Contributor Post Created with Sketch. From Israel: Different but the Same

 

Irreverent and funny; devoted, kind, and humorous. The first description is of Menashe; the latter is Alizah. They are two lovely people who are making my first trip to Israel in 45 years sweet, informative, and engaged.

Let me tell you about Alizah. I met her on the telephone as a Torah study partner and the cell phone towers have kept us connected ever since. She has an East Coast accent that colors her Hebrew comments. So, meeting her in person was a delightful experience. She somehow fit the voice that I had learned to appreciate for the past year and a half. She has a wry sense of humor, and we definitely connect on that level — our rejoinders come naturally.

Alizah is a Haredi Jew — ultra-Orthodox. Some people were concerned about my coming to Beitar-Illit because it is a very religious community. Men walk rapidly in their black clothes, kipas, and black hats, many with flowing beards and flying payos. Like most of the women, Alizah wears longish skirts and a wig; much of her clothing, however, is colorful with lots of purple. (She also enjoys wearing her tennis shoes which are color coordinated.)

Shortly after Menashe brought me back from the airport, I asked Alizah about the proper dress to wear in the community. She gave me the perfect answer, explaining that I should do what is comfortable for me, that most of the women wear skirts; married women either wear wigs or cover their hair (which indicates they are married). She leaned over and said, “But they don’t know you’re married anyway, so it doesn’t matter.” Since I brought long skirts, I’ve been wearing them here; I found her comment about comfort was very true: I could wear whatever I wish, but I was most comfortable in public wearing a skirt. And quite frankly, skirts are comfortable!

Alizah has a generous attitude about what others do, including me. No one else knows what works for me, what is right for me, what is important for me to do in my life. She has only said that when women dress scantily, it makes her uncomfortable and she doesn’t understand that degree of immodesty. A woman today doesn’t have to be a Haredi Jew to feel that way.

Menashe makes me laugh a lot. He, too, is very religious but didn’t grow up in a religious household as Alizah did. He and Alizah moved to Israel several years ago, and Menashe’s knowledge of Hebrew is limited, so he takes Hebrew language classes. He recites many of the prayers in English. He also goes to a Talmud study class in English every day. They read one page (both sides) and they plan to finish in seven and a half years. Then they’ll start to study all over again. He ends up in situations where he doesn’t understand what people are saying in Hebrew, but he’s a bit of a loner, so it doesn’t concern him as much as it could. He has a few English-speaking friends, too.

Menashe and Alizah are clearly devoted to each other. They gently banter with each other, but much of it is about important things — like whether ’50s rock-and-roll is better than classical music. In many ways their personal styles are different, but they clearly appreciate what each brings to the relationship. They are free to lead their lives in their different ways together, and their love for each other and for G-d is ever apparent.


Spending time in Beitar has been like entering a time capsule and being sent back to a different century. Men in dark suits and hats, white shirts, beards, and payos walk quickly from place to place. Young women are often surrounded by several children; they are dressed in long skirts, wearing wigs, hats, or headscarves. If I began comparing my life to theirs, judging their commitment to the religious life, I might feel estranged and like an outsider. But underneath the modest dress and devotion to family and G-d are people, human beings, just like me: aspiring to a deeply religious life, treasuring their families and serving them as devotedly as they can, and continually choosing to be people of integrity and honor. Spouses disagree, children test limits, families strive to be good neighbors and good friends.

On Shabbat, Menashe and Alizah invited over a family with nine children. Everyone was warm and engaging, the older children shy but friendly and well-behaved, the younger ones … well, acting as young children do. It was a heartwarming and enjoyable time, and I was touched by the connection we felt to each other.

And finally, when I reflect on Alizah and Menashe, their Shabbat guests, and the entire Beitar community, I realize that despite our differences, obvious or subtle, we have one important factor in common: we are all Jews.

There are 22 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    Lovely portraits of people and community.

    • #1
    • November 6, 2017, at 11:08 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. cdor Member

    So that is where you have been. Thanks, Susan for sharing your experiences with us. Be safe.

    • #2
    • November 6, 2017, at 11:47 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    cdor (View Comment):
    So that is where you have been. Thanks, Susan for sharing your experiences with us. Be safe.

    Thanks, @cdor! I plan to share a few more experiences before my two-week trip is over. I’ve had awesome trips to Gush Etzion and Jerusalem, so more to come.

    • #3
    • November 6, 2017, at 11:49 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    After hearing about the shootings in Texas, and contrasting that to soldiers in Jerusalem, I feel safer here at the moment. I mean it.

    • #4
    • November 6, 2017, at 11:52 AM PST
    • 12 likes
  5. Manny Member

    I enjoyed reading that. Thank you.

    • #5
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:11 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Percival Thatcher

    Thanks for checking in, Susan. It sounds awesome.

    • #6
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:20 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Trink Coolidge

    Susan Quinn: . . but much of it is about important things– like whether 50’s rock and roll is better than classical music

    :) Your openness to others and their unique and individual qualities shines through here, Susan. It seems everyone is enriched when we approach life with an open-eyed appreciation for the wide diversity of human experience and the varied ways that men and women find meaning and their way to G-d.

    • #7
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:32 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Trink (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: . . but much of it is about important things– like whether 50’s rock and roll is better than classical music

    :) Your openness to others and their unique and individual qualities shines through here, Susan. It seems everyone is enriched when we approach life with an open-eyed appreciation for the wide diversity of human experience and the varied ways that men and women find meaning and their way to G-d.

    A beautiful statement, Trink. I try to stay open, but it’s really hard sometimes. I think my lack of tolerance tends to show up when people lie, cheat, steal, are uninformed, are combined uninformed and judgmental. I tend to be more open when people are informed, principled, loving, dedicated, creative and motivated. Yep, that probably describes me! ;-)

    • #8
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:39 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. James Lindsay Inactive

    Thanks for sharing this, Susan. I look forward to reading more about your journey.

    • #9
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:40 PM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Percival (View Comment):
    Thanks for checking in, Susan. It sounds awesome.

    Thanks, Percival. It is. More stories to come.

    • #10
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:42 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. Kay of MT Member

    I’m glad you are having a lovely time. G-d bless!

    • #11
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:44 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Trink Coolidge

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I think my lack of tolerance tends to show up when people lie, cheat, steal, are uninformed, are combined uninformed and judgmental.

    Thou shalt not abide evil nor the sounding trumpets of the uninformed.

    Do I hear Amen ? :)

    • #12
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:51 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Trink (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I think my lack of tolerance tends to show up when people lie, cheat, steal, are uninformed, are combined uninformed and judgmental.

    Thou shalt not abide evil nor the sounding trumpets of the uninformed.

    Do I hear Amen ? :)

    Amen!!

    • #13
    • November 6, 2017, at 12:53 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. KentForrester Coolidge

    Susan, I understand there is now a section of the Western Wall (separated from men by a barrier of some kind) where women can pray. Is that right?

    I hope you’ll get back to us about your impressions of the Western Wall. As I understand, it’s the closest spot that Jews can get to the Temple Mount. Is that right?

    Looking forward to your future posts from Israel. Are you going to float in the Dead Sea?

    Kent

    • #14
    • November 6, 2017, at 2:15 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  15. Kevin Schulte Member

    Susan, hoping G-d touches your spiritual journey in profound ways. Looking forward to your updates. Blessings from Missouri.

    Kevin

    • #15
    • November 6, 2017, at 3:38 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Henry Castaigne Member

    Susan Quinn: They gently banter with each other, but much of it is about important things– like whether 50’s rock and roll is better than classical music. In many ways their personal styles are different, but they clearly appreciate what each one brings to the relationship. They are free to lead their lives in their different ways together, and their love for each other and for G-d is ever apparent.

    I do kind of like meaningful diversity.

    • #16
    • November 6, 2017, at 4:08 PM PST
    • 1 like
  17. Henry Castaigne Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    After hearing about the shootings in Texas, and contrasting that to soldiers in Jerusalem, I feel safer here at the moment. I mean it.

    I think your feelings are based on reality, but please note that Israel has a super competent security state because it has to. It’s also a teeny-tiny country and there can be effective government programs run by a technocratic elite in some teeny-tiny countries. Please remember that these countries need: a technocratic elite is actually competent, the right culture to generate competent and intelligent government workers, and enough free-market capitalism to afford to buy all the necessary gear and training.

    • #17
    • November 6, 2017, at 4:14 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Coolidge

    Wonderful, SQ! Prayers ongoing….

    • #18
    • November 6, 2017, at 10:25 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Susan, I understand there is now a section of the Western Wall (separated from men by a barrier of some kind) where women can pray. Is that right?

    I hope you’ll get back to us about your impressions of the Western Wall. As I understand, it’s the closest spot that Jews can get to the Temple Mount. Is that right?

    Looking forward to your future posts from Israel. Are you going to float in the Dead Sea?

    Kent

    There has always been a spot for women to pray, and I prayed there. I also prayed at the Wall from the inside of the Temple Tunnels, a deeply moving experience. I will do a post on the Western Wall in the next few days. BTW women (primarily from the US, I think) are protesting that women and men should be able to pray together; I think that’s idiocy, but more on that later. Also, Jews can go to the Temple Mount but it’s very difficult to do; for religious Jews, the preparation is rigorous, because it’s impossible to know precisely where the Holy of Holies is. I don’t plan to go to the Dead Sea or float in it. More later! Thanks for your great questions!

    • #19
    • November 6, 2017, at 11:06 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  20. Hypatia Inactive

    The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

    • #20
    • November 7, 2017, at 1:06 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Hypatia (View Comment):
    The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

    Thank you, Hypatia. And the same blessing to you.

    • #21
    • November 7, 2017, at 1:26 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  22. Israel P. Inactive

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    After hearing about the shootings in Texas, and contrasting that to soldiers in Jerusalem, I feel safer here at the moment. I mean it.

    We have been saying that for years. Spread the word.

    • #22
    • November 7, 2017, at 8:02 AM PST
    • 4 likes