Sunday, April 24, 2005

Quiet days in New Jersey

The Israeli kids are looking good. They are all falling into the "modestly overweight" category I occupy. Two of them could even be categorized as "thin." I've had concerns about their sedentary life style, but it's encouraging to see them turning into attractive and interesting adults. Niece #3 is quite fetching--she dresses in a very modern style while still conforming to the guidelines (skirts only, knees covered at all times, no low collars, sleeves past elbows). Niece #2 is very shy, but she is watching all of us and doesn't miss a trick. Niece #1 is much happier and more confident than I've ever seen her. At 18, she is treated practically as an adult and I think she likes it--she is boarding at "college" now and it suits her. Nephew #1 is slim and looks like any slacker teenager. When I first saw him he was wearing a white short-sleeve tee, cool beige jean-type pants with silly big pockets and a wide brown leather belt. He kept reminding me of Spesh (my kibbutznik Israeli friend). I thought, I need to get those guys together.

They seem to like me fine. Niece #3 and Nephew #1 are the most interested in me. I would really like to talk to Nephew #1 because he has the hardest time fitting into the Orthodox world and I worry about him. It's hard, though, because his English is rather limited and he's too shy to just try and stumble through with broken English. At Shabbos dinner he tried: like to cooking? Or just to rent food? Yikes.

Niece #3 had a long chat with me after dinner on Friday and I told her some stories about when I moved away from home. I think she would have talked to me a lot longer, but I was tired and it was getting late. She has reminded me several times about my broken promise to visit the family in Israel. (Why do they want to see me? I never understand.) The last time I saw her she was 11--five years ago. Too long. She asked me tons of questions about my life and my job. She insisted that I explain my job to her, which is challenging under the best of circumstances to explain to an 11 year old, much less one whose first language is not English, but I did my best and she kept interrupting with questions. As I talked to her on Friday night, I remembered that, and I didn't hesitate to give her a good amount of information. She just has more questions about the secular world than her sisters do.

This the fantasy, of course, that just by being who I am and having them know me, perhaps they will escape the narrowness of their lives (forget that they don't see their lives as narrow). But, I don't think that will be Neice#3. Eh, I could be wrong. She is the "rebel" because she wears as short a skirt as is permissible and her style of dress is remarkably more fashionable. She likes nice things, pretty clothes and shoes and has very good taste. She is blonde, the prettiest of the girls and very feminine in her ways. I'm sure she's boy crazy, but there is not much opportunity to have contact with boys. But, that is not the road to the secular world, just to an early marriage. Lord, she is a long way off from being ready to have kids.
Shabbos dinner:

1) Didn't start until 9:30 when B2 and Nephew #1 got back from shul (synagogue). The girls warned us they would be late because B2 was very slow. I asked if he was reading the whole thing twice. The answer was surprisingly close to yes. There is a part of the prayer that he thinks they do too quickly (in Israel too) so when they are all finished he goes back and reads that part again. I asked if Nephew #1 would read it again too. They laughed and said probably not.

2) Consisted of: gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, baba ganoush, roasted peppers, cucumber and tomato salad, carrot salad, chicken, apple kugel and strawberry "ice cream."

3) God is not listening.
After dinner, B2 took a moment to explain why he was so worried about "chamitz." During Passover, there cannot be any chamitz in the house. Chamitz is any kind of leavening agent, including baking soda, baking powder, beans, corn and possibly some other things. There can't even be a little tiny bit in anything that is eaten for the week. It's a week of matzoh and potato starch.

He told a story to explain why. Chamitz is symbolic of the "evil impulse." For example, eating is a good thing, but eating in of itself is nothing to be proud of. And we can get carried away with it. The story was that someone saw a gravestone that said, "Here lies the inventor of 'super soda'." The point being that being remembered for this is not much to be proud of. I said, "Tell that to the inventor of Coke-a-cola." B2 said, "Coke is the taste of life--it's entirely different!" We all burst into laughter. Who said the ultra-religious don't have a sense of humor?

I also poked fun by saying I could give a lecture too. B2 said great as soon as he was done I would be giving a talk about statistics. I was embarrassed and said there was a reason I didn't go into teaching.

This is the thing. B2 and me? We're just the same. We think the same. I get him. I like him. And I can't stand his life. You'd think he wouldn't approve of me--unmarried, 36, live alone, has boyfriends, lives entirely in the secular world. But, no. He's proud of me. He thinks I'm the smart one. I think he's the smart one. No knock to B1, who is no intellectual slob. My mother always said B2 was the smart one and I believed her. I don't know where B2 got the idea I was the smart one. That's not the point, though. B1 and I have very similar lives (except for the marriage and kids part). We have careers, pursued Ph.D.s and live very much in the secular world. We have similar tastes in music and film. We both like to watch baseball and are moderately athletic. You'd think we'd get along great, but no. We're hardly enemies, but we're not close. I'd like to be, but we're not. B2? Zero in common. He doesn't approve of the things I live for (movies, novels), but are we close? Well, not really, but we could be. And we are able to really talk to each other, at least sometimes. Ah well. That's how life seems to work. Take what you can where you can find it.

Today, another fabulous lunch.

Chopped liver; potato chips; two kinds of inedible salads (tomatoes and cucumbers; cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes. Why cucumbers in everything? And peppers? Ugh.); an apple-celery-walnut salad (picked out the celery); chicken schnitzel, coated in almonds; cholentz (stew) made of potatoes, ground beef and chicken (usually it's a bean-based dish, but no beans for Passover!). And dessert: chocolate mousse, which was very, very good.

The enormous lunch left me hungry! I ate one of my security candy bars around 5 in the afternoon. Blech. (Before I got on the train in DC, I bought two Godiva chocolate bars. I can't recommend Godiva chocolate bars, but they were better than nothing. When I'm on these family trips, I can't always get any time on my own and it makes me grumpy. This way, I had my candy and I could relax.)

In the morning I played catch with NJ niece #1 briefly, then I play frisbee with Nephew #1 for a long time and then B1 joined in for a while.

After lunch dad and stepmom took off. Losers.

SIL1 has just about had enough. And baby Nephew is super fussy.

The NJ girls are hanging in.

In the afternoon, I talked to the oldest two Israeli nieces about school and then for a long time about marriage. Niece#1 explained how they are teaching them in her school (where she is training to be a special ed teacher) how it's important to be strong enought to have a husband who sits and learns (studies Torah). The girls are taught to work to support him. Men and women are different and men are supposed to sit and learn, girls are supposed to take care of the house, have the babies and bring home the major income. I made a face and she asked me what was wrong with that. I said it's not fair. She said why not if it's what we want. I said why can't women sit and learn? It's all about him and what's good for him. What about the woman? She said I don't know what he wants because I'm not a man.

It's crazy because how do you explain to someone that she's been brainwashed? (Or am I the one that is brainwashed? I don't really think I am.) They were raised to believe that women's rightfull role is to support a man in his study of Torah, and I was raised to believe that I can have my own life and that I don't need to put a man's career and goals ahead of my own.

They both want to have as many children as possible. Yikes.

And me? I have everything I ever wanted except a husband and children. Am I happy? Yes. Do I want more? Yes.

I told the girls that when I was 21, 25, I didn't want to get married. I didn't think I was ready, but the time when I thought I wasn't ready is long past. Niece #1 said, so, why not get married? I said it wasn't that easy, but that I would like to. It's not that easy. No one is going to search for my husband except for me. Their parents will make sure that they get married. It will be arranged marriages for all of them. While it is medieval, it troubles me less than almost any other part of their culture. No one will force them to marry a boy they don't like. And it will be done. It's not about romantic love in their world so they don't expect the same things. Niece #1 asked me if I was too picky. I said I didn't think so. Niece #2 said of course I wouldn't think so. Touché. I said I thought I wasn't picky enough. I gave people a chance when they didn't deserve it, but I didn't do that anymore. Still, I couldn't snap my fingers and have a husband appear. If I could I would! Oh, don't think I wouldn't.

Grateful for: Spending time with my family. No kidding!

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