My Jerusalem and My Kippah: An Ongoing Tale


A Complicated City: The Blessings

The Challenges and the Love

By Sherry Gutes for MakomMakers Blog

Shalom from Yerushalayim!

On Wednesday, I completed an 8-day Educators Seminar at Yad Vashem.  I have been fortunate in my career to participate in many seminars for Jewish educators; this one was - the best.  On a personal and professional level, it was both life-changing and life-affirming. 

It has been quite an impactful week here.  MakomNY and Rabbi Bravo posted my blog about a miserable incident that occurred in the Old City last Shabbat afternoon.  The blog has since had more than 5,000 views via the MakomNY website, plus countless forwards from emails and Facebook.  I have personally received several hundred emails and texts, plus nearly 1,000 Facebook messages; some were public yet most were private, from people I do not know.

Nearly all the emails, texts and messages were positive and supportive, with (of course) a few nasty ones. Some people were shocked; most were not.  Many were outraged or just plain angry.  The overwhelming messages expressed concern for my personal health and safety.  With my entire neshamah (soul), I appreciate, am grateful for and, frankly, was overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of these loving, caring messages.

Yet that’s not enough.
It’s really not about me.  It’s about a much bigger issue. 

Many of the loving messages regarding my own personal safety also contained negative and devastating words, themes and images of our fellow Jews – targeting and using labels such as Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Religious, Dati, Haredi, Hassidic and more in the most adverse and, yes, hateful ways  - plus other terms and descriptions that I will not share - ever. The negativity and, yes, sheer hatred expressed in these messages hurts all of us. 

People who proudly declare themselves as liberal Jews are offering such messages of hate?  How is this any different from the animosity we have all heard about, and that I personally experienced last Shabbat?  It does nothing to address the big picture, and, frankly, probably promotes continuing misconceptions that lead to continuing animosity.

None of this is acceptable.  The big picture must be one of mutual respect. 
How do we treat one another? How do we learn to live or at least co-exist together as Jews?

I cannot stand idly by and do nothing.

I was contacted yesterday by a young mother who lives in the Old City, a woman who had read the original blog.  She and some friends wanted to meet with me.  We agreed to meet at a café near the Old City.  The 40-minute meeting was one I will never forget.  The four young women were respectful yet direct.  There was no apology for the incident; rather, they wanted to explain to me how offensive a woman wearing a kippah is for them. That it is worse than women and girls walking through holy sites in skimpy summer clothing, or taking photos or using phones there on Shabbat.  Because they perceive a kippah to be such a holy ritual item, they believe this ‘act’ of a woman wearing a kippah is far more offensive than anything else, because, as they perceive, Torah says that only men should wear a kippah. Yes, as they perceive, Torah says to dress modestly and to obersve the Sabbath, but they understand the obligation of men to cover their heads as one of the highest obligations, and that it is not obligated of women.

They believe this is ‘their’ home, and they must protect the sanctity of their home and their families and Judaism. That we are commanded to do mitzvot that promote Kidush HaShem (sanctifying G-d’s name). And that ‘we’ (meaning the more liberal Jewish community) are destroying that.

I listened.  I expressed the opinion that it appears to be getting worse and more divisive.  Women with kippot are screamed at, spit on, and worse.  And I asked: how does this behavior protect Judaism?  Is this what G-d wants? Does this promote K’lal Yisrael (the community of Israel)? 

The four moms listened to my words, yet none responded.  The expressions on their faces told me that I was clueless.  Perhaps I am.  I told them I appreciated that they took the time on a busy Thursday afternoon to speak with me. They nodded and left. 
I continued thinking about this impromptu and surprising encounter as I walked to Machane Yehudah - the shuk. On a Thursday afternoon it is THE place to go as Jerusalemites prepare for Shabbat (and I needed to buy some rugelach from the famous Marzipan bakery to take back). When I am with groups visiting Israel, I am always concerned about where people are, how to find each other, etc.  Yet yesterday, it was all for me. I explored streets and neighborhoods and places I had never seen.

And I was wearing a kippah.

As I was about to turn the corner to go onto Agrippas Street and then into the shuk, I stopped at a small shop that carries many styles of beautiful linen dresses that are so common here.  I looked through one particular rack, and a woman working in the store, dressed modestly and with her hair covered, comes up to me and says, in Hebrew, “Please be careful.  Shamati (I heard) that they ripped the kippah from the head of a woman on Shabbat b’ir ha-atikah (in the Old City).”

I replied “I know. That was me.”
And she answered “ aht Sherry?” (Are you Sherry?)

The power of social media at its finest.  And a concerned fellow Jew.
This week’s Torah portion (in the diaspora) is Shelach, the famous story of the 12 scouts who, fairly early into the Israelites’ journey through the desert, are sent ahead to scout out what exists in this unknown Promised Land.  Only two of the men, Joshua and Caleb, proclaim it to be a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’.  The other ten scouts return with false tales of giants in the land and more, making it impossible for the Israelites to live there. The Israelites are then sentenced to wander for a total of forty years before they will be allowed to enter The Land.

We are typically taught that it was Joshua and Caleb who were the brave ones, and because of that would eventually be chosen to lead the Israelites into Israel.  And that the other ten were punished for not being brave, and worse, for lying to the Moses, to the people, and to G-d.

After the events of the past week, I now have another take on the reports of these ten scouts.  Of course they needed to be brave enough to be chosen for this mission.  Yet it was overwhelming for them.  Perhaps they were (justifiably) frightened. Perhaps they thought the challenges of entering this new Promised Land were just too great for the people to face.  They were used to a life as slaves and maybe craved only what they knew and what was familiar to them. How could they possibly conceive of another or a different path? 

I yearn to be part of a different group of scouts.  These scouts would be Jews from all denominations and varying practices, from synagogues, organizations and agencies, Jews affiliated or not with any specific movement. Just Jews. Jews who are willing to take up a new challenge, even though it might be frightening, or overwhelming, or entering something that is unknown.  We might not know where the journey will lead, but we need to be willing to at least take some first steps – with an overarching goal of some kind of mutual respect, if only for the sake of K’lal Yisrael.

"Lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor; v’lo ata ben chorin l’hitateil mimena."
“You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.”
 From: Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:21 

Tomorrow morning after Shabbat services I will visit the Old City for the final time on this trip. I will go to the Kotel to place notes of condolence, of healing and of peace that people have asked for during this past week.  I will then wander through my favorite parts of the Old City, along with probably thousands of other people, enjoying a typical Shabbat afternoon stroll. 

But this time without wearing a kippah.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

Sherry Gutes

My Jerusalem and My Kippah: An Ongoing Tale My Jerusalem and My Kippah: An Ongoing Tale Reviewed by MakomNY on June 28, 2019 Rating: 5

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.