Thursday, April 26, 2012

Yom HaAztmaut -- with sadness.....

היום תשעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות וחמשה ימים לעומר
Today is nineteen days, which is two weeks and five days of the omer
הוד שבתפארת
A day of humility in a week of compassion

Today is Yom HaAztmaut - the 64th anniversary of the formation of Modern Israel.

In my youth, I marched in parades in NYC to celebrate this day. Israel was so important to me. Growing up in the shadow of the Shoah, it meant a lot to know that I had a place I belonged, a place where someone could not tell me to leave--a place I was not an "other." In 1968 when George Wallace was running for president, I remember clearly feeling that if he won, I would move to Israel.  I was not going to sit still and wait for the next version of overwhelming anti-semitism. I was going to where I could freely live as a Jew.

But sadly, I no longer feel that Israel is a place where I can freely live as a Jew. And even more sadly, it's because my engagement with Judaism is now deeper. When I was a girl, much of the primary Jewish ritual was inaccessible to me, purely because of my gender. I was no rebel in this regard, pretty much just accepted the strictures that were in place--although I really wanted an aliyah :)  I was in an environment where boys and girls were treated equally in the realm of Jewish learning, and that worked for me. I never felt inferior--there were just things that were not mine to do. And, for whatever reasons, I did not question that.

In the late 70s and 80s, living on my own in Manhattan, I was unconcerned with my Judaism. It's easy to be Jewish in New York. With my family close, living in a place where Jewish life is woven into the culture of the area, I could check in and out as I wanted. It was always there for me.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1986 I had to find a relationship with Judaism that generated from me, not from outside sources. There was no family close where I could share holidays and I was unaware and unconnected with the Jewish scene here. I began my own Jewish traditions which I shared with my friends--Channukah Football Sunday; leading a user-friendly seder for 50 on a video stage. I also discovered the new wealth of Jewish feminist writings. Although she is a half a generation ahead of me, Letty Cottin Pogrebin's "Deborah, Golda, and Me" really spoke to me. One story she tells that has stuck with me centers around when she attended the United Nation's Women's Conference in Copenhagen in 1980. It was there that she experienced anti-semitism in the name of "anti-Zionism." Ten years later, she writes:
"I wondered why Jewish women are applauded by the Women's Movement when we trudge through Judaic subcultures ruffling beards with our feminist demands, but not when we bring Jewish consciousness back the other way into feminism; or why we are cheered when we critique the Bible for its anti-woman bias, but not when we criticize feminists for their anti-Jewish jokes. . . Must we identify as Jews within feminism with as much discomfort as we identify as feminists within Judaism?"

It's now twenty years after that was written, and there's still a discomfort with women who take on traditionally male rituals in Jewish practice. Yes, I know, not everywhere...with acceptance growing and growing. A full discussion of this is not what this post is about. But even as there are many places in US where I feel free and comfortable in my egalitarian practice, Israel remains a real problem. Walking around with the marks from my tefillin on my arm can be dangerous; I cannot wear my tallit at the Kotel; carrying a Torah, for me, is an arrestable offense.

I am so glad there is an Israel, a Jewish state from which we cannot be exiled. But once I felt it was my home---now, I feel I don't belong.

Her crime--carrying a Torah.
Notice the women wearing their tallitot as scarves--the only way they are allowed without being taken away.....

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