedly, Halberstam’s goal is to help one girl get married. Well, I can get married too. I live in Katamon. Grab the nearest male over the age of thirteen for the chasson and a couple of male friends over the age of thirteen for witnesses. Forget the ring, just toss over the whole cracker-jack box (shaveh pruta? shaveh pruta!), mumble a “harei mekudeshet li...” and done. What an accomplishment.

Does Halberstam ever muse over what the quality of the relationship of that “one girl” will be? How will the tenuous foundation of that marriage rooted in superficiality impact the couple? What values will that couple impart onto children born into this marriage?

Reading the article brought to mind the words of comedian Chris Rock:
Relationships: easy to get into, hard to maintain. Why are they so hard to maintain? Because it's hard to keep up the lie. 'Cause you can't get nobody being you. You got to lie to get somebody. You can't get nobody looking like you look, acting like you act, sounding like you sound. When you meet somebody for the first time, you're not meeting them. You're meeting their representative. That's right. Women...You're all liars. Masters of the lie, the visual lie. Look at you. You got on heels, you ain't that tall. You got on makeup, your face don't look like that. You got a weave, your hair ain't that long. You got a wonderbra on...

...and the rest of that sentence we’ll censor. Halberstam says what Rock says. One should hide their flaws when catching a mate, yet Rock acknowledges a truth that seems to elude Halberstam and that is the sustainability of relationships built on the most frivolous of lies.

The author advocates what she deems a cosmetic solution without fully understanding the problem she’s offering a supposed solution to and seems unfettered by the deeper medical and ethical dangers these suggestions pose.

What are the ramifications of encouraging financially restrictive elective surgeries? Perhaps one can extrapolate that by one “girl” getting married and maybe having children a life is being saved and so one is fulfilling the dictum of “save a life save a world.” What’s money when one can save a whole world? Aside from the question of allocation of funds towards this dubious notion, more serious questions emerge.

Those “in shidduchim” must be “moser nefesh” but should that be taken literally if a surgical procedure gone awry results in the actual returning of a soul to her Creator leaving loved ones to mourn at a funeral without ever rejoicing in a wedding? What of the mental and emotional anguish incurred by coveting an unattainable ideal of beauty? What of the physiological disorders resulting from that agony? Eating disorders are certainly on the rise. Will some parents heed the vitriolic advice and borrow money for cosmetic procedures while others languish in financial distress over the high fees of mental health professionals? Nevermind the emotional cost exacted on the family.

How will adolescents raised in a world where they’re told that putting their “best face forward” is their only edge in securing a marriage partner fare alone and in marriage? A woman who gets married is certainly expected to have children and given the toll pregnancy takes on the body how will she cope with the havoc wreaked by hormones on both her body and her self perception? Further, what are the messages that will shape the children of a mother with a distorted view of desirability and the father who chose the mother of his children based in large part on her perceived beauty?

Again, we return to the question of what the nature of the marriage of this “one girl” will be. I’m not sure what yard stick measures the success of “the shidduch system” but given that the “shidduch crisis” is rapidly giving way to a more sinister “divorce crisis” perhaps one would do well to do a cheshbon nefesh on the “shidduch system”, a heart-wrenchingly flawed system that seems to be neither the fault of shadchanim, rabbanim, or parents. Accountability is a word that never appears in the discourse of shidduchim. It’s a system that just “happened.”

Over a decade ago I had the opportunity to visit Gibraltor and meet with the Rabbi of the community. The leader of our trip, a pulpit Rabbi himself, asked about the Rabbi’s communal responsibility and daily duties which included marital counseling. Later he asked where the divorce rate stood given the attitude towards divorce in the predominant Catholic culture. The Rabbi proudly boasted “there is no divorce in Gibraltor. Everyone in Gibralter is happily married!” The whole group erupted in laughter. Our group which included married couple, second-time married couples, a pair of mother-in laws traveling together as well as divorcées had certainly all merited varying degrees of the joy and rewards of marriage but they all recognized that not every marriage is happy all the time.

Marriage is hard work. It demands mutuality, respect, reciprocity, humility - acknowledging a whole other person outside of oneself. The self-absorption that is the call of hyper-attention to outward appearances hardly lends itself to developing the traits that are needed to develop long-lasting, fulfilling and committed marriages. Outer beauty speaks nothing of a marriages longevity and its sustainability is certainly not determined by the length of ones nose.

Ultimately we’re left to question the value of marriage and the respect a community shows to the young adults they coax into the most sanctified of institutions. What is to be said of a society that coddles the immaturity of its young men and women by referring to them as “boys” and “girls”? A community that demeans women by parading them around and belittles the men hiding away while his mommy selects a mother for her grandchildren? What is to be said of an author who undermines young adults by tattle-taling to their mothers as one might an insolent toddler? What is going on with a community that strives to pass on the torch of Torah but seems to only see its refracted light perverted through a shattered prism.

My opinion on how dolled up a woman should be on a date is irrelevant if none of those things contribute to her feelings of self worth and self esteem or put her at ill-ease. To say I will have done her a disservice if the attention to her appearance crushes her sense of humanity is a gross understatement. Halberstam admits to drastic cosmetic procedures alleviating her own feelings of low esteem. She is in good company but thankfully there are many women who are imbued with healthy doses of self confidence that is far more appealing than the most luminous of foundations, lustrous of locks or vibrant of eye colors.

Many poskim including Rav Feinstein weigh in on the question of cosmetic surgery for the sake of finding a marriage partner. Regardless of the answers, it is not so simple from a halachic standpoint. G-d created each person in a specific way, each one in His image. Surgically altering ones body for cosmetic reasons is certainly an affront to the G-d given body and the Godliness inherent in each human being. This is no small matter to disregard both on a halachic level and deeper spiritual level.

Halberstam in her shortsighted manner directs her plea to mothers of single women. I implore each of us to look within ourselves first and then work with each other to return to Torah-true values of humility, modesty and marriage whose most exalted form reveals the world’s truest beauty.