Friday, June 28, 2013

Gymnastics footage from 1913

I was sent a link to this YouTube video that dates to 1913 and features gymnasts performing in Palestine, way before the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

While the first Maccabiah Games didn't take place until 1932, they were inspired by the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. This footage apparently comes from a short film made about Jewish life in Palestine in 1913.

The gymnastics gets underway at around 3:20.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On Moving On From Orthodox Jewish Feminism

Last month, I announced the end of my short-lived Jewcy column, The Ballabuster. I made the decision to stop writing it for one very simple reason--I didn't have anything new to say.

I'm not referring to the Ecclesiastic sentiment--"There's nothing new under the sun," or its creative writing counterpart, "All content is derivative." And I don't mean there is nothing new to write about Judaism and feminism. There are tons of things happening, including the first graduating class from Yeshivat Mahara"t that is creating all kinds of controversy and sparking discussion about women's roles in Modern Orthodoxy. What I mean is there is little left for me to say.

When I began writing about women's issues within Orthodox Judaism many years ago, I was deeply mired in that world. I was still marginally observant and figuring out my practice. I was attending egalitarian yet halachic services with others who mostly upheld Shabbat and kashrut. Though I eschew personal essay writing as a form of therapy--I don't want to read anyone else's diary and I won't make them read mine if I bothered to keep one--I admit that I used some of my essays as a space to work out my own ideas and beliefs about Judaism. Generally, I was decided on a topic by the time I sat to write it but only recently so. It was fairly fresh and perhaps lacking in the requisite distance and perspective.

But my last big shifts took place at least a few years ago and since then I've settled into a pretty consistent practice--or non-practice to be more accurate. One of only places where I remained engaged was in my professional life as a writer for Jewish websites and publications. I wrote articles about Jewish topics but my bread and butter was feminism, especially as it pertained to Orthodox Judaism.

I greatly enjoyed writing about Orthodox law and how it did and didn't conform to egalitarian principles. I certainly got a kick out of rebutting many of misogynistic statements I heard from rabbis while I was growing up. But in the last few months, it was getting more and more difficult to find topics that I could bring some fresh perspective to--I mean aside from jumping and pointing like a monkey and yelling, "Look at this misogynistic Orthodox Jew!"

I mean-don't get me wrong. It's easy and can be fun at times. But to what end?

As I was writing the final Ballabuster column, a piece of writing I'm actually pleased with, I kept asking myself--I'm not part of this community anymore so why am I busting this guy's balls over his column, however misguided I feel his views are? Why don't I leave that to women (and men) who are still invested in that world, who still have skin in the game?

(Don't interpret the above statement as some sort of apology--I don't feel bad about what I wrote and I firmly believe in all of it.)

If Orthodoxy became completely egalitarian tomorrow I doubt I would return. I've built a life that I'm happy with outside of that sphere and have no desire to go back. Since leaving Orthodoxy, my world has widened. I've been exposed to new people and ideas and experiences. I couldn't imagine making it smaller to fit back into the halachic framework. Folks--size does matter.

So I decided to stop writing the column. I'd rather see someone like Avital Chizhik fill that sort of role--someone who is part of the community and writes with a perspective on history and doesn't offer bullshit apologetics. I don't know if she wishes to change her community but at least she asks better questions about it than many others, Orthodox or secular, do.

Now, I make no promises to stay away from the topic of Orthodox Jewish feminism entirely. I'm only human and it's a huge part of my past and sensibility. And I'm certain that some idiotic rabbi somewhere will say something so misogynistic or clueless that I'll be forced to bare my snark fangs.  I feel just like Buffy did in the pilot as she explained to Giles that she planned to scale back her slaying. "I didn't say I'd never slay another vampire. It's not like I have all of these fluffy bunny feelings for them. I'm just not going to get way extracurricular with it."

So there you have it--still Jewish and feminist and my past remains my past. I'm just not going to get way extracurricular with it anymore.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Father's Day Phone Call To An Absent Dad

On Sunday, I called my dad on Father's Day. I waited until late in the afternoon, mulling my course of action while my Facebook feed filled up with messages of love and appreciation to their fathers. They added pics of fathers doing fatherly things dressed in clothing that was delightfully dated. 

I know that many people criticize holidays such as Father's Day that seem to be the invention of greeting card companies, but the outpouring I witnessed yesterday online seemed sincere, making it more difficult to completely shrug off the day as I once had. 

I haven't sent a card or made a call for Father's Day in about a decade, if not longer. My relationship with my father is cordial in the best of times and contentious or nonexistent during the worst. He spent most of my childhood 1,500 miles away in Miami. I saw him once a year, tops. As I got older, I might even go two years without seeing him in person. When I was very young, I missed him. But as I matured, I stopped longing for him. My life was taking shape quite nicely without him. When he tried to insert himself in it, it felt disruptive more than anything else. He had been cast in the movie role of dad during preproduction but his lines were subsequently cut and no one bothered telling him. Actually, it was more like he quit the movie when he moved out of state. But despite this decision, he tried to reserve his role as a recurring character. But fathers aren't wacky neighbors. They work best when they make regular appearances.

I used to be quite bitter about this but those feelings are mostly past. I've forgiven him, but not because I wished to do anything nice for him. In fact, I probably resisted forgiving him for years precisely because well-meaning folks used a lot of Oprah speak about how forgiving him was the first step to  establishing a relationship with him. They wished to transform my anger and hurt into something pat and inspirational enough to be written about sentimentally in Reader's Digest

But at some point along the way, I forgave my father. Or more accurately, I let go of whatever anger I was still holding onto if for no other reason than that it leaked out of me over time, like a balloon losing air. When I called him or he called me, I no longer felt the need to confront him over past misdeeds. We spoke like acquaintances, which is what we were if you subtracted our blood relatedness. 

Over the last six months, we have been speaking more frequently--once every few weeks--and the conversations have been altogether more pleasant than they used to be. My father used to try to force closeness on me, not realizing that the ship for that sort of relationship had long since sailed. I didn't know what sort of bond we could form but it would not resemble a typical father-daughter relationship. Too much time had passed, much of it spent apart. I didn't feel a sense of obligation towards him the way I do my mother. My father, like my mother, hasn't been in the best of health, but I don't trouble myself with his care. I hope he stays well or as he is, but I doubt I'll intervene to do much for a man who left when I was 6. For my mother, on the other hand, I'm doing everything I can to help her. She drives me crazy daily but she raised me. Simple as that. 

But I am able to see that my father has changed and genuinely feels bad about the past and I have no wish to punish him for it. So on Sunday I called him, but I couldn't bring myself to open with "Happy Father's Day." Instead, I prattled on about my recent trip to Nicaragua and the projects I was working on. Only after twenty minutes of conversation, when the hang-up seemed imminent, did I finally offer the "holiday" greeting. Typically, "Happy Father's Day" is a sign of gratitude from child to father, but I didn't feel this towards my dad. I was grateful he was alive and that I could still talk to him, unlike others who have lost parents. But I didn't feel gratitude for the role he played in my life. 

"Thank you," he replied simply. No added push for closeness, no "I love you," an expression that is freighted and complicated for me. Just a simple "thank you." And for that, I was grateful.