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  • 18Jan

    On the hottest weekend possible, Zack convinced me to come over for the weekend in New Jersey. As a side note, I got to stay in his little brother’s room; very romantic, right?! Zack very kindly warned me that Saturday morning we would have to wake up early and go to shul. I hadn’t been to shul on a Saturday since I had to take the SAT’s four years ago (I was using every aid I could get to get into college). Waking up early and going to shul was fine by me because this gave me a chance to get a cute new outfit to wear. Growing up, whenever my family went to shul, we would get a brand new outfit to wear (the difference however, was that we only went to shul three times a year). I asked Zack what time I should come over, and he creepily told me to come over to his house whatever time I wanted, as long as it was before sunset. So, I did. However, the New Jersey Turnpike had a mind of its own. Anyways, I got there and had to experience the stress and chaos of getting ready for shabbas. Light switches had to be turned on and off, water had to be heated, and people had to get dressed and showered before a certain time. My cousins were religious, so I kind of knew what to expect, but I had no idea what I was getting into.

    Friday wasn’t anything too exciting. I got there and was starving. It was a pain in the neck because I first had to listen to prayers over grape juice- which magically turned holy after a few words- and then was poured into this cool pourer that went into little cups and was passed around. After that, everyone had to get up and go to the sink to wash their hands. But not with soap like normal people, we had to use this weird cup and pour it over our hands. After I mimicked what everyone else did at the sink, Zack wouldn’t let me talk until I ate bread. Finally, after this long weird process, I could eat. Apparently, Jews just don’t dig into their shabbas meal. Anyway, at the end of dinner, everyone (minus me) sang a song (it was pretty culty, not going to lie).

    The next morning I set my alarm (which apparently I wasn’t supposed to do because it was shabbas, but how do you wake up otherwise?), took a shower, put on my make-up, wore a cute little black skirt and pretty green tank top, stiletto open toe shoes and was ready for shul. I went over to Zack’s room to wake him up, and instead of telling me how beautiful I looked, he looked at me and cringed. He stuttered “That is not Kosher, Brooke.” I didn’t know why? I was 20 years old and looking as good as I am going to get! So why not show off my body?! But Zack looked in my bag and grabbed a long sleeve shirt (that I usually sleep in when he blasts the air conditioning) and he made me put that frumpy thing on. I pouted to Zack, “But it’s 78 degrees out, I am going to cook to death. You better at least blast the A.C. in the car.” He looked at me and said “Sorry hunny, but we are walking.” I knew from our previous dates that his shul was over a mile away and uphill. Did he really think I could make it in these heels? He also made me pull my skirt down lower from above my hips so that the skirt barely hit my knee. He had no idea how painful longer skirts are; they make my thighs sweat. Also, walking? In more clothing than necessary? Does he realize my makeup is going to run down my face in this weather? Luckily, I brought some flat flip flops in case we went swimming during the day, but I guess they would come in handy for this hike.

    After the changes to my attire, I looked frumpy in a long sleeve shirt, weirdly lengthened skirt, and flip flops- which I soon realized is the “Jewish style”. On the longest walk ever, I asked Zack why I had to cover up. I am going to get older and have to cover up, so if I have it, I should flaunt it. He explained to me about tsnius and being modest. I looked at him and said, “What rabbi would think it is a good idea wearing long sleeves in this weather? Have they not seen the weather in Israel? Women are going to sweat to death!” He then looked at me and said, “You are lucky you aren’t married because then you would also have to wear a wig too.” I thought he was kidding, so I laughed and said “I would wear a long blonde one” (it was supposed to be funny and ironic since I have dark brown hair). He just rolled his eyes. He realized I just didn’t get it. He tried to explain to me that women cover their hair with a wig once they are married because men may want someone else’s wife because of their hair. Ok, maybe he didn’t say that, but that’s how I understood it. I don’t understand how that made any sense? Especially when you can use your own hair for a wig. I can kind of understand that wearing a wig lets you know which girls are married, i.e. those wearing a giant headband or a hat is probably off limits.

    I don’t know who came up with the idea that hair is a sexy thing. Most Jewish girl’s hair is knotty and frizzy, nothing too sexy about it. So why should you have to cover it up? The whole idea of wearing these heavy, itchy, and uncomfortable wigs is so silly, especially because nowadays you can’t even really tell if someone is wearing a wig.

    A month ago we were at a bar mitzvah and the mother, who usually wears hats, wore a wig for the bar mitzvah. Everyone in shul thought she wasn’t covering her hair, and that was more of an issue. Luckily, Zack doesn’t ask me to wear a sheitle, but if he did I would probably just wear a hot pink bob; one just so people know that it isn’t my real hair. But it would be a lot nicer than my real hair!

    Lessons Learnt:
    1. Modesty isn’t about how much you need to cover up, it is about making sure women dress respectively. In fact, modesty is actually reffers to “not being loud, obnoxious, a gossip, unhygienic, obscene or inappropriate. When it comes to dress, modesty requires us to present ourselves in such a manner so that our most prominent feature, which represents each person’s unique individuality and humanity, is our face” (Jewish Treats, http://www.jewishtreats.org/2008/07/modesty.html)  Nothing in the scripture says about wearing long sleeves and ankle length skirts in the summer.
    2. This whole Jewish modesty issue is really frustrating to me in case you can’t tell. I have thought about it during many sleepless nights. The only rationale is that men can’t control themselves, so there is no reason women should have to suffer because of their lack of control.

    Here is my friends Shomer Nagiah Poem, I thought it was cheeky:

    I’m shomer negiah and I stand on my own
    If u need to reach me there’s always a phone
    stand on our side of the line
    This body is exclusively mine !!!!

3 Responses

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  • Shlomo Says:

    Very funny-very informative-your stories are a true celebration of the joy and responsibility of being a Jewish bride and returning to the Orthodox roots of your ancestors. My wife and I truly enjoy your insights because they remind us of our family.

  • J. M. Says:

    Thanks for this post! Perhaps you could help a fellow “traveller”?

    Recently, I’ve been walking to an Orthodox shul that’s 4 blocks from my place. It’s great except for: what sort of shoes to wear? I have the appropriate attire in general, but I’m finding it very frustrating to walk 4 unevenly paved blocks on heels! (Or rather, I’m killing the only pair of 2-in. closed-toe heels that can make the trip. My other ones would land me in the emergency room.) I’m not the fashion-plate type, but short heels with knee-length (and longer) skirts don’t go well together on me — I’m not very tall to begin with.

    After you’re done laughing (as I am, since this dilema would have sounded surreal to me some time ago), I’d be grateful for any ideas!

  • Debby Says:

    Dear Fellow Traveler: Do what many of us do – wear sneakers or flip flop or any kind of comfy flats to shul and then change once you get there! Either make sure there is an ‘eruv’ so you can carry on shabbat or leave your shoes at shul. I sometimes also leave a hat at shul so I don’t have to carry it back and forth. So, now you can walk comfortable but look stylish once you get there!

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