Sunday, March 14, 2010

את דתית? - Are you religious?

Coming at you live from Aroma (Israel's #1 coffee chain) in Kanyon Hadar, the mall across the street from Pardes. I've designated 12pm-1pm on Sundays and Wednesdays as class-free, an hour off - which, as all of you camp people know, is for iced coffee and checking email.

Once a week, I volunteer in an absorption center for Ethiopian immigrants (olim) in Mevasseret Zion, a small city not so far from Jerusalem. The families live in the absorption center (mercaz klitah) for 2 years after arriving in Israel. Several Pardes students go every Tuesday afternoon and spend time with the families and the kids there. My family has 5 kids, 4 of whom live at home - Isubalo (11), Tadla (8), Haftamo (3), and an infant. The Ethiopian community in Israel has not been well-absorbed into Israeli society - even after leaving absorption centers, they still live in relatively close-knit and isolated communities. They are poor and the adults speak very little Hebrew. Upon arrival in Israel, the Ethiopians were forced to undergo conversion, because their halachic Jewish status was questioned. Conversion in Israel is controlled by the rabbanut, the state rabbinic authority (and is currently in the news a lot) - those who convert in Israel are required to maintain a certain level of Jewish observance. As a result, the kids in the Ethiopian community in Mevasseret attend religious schools.

This past Tuesday, we took our kids outside to play, to the delight of every other child in the neighborhood, who couldn't wait to play with our jump rope, climb on the human jungle gyms, and ask us a million questions about where we were from, what we were doing there, and if we were coming back next week. Shira (another Pardes student volunteering there) and I were sitting on the curb chatting, when three older girls, probably around 13 or so, walked up and started to ask us the same million questions. With one new question: את דתית? (Are you religious?) I was wearing a skirt, which probably prompted the question. It's a tricky question to answer here. The word "דתי" isn't just an adjective, but a label that corresponds most closely with modern Orthodox. Particularly for these kids in the absorption center, where B'nei Akiva, the religious Zionist youth movement, has a significant presence, "religious" has a very particular social meaning. The kids hadn't heard of Reform Judaism, despite the fact that there is a vibrant Progressive synagogue in Mevasseret Zion, that I visited a few weeks ago for Shabbat with Shir Tikva.

It's a common question, especially when I tell Israelis that I'm studying Talmud and Torah at Pardes. I've been asked it when sitting in a bar on a Friday night (not usually the favorite stomping ground of the religious). Adult Israelis (as opposed to teen girls in the absorption center) have usually at least HEARD of Reform Judaism (reformim as they're called here), but are less likely to have some knowledge of what it means when I say that I'm a Reform Jew.

Breaking down religious stereotypes since 1986...

Today is our last normal class day until after Pesach - tomorrow we have a day of classes about Pesach (including a showing of The Prince of Egypt!), and then it's vacation! Vacation plans include a trip to the Golan Heights with Pardes, a long weekend in Turkey with Benn, seder, visitors from Boston, and some traveling around Israel. It's definitely spring here in Jerusalem: trees are green and blooming, the weather is significantly warmer (already hit high 80s!), and it smells like flowers everywhere. When I tried to buy cake mix last week to bake a birthday cake for a friend, I failed at the first grocery store I went to - they had already cleared out the chametz from several of their aisles, replacing it with kosher for Passover cake mix - gross!

1 comment:

  1. One day walking around gan hapaamon in my cargo shorts, tshirt, and baseball cap, I got "ben o bat?" from someone who looked to be 30 yrs old. Some questions are easier to answer than others....