Old Life, New Life

I read a fascinating pair of articles today.  <a href=”http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/190673/the-lives-we-never-lived”>The Lives We Never Lived</a> is Simon Yisrael Feuerman’s account of pondering a secular life from the point of view of an observant Jew, and <a href=”http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/judaism-and-the-twice-born”>Judaism and the Twice-Born</a> is convert-in-progress Kelsey Osgoode’s brief account of leaving her old, secular, and even self-identified atheist life behind.  I am, of course, in a similar situation.

For me, the articles interest me because they illustrate the tension I as a would-be convert feel in my life between the secular and the sacred, the spiritual and the earthy, and my “old life,” as it were, and the life I’m slowly but surely stepping into.  Contrast that with Shulem “The Hasidic Rebel” Deen, who has written a deconversion memoir about leaving the Skverer Hasid community and religion altogether.  (I used to love reading his blog; it felt like the best aspects of the documentary style of reality television, without the cheapjack sensationalism — giving you an insider’s view into a closed world that otherwise you’d never get to see.)

I think there is a lot to discuss in these articles, and I may write more about them, but right now I’m very close to a meeting at work…

Not a Farmer or a Gardener in Ten Generations

I just found a blog by a writer named Yonassan Gershom, who identifies as a Breslover Hasid, and lives on a farm in rural Minnesota. It’s so good to see a rural observant Jew! Not that I’m not a city person, but I’d go absolutely mad without some kind of access to green space, since I grew up roaming around a semi-rural area and in a provincial park that spans part of the (Canadian) Thames river.

In his post, “Nature Deficit Disorder,” Gershom writes about how excessive urbanism has cut a lot of Jews off from appreciating vast parts of HaShem’s world — including, may I say, the odd green vegetables

He writes

I was very lucky, in that I grew up in an area where I could go play in the woods –and my parents let me do it. This was not wasted time — it was learning in a very different way. It enriched my understanding of Torah in ways that my nature-deprived urban brethren often cannot grasp. And it ultimately led to me becoming a Breslov Hasid, because of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching about hisboddisus — the practice of spending an hour alone with God each day. He recommended doing it in a forest or field because, he said, the plants and animals would join in our prayers. And he meant that literally.

Breslovers still try to do that today, although in a city it is hard to find the solitude. But at least they have the teachings about spending time in nature, which many other groups do not. In fact, mainstream Jews have sometimes considered the Breslovers crazy to go wandering in the woods.

I’m certain that I wouldn’t like being a Breslover Hasid, but I do like nature, and I feel strongly attached to the mitzvot to be kind to animals, and to respect HaShem’s world. I’m also a gardener, and spent a lot of time on farms when I was growing up; I rode horses for twenty years, and spent enough time pitching hay and mucking out to be really unbothered by nature generally. And this is one area where I really seem to differ with my rabbi, alas, and most of my kehila, who seem to treat both living animals and plants generally with some vague suspicion. One of these days, I really should wander into the woods and daven, just to do it.

Flying, Afterthought

In this post I talked about El Al being in the news for preferentially catering to the whims of Haredi male passengers over their female clientele, and the Haredi men in question cutting up cranky over being assigned seats next to women, causing flight delays (and probably massive headaches among flight crews).

What I neglected to mention in that post was that my dad is a retired commercial pilot, and he had an incident once that he told me about (there may have been others, but this is the one I know about) where a guy was disorderly and would not sit down and let the plane take off. My dad had a male flight attendant “escort” the fellow off the plane, and had law enforcement waiting at the gate to arrest him. These days, you can get in some pretty heavy trouble by carrying on like that on a commercial flight, at least in North America…

I recommend this approach to El Al. Maybe after the first few groups of tantrum-throwers find themselves being escorted away to have a little chat with airport security and/or the local police, the incidents would stop.

Flying While Feminine

So El Al is in the news because of Haredi men pitching fits about being assigned seats next to women on flights, and causing flight delays.

Disclosure: I’m the daughter of a commercial pilot, and I know exactly how this would have come out on one of my dad’s flights, because he told me about an incident where a man was causing trouble and wouldn’t get in his assigned seat for some reason or other — my dad had a male flight attendant escort the fellow off the airplane and had law enforcement waiting to arrest him when he got to the gate. I’m probably by nature biased against people who cut up cranky on commercial flights and give flight crew headaches.

Something like the incidents described in this story happened to me when I was coming back from Israel in April of last year. (I was flying on Air Canada, though, not El Al.) The Haredi guy in question did not want to sit next to me, even though I was prepared to respect his peronal space as much as is possible when flying in steerage, not talk to him, and generally keep to myself. (This doesn’t bother me; I figure anybody with that many issues isn’t worth talking to.)

A Brief Halachic Aside, Thanks to My Friend RH, aka the “Facebooker Rebbe”: Rav Feinstein dealt with this question in regards to trains and buses, with logic that applies to planes:a) it’s not a situation that can lead to intimacy and//thus b) if you have a problem with it fella, think Torah thoughts. c) if you still can’t keep your mind off her, don’t ride the bus/train. I paraphrase but I did read the passage on another thread. Hint: Rav Feinstein is someone you can rely on in most circles.

See the actual source quotation here, even though the paraphrase is funnier.

I think this is very sensible, since I figure that if you’re the one complaining, you’re the problem and you need to be dealt with, which involves moving you and not the person with the ostensible girl/secular cooties.

So this Haredi guy did what I can only describe as threw a tantrum — he was remarkably indiscreet about announcing to pretty much everybody on the plane in English, French, and Hebrew that he simply would not sit next to me. He saved the more insulting stuff for French and Hebrew, probably figuring that I wouldn’t understand him, at least until I announced to pretty much everybody on the plane, in Hebrew — to make the point — “You know, I can understand you…” Heh. (Underestimate me at your peril.)

If he’d really wanted to insult me behind my back to my face, as it were, he should have used Yiddish.

And that was how I wound up sitting beside a real live Auschwitz survivor and veteran of the 1948 Israeli war — 90 years old, still sharp as a tack, and a great conversationalist, even if we kind of did have to use a mish-mash of languages due to his poor English and my poor Hebrew.

I win.