Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Traditional Mizrahim

Most Israelis are not really interested in the cancellation of the Kotel compromise. Either they are Orthodox religious and not interested in egalitarian prayer, or they are secular and not interested in prayer at all (regardless if they support the compromise or not). I think if people are thinking about it at all, its whether or not we should be angering the rich American Jews that donate a lot of money  and speak up for us in the US corridors of power. The issue itself is not a burning matter in Israeli society.

The pressure groups pushing this in Israel are small, well-funded, and very vocal, but they don't really represent many Israelis (Women of the Wall are regarded mainly as a curiosity). Their being strongly aligned with the left makes them and their agenda a bit suspect.

Historically in Israel, you were either religious or secular. In recent years it has become clear that this is no longer the case, and perhaps it never was. For the great masses of Olim from Arab and Muslim countries, it certainly never was.

A few years ago, a friend lost her mother. She put on a long dress and covered her hair and appeared to have suddenly become very observant. After a year, she put her jeans back on and went to the hair salon for a haircut. It wasn't that she had suddenly become Haredi and changed her life. She had always been traditional; you just couldn't see it, because she didn't 'wear it'. The outward change was just her way to connect spiritually with the memory of her mother. It was her way to mourn.

Another friend at one point became close to a Kabbalist rabbi. He spent his nights dipping in the ritual bath, praying, and studying with the rabbi and the other students. He went to Uman, to the grave of Rabbi Nahman, three times. Eventually, his wife complained. The rabbi said peace in the family comes first and sent him home. And that was that.

A lot of people I know straddle the religious observant world and the secular world, moving between them quite naturally, without overthinking things. This is their way.

They will eat kosher, but at times don't mind eating in restaurants without kashrut certificates. They just make sure not to order non-Kosher meat or dishes that mix milk and meat.

They may lay tefillin in the morning at work, and join the after lunch minyan, but don't beat themselves up about missing a day here or there. They may go to Shul Friday night and Saturday morning, and then take the kids to the beach.

These people identify as masorati, traditional. They are true believers, deeply connected to their Jewish roots, but just not prepared to walk the walk full time.

And they are Orthodox. If you should suggest to them that they are 'Reform' or 'Conservative', they would be horrified.

Yesterday, an American rabbi on Twitter explained to me that surveys show that the majority of secular Israelis identify as Con/Masorti. This was part of an attempt to prove to me that "90% of Jews in the world are non-Orthodox".

Now the Jewish Conservative movement (religious not political) in Israel has translated its name in Hebrew as 'Masorti', traditional. Most Israelis are not aware of this. They are hardly aware of the differences between the various types of non-Orthodox Judaism prevalent in the US. So obviously this rabbi was misunderstanding the meaning of the reports she was quoting. People identifying as masorati  מסורתיare not connecting themselves in any way to the 'Konservativim' קונסרבטיבים, which are pretty marginal in Israel, and, as a movement, mainly serves a smallish number of Anglo-Israelis, some Israeli stragglers, and secular Ashkenazis looking for a Bar Mitzva venue, where the whole family can sit together.

When pressed, secular Ashkenazis would probably identify as more Reform or Conservative than anything else. There is also a growing trend, still quite small, of secular Ashkenazis building intimate little communities of more open and fluid spiritual practice, based on traditional Jewish religious ritual. These communities study and sing together, filling the void created by their great-grandparents who rejected Jewish religiosity for secular Socialist Zionism.

Sephardim and Mizrahim, on the whole, have no need or interest in these communities, because they experience no such void. There was no ideology or decision involved in the lessening of their religious observance. It was just part of being absorbed into a secular society, when they came here.  As Sephardim and Mizrahim gain self-confidence and significance on the Israeli social spectrum, we are witnessing a mass return to observance and tradition by ordinary people, a true grassroots reconnection with their original identity.

Just as Israelis don't understand the intricacies of American Jewish life, I think liberal American Jews underestimate and misunderstand the same intricacies in Israel. This is perhaps a result of their socializing nearly exclusively with secular, left wing Ashkenazis, who themselves often despise and belittle the interesting religious developments among Mizrahim.  

An aside: My very perceptive 22 year old daughter contends that the divide between Ashkenazim and Sephardim/Mizrahim in Israel is mainly cultural these days, and not ethnic.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Breathing Lessons (Ascendance)

The first time you came, 
In shriveled white pony tail,
I was young, and hungry
For your Siberian grass.
Mindlessly subdued by your bell.

The next time you came,
Armed with niggun, 
Wrapped in plastic pink prayer shawl,
I sang, I danced, I cried out.
Thinking finally home.

The third time you came,
I was grown, you were arrogant.
No longer your sure thing, Joe.
You didn't see the disgust
Growing in my eyes.

You still come
And I turn away. 
You tell me change.
I think
You fool. You dead fool.

After all these years together,
All your efforts, still
You have failed
To make me
You.