I grew up attending a Conservative synagogue. There was a group of Orthodox Jews who also used the synagogue to worship, but remained separate as they have more strict rules, such as men and women may not sit together during worship.
The children would play separately from us and the men avoided contact with any women who were not also Orthodox.
When I visited Israel, I was heading into the desert to visit Masada and the Dead Sea. It was very hot in Jerusalem where my trip started and I was wearing long shorts. I knew to dress conservatively in Jerusalem, but it would be too hot in the desert for long pants.
I stopped to buy a picnic lunch in an Orthodox part of the city and was about to get back into the car when a man pulled up started screaming at me in English. He obviously knew I was American.
He was yelling about how disrespectful I was and how I should not “parade my body around in public.” He ranted for a few minutes and I just stared at him.
Obviously, seeing the tops of my knees and calves was not acceptable to him.
It rattled me but I got into my car and had a beautiful, incredible day.
This man had attempted to shame me for being different and not adhering to his rules. He probably wouldn’t even consider me a Jew, although we share the same God and read from the same Torah.
I didn’t feel ashamed, I felt sorry for this man. He didn’t have the faith or strength or manners to simply ignore or look away. It made him angry, as if I was the first “different person” he’d ever come across in Jerusalem.
It must be very hard to keep old rules and values in a modern world.
It’s ironic, as often as Jews are discriminated against; this Jew angrily discriminated against another Jew, simply because she was dressed differently.
I came from a reform background and had similar experiences as you, Michelle, which made me frustrated and annoyed. Yet, I searched and tried to understand what it was all about. Because like Michelle said, it is only the orthodox that “keep old rules and values”, and that seems to 1. Weigh heavily on their shoulders but also 2. Should give us a pause why do they put such tremendous importance and effort to support these values. Why? What is it all about?
So I went into the orthodox community, found a school that was for girls with my background and was blown away. Orthodoxy is rich, deep, passionate and so full of life. Every word has many implications, meanings and messages for our everyday lives. I realized the haphazardly way I was living could not compare to the lives of the Orthodox.
Of course there are many ways that man could have reacted to you; to not embarrass you and stir your ire, and I don’t want you to think I condone that behavior. But you nevertheless, always remember the incident and went away knowing; orthodox men do not like to see beautiful Jewish women unclothed. Why? Because every Jewish woman is like a princess connected to the King of Kings. Would you expect a princess to walk around showing her legs, arms and cleavage to any man walking around?
And the orthodox love their families. Many of the rules are set for the purpose to protect a marriage and families. A man, for instance, is not allowed to be alone with a woman (except for his wife, mother, grandmother, children and grandchildren) so that the idea of infidelity cannot even be approached. Look at the stories that people ask or talk about, so many are about adultery. Is that the way a person wants to go into a marriage to know that most likely in a few years her husband is going to have an affair?
I heard a story. There were two men who were both religious before WW2. One stayed religious and one wouldn’t have anything else to do with it. They both lived in Israel not far from each other, but a world apart. Many, many years later, they ran into each other. The religious friend told his secular friend to come to him for Shabbes. The secular friend agreed; but said he couldn’t handle a whole Shabbes, he’ll walk over during the day (they were separated by 1/2 hour walk). The religious friend waited and the other didn’t come.
After Shabbes he called his secular friend to make sure everything was alright. “I’ll tell you the truth,” said the elderly secular man to his friend, “I did come. I was walking on your street (since all your streets were closed for the holy day) and I saw families. Young families. Large families. Many children and many couples with grandparents, too. I have 2 sons, they don’t live near me, and neither one of them has given me any grandchildren yet. I knew when I left being orthodox all those years ago I was essentially giving up on my world to come (my heavenly rewards) but until today I didn’t realize I gave up on my world here too.”