When I look at my children, now aged three and six, I think how wonderful their innocence is. From their perspective, I realize their world is very complicated and full of conflict. There are scores of injustices, from bedtime to dietary restrictions, so many rules are imposed upon them!
I look at myself and I laugh. I am just like my children, living in my little world, focusing on injustices and struggles which effect me, from fighting city hall to making a living. However, I look beyond myself and I travel to different worlds, trying to keep my mind open and expose my children to worlds beyond their own.
My twenty-one year old cousin recently got engaged. Her parents, Americans who became ultra-Orthodox and moved to Israel before she was born, arranged the marriage to a South African-born yeshiva student after the couple had been introduced by a matchmaker and gone on six dates.
At their engagement party, I was the only man not wearing a black hat. I entered their world, happy to be part of their simcha. My wife, on the other side of the mechiza, was dressed according to the restrictions of modest dress despite the hot day. Alone and an obvious outsider, I was approached by many men who wished me “mazel tov” and began conversations with me making me feel welcome. That night I stepped into a different world, one in which my cousin was thrilled to get a husband who was a scholar, who has spent the last five years studying, not “wasting” any time on matters outside the world of the Torah.
That same week I met a friend from college who also sees the world differently than I do. In our younger days we would see each other at demonstrations, she on one side, I on the other. She gave me a ride home and we ended up speaking for a long time about the upcoming disengagement from Gaza. She feels passionately that it is a horrible mistake. She told me of her brother and sister-in-law who will be removed from their homes and have no idea where they will be. She told me of a solidarity march in which she participated with her children and how a rocket launched from Gaza had landed a few feet from them and the issues it had raised for her. I had to ask her about placing her children in danger and she replied with statistic probabilities and the fact that she had asked her children who insisted that they wanted to continue on the march. Besides, she said, for a long time she was afraid, but she felt like a hypocrite so now she goes to Gaza to show her support. I listened respectfully, asking questions, raising issues, knowing I would not change how she felt any more than I could change my cousin’s way of life, but happy to have the opportunity to listen, to learn and to ask.
At another simcha, on Shabbat, I saw a friend from high school who had gone to Akiba and Camp Ramah in the Poconos with me. During our years in Israel he has gradually gotten to be more and more observant. A mutual friend was getting married and both of us attended Shabbat services to see him get called up to the Torah in anticipation of his wedding day. My high school friend came to a totally egalitarian Conservative synagogue with his family, wearing his black hat and all. He stepped into our world to celebrate this joyful event, making no apologies for who he was, letting the happiness that connected us pervade over the potential divisions.
Another meeting I had this week brought me into contact with those from yet another world. I spoke with the Christian Peacemaker Team participants who are on a fact-finding trip based in Hebron. We discussed my life in Israel, why I live here and some of my religious and political views. They were so grateful at my candor and willingness to speak with them and I was so impressed that they were not only curious and wanting to learn, but that they acted on their motivations and came to such a foreign place in order to better understand a world outside of their own.
My six-year-old son Shemer is only beginning to become aware of all of these different worlds. My hope for him is not just that he become a thinking person who questions his priorities and values by being exposed to different thoughts, people and cultural contexts, but that as he begins to form his opinions, he is open to other ideas, and not fearful of those who are different from him, able to welcome others who may be curious about our world as well.
Shemer already has a strong identity, knowing who he is and where he came from. Living in our community, in our corner of the world, it is hard not to.
We just celebrated Log b’Omer – one of Israeli children’s favorite holidays because they get to stay out all night lighting bonfires. We had several fires burning until the morning light in the field behind our house. Then on Friday morning we attended the bar mitzvah of friend at the Western Wall, just down the road from our home. We prayed in the section ear-marked for Conservative/Reform minyanim allowing us to have mixed services. It was one of those amazing moments. As I stood immediately in front of the Wall, reciting birkat kohanim (the priestly blessing that is recited daily in Jerusalem) as my forefathers did before me, Shemer played with his friends in the archaeological garden. Such moments are when I feel whole in my world, amazed and in awe. Again I look at my children and I think how wonderful their innocence is, as they play in my world among the ancient Roman stones and those of the Temple in Jerusalem.