Getting your feet (ritually) wet: An American-Israeli’s mikvah story

Perhaps, for a taharat-mishpacha-keeping American-Israeli olah (female American immigrant to Israel who keeps laws of family purity), nothing else can quite epitomize the cultural differences of here and there better than… the mikvah.

Because I got married in Israel, my mikva knowledge and experiences have been molded here. The closest I got in the States before emigrating was a very swanky, fancy Sephardic mikvah in Brooklyn, that my high school class was taken to on a school trip while learning the halachot (laws) in our senior year. A gorgeous facility, including pre- and post- manicure, robes, blow driers, and made-up balaniyot.

The idea to me seemed, pretty clearly, to make the practice more attractive.

Fast forward to 2006, when I became engaged in the monthly ritual in an old, very ‘Jerusalem’ mikva facility tucked into a shoddy building behind a meat market in Katamonim.

Out of any of the mikvot I’ve been to, I came to love it the most.

I hated going, but I loved coming out. I loved the sound of Kaaaaasherrrr rolling off the tongue of the elderly Mizrachi balanit. Deep, warm, the rrrrrr is what made me really feel purified. I loved that she wished me the best of luck, speedy pregnancies, a million children, a good life. I loved believing her, that it would all come true this month, even though the next set of birth control pills were somewhere in the depths of my handbag.

To contrast that, there were the few times I’ve gone in New York during visits. It was my hometown mikva, a place I had passed a billion times during childhood, the heavy red door shut tight during the day. I had known what it was, but I had never been inside.

It was classy enough, comfortable, even kind of PC.

And it was home. Imagine my delight when the first time I lifted my head out of the water, the middle-aged New Yawka balanit was shrilly calling, KOH-shuuuh!

I’ve even been to the mikvah in Melbourne, Australia. This was by far the most comfortable, beautiful facility I’ve dunked in yet. Everything was provided; everything was just right.

Later, when I moved to Tzur Hadassah, I experimented before settling on a permanent mikvah. I tried what seemed like a tiny pre-1967 free-standing stone room in Bar Giora. I visited Efrat, where I felt I had entered an alternative universe (we spoke in English of course). I’ve been to the small but equipped mikvah in Nes Harim.

But where I’ve mostly settled, and returned to every month, are the mega-mikvot in Beitar Illit.

Israeli mikvah: Beitar Illit

These are free-standing buildings with their own identities; secret entrances shield visitors from publicity. A reception desk greets you. Corridors of prep rooms are available. Two mikvot are rotated inside, available depending on your tradition.

And the pre-check questions, oh, the questions.

It’s a personal challenge. I don’t love it like I was able to come to love my elderly Sephardi balanit in Jerusalem. I’ve had to make the experience completely separate and personal so as not to claw at the kisui rosh of an unassuming ‘just doing my charedi job’ Beitar Illit balanit, who to her credit, as she checks the length of my too-long nails, never fails to ask,

‘So, are you from around here?’

 

P.S. I have it on good faith that I’ll be able to report on the ever-in progress Tzur Hadassah mikvah very soon. It’s been completed and waiting for electricity, so they say. Stay tuned…

 

 

On Jews, Jerusalem, Women and Walls

Note: Reflections based on my rare February and March 2013 trips to the Kotel. Based on today’s news, I figured today’s as good as any to post. 

I’ve been to the Kotel, the Western Wall, way too many times in the past year. Previously, I had a comfortable average of maybe once every two or three years. Maybe less. It felt long enough between trips. And the trips are always for the sake and pleasure of other people.

But throughout the last year, I’ve accompanied various visiting family members through the Old City, the pathway inevitably leading to the token Kotel visit. Some pray, some don’t. I never do.

The Kotel, the Old City, and even Jerusalem for that matter have come to symbolize discomfort, pain, ambivalence, shame, conflict. I don’t want to pray in those places. I don’t want to pray alongside people I can’t trust. I don’t want to reach deep into myself and summon a spiritual presence in such a political place.

You know where it’s lovely to pray? In a forest. There’s plenty of forest around Jerusalem. I live in it. I think it’s a not-so-big-secret that many other ancient sects of humanity get that we don’t. Man-made holiness hurts. Holiness existed before we did. Why wouldn’t we jump over each other to access that?

By all means, if the Kotel means something to you, enjoy it. Women of the Wall, Women for the Wall, women who wear falls, women who wear shawls. Men who throw garbage, men who who wear jeans, men who think learning is working, men who think working is earning.

When I’m standing in the Kotel plaza, I’m filled with anger and pain. So please, count me out. Take my spot. I hope though that between me and you and everyone else, some kind of spirituality will eventually solve our crisis.

——-

Things I can’t handle #745873: Beit Shemesh Taliban mother and daughters. Visiting the Kotel in March 2013.

 

Liz’s How To: become a total creep over Hello Kitty

Racing through Malha mall for errands today, the heavens opened up and rays of sunlight poured down and unicorn angels sang and my eyes fell upon this… mecca of old school cuteness…

Granted this would completely make my daughter’s day, week, month, year – somehow she’s head over heels in love with ‘KITTY! HELLO, KITTY!!!’ – I was totally confused when I saw this.

What’s the date? Is it 1984? Where am I? FAO Shwartz? I’m in Jerusalem? There are a few more grown women than I’d expect pushing their newborns in expensive strollers into this completely unnecessary store?

Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge Hello Kitty fan as a kid (for reasons I can’t really figure out now, decades later). Japan knows what it’s doing. Sanrio was pure  genius, right there with Lisa Frank.

It was just surprising to come across an entire shop right here in Israel’s capital,  dedicated entirely to Hello Kitty merch – shirts, dolls, bags, pencils, dolls, suitcases, bikes, and dolls.

First I snapped a few pics to show Bebe – her reaction every time she sees a Hello Kitty image is priceless: <squeal> HELLO, KITTY! KITTTTY!</squeal>

Then I walked in to fully take in a really big piece of childhood awesomeness.

Then I walked out, made it a few steps, and looked down. I happened to be wearing – a couple months after my mother gave it to me as a nostalgic relic – well, when I realized what I was wearing, I was quickly transformed into a total creep at the dawn of her fourth decade, having attempted to be ironic this morning when I had put on… this very t-shirt:

(I now understand better the sales lady’s face after I responded in the negative to whether she could help me…)

 

And now for some local horror.

I don’t miss the part of living in Katamon, in Jerusalem, when a Beitar game would be on.

Beitar Jerusalem fans are known for a right-wing/arse/loud/violent combination of stereotype.

This, though. This is disgustingly criminal. It’s been a bit buried in the papers – partly because it happened around the time of the France Jew murders, and partly because, well, it is not flattering and since when do Israeli papers post something that admits to this level of wrongness?

Hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans beat up Arab workers in mall; no arrests

Hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem supporters assaulted Arab cleaning personnel at the capital’s Malha shopping center on Monday, in what was said to be one of Jerusalem’s biggest-ever ethnic clashes.

Despite CCTV footage of the events, no one was arrested. Jerusalem police said that is because no complaint was filed. Witnesses said that after a soccer game in the nearby Teddy Stadium, hundreds of mostly teenage supporters flooded into the shopping center, hurling racial abuse at Arab workers and customers and chanting anti-Arab slogans, and filled the food hall on the second floor.

It’s not the first time Beitar fans have acted utterly stupid in the name of a game won or lost. There have been tramplings, stampedes. But this is a fit of violence that goes beyond a game.

I despise the violence that erupts from sports frustration or elation (ahem, Red Sox fans). And I despise even more when  hate crimes are done from within my own people to minorities living among us.

How short are our memories? How immature are our minds?

These fans were young – who hasn’t been teaching them?

 

(And by the way, Arutz Sheva, seriously? There’s camera footage and you’re saying fans ‘allegedly attacked Arabs’?)

Exceptional Jew vs Jew hatred, brought to you this time by Charedi protesters.

This is an incredible low. Something I didn’t expect. It only helps a little that I know for a fact, from personal relationships, that sane, rational, open, and loving charedim do exist in Israel and beyond.

However, this – this is unforgivable.

The chilul Hashem, the national insult, the Jew vs Jew hatred that has come to this before dialogue or attempts to fix it without corruption, politics, leadership silence.

Ultra Orthodox protest ‘incitement’ and ‘hatred’

Approximately 1,500 ultra-Orthodox men gathered at Shabbat Square in the capital’s Geula neighborhood on Saturday night to protest what they called the “oppression” and “incitement” of the “secular community” against them.

Dozens of men wore yellow Stars of David on their jackets with the word “Jude” in the center, and banners bearing slogans such as “Zionists are not Jews” and “Zionism is racism” were paraded at the rally.

Orthodox Jews demand the presence of international forces to protect them,” another sign read.

“What’s happening is exactly like what happened in Germany,” said one man wearing a yellow star, who gave his name only as Moishe. “It started with incitement and continued to different types of oppression. Is it insulting that we wear these stars? Absolutely, and it hurts people to see this, but this is how we feel at the moment, we feel we are being prevented from observing the Torah in the manner in which we wish.

It’s so disgusting, I don’t even want to redisplay the images here, but in case you’re too lazy or too biased or too ignorant to click, here’s a teaser that should get you in the know:

What we need as a country and Jewish society, right NOW, is a national dialogue, for leaders to set their pride and balls aside and have a freakin conversation. No one is understanding, or trying to understand anyone here. Tisha B’Av was only a few months ago – let alone Yom Kippur – and it seems anything related to ‘Adam l’chavero’ is completely neglected.

It’s sickening to see what this ‘secular’ ‘charedi’ divide – or perceived civil war – is coming to. Is it not possible for us all to have what we absolutely need? Maybe because I straddle the religious/secular divide, it’s just a little clearer than for extremists on either side?

And as long as our Palestinian ‘friends’ stay quiet, this is just going to get worse and worse.

If you miss what you’re leaf-ing behind…

I discovered a place where you can stroll on Erev Thanksgiving and feel for a second like you’re home in North America: Gan HAPa’amon in Jerusalem.

The leaves are colorful, noisy, and abundant. You can crunch them, kick them, and show your kid a lil taste of motherland in just a few steps. While learning colors.