Tuesday, November 01, 2005

High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 4: Hallel—a mixed blessing

Since I’m a singer by nature, I’ve always loved Hallel on a Yom Tov or on a Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, when we have time to sing all its wonderful tunes.

But I’ve found myself a bit ambivalent ever since I read an article (probably in the New York Jewish Week) lamenting that the verse from Psalm 113 that says “Moshivi akeret habayit ém habanim s’méchah, He transforms the barren wife into a glad mother of children” is cruel to women who can’t have children.

Now, whenever I do Hallel, I think of the husband and wife in my office who’ve prayed for a child for so long that they both changed their [Hebrew] names some months ago in the hope of changing their luck. Thus far, no dice.

I also I think of some of the folks from the Jewish blogosphere and the world at large who’ve tried everything they can think of to have a baby.

Fertility treatments. Surrogate motherhood, and with it, a prayer that the surrogate mother won’t change her mind and that the baby will be healthy. Adoption. (And I’m thankful that my friends were finally able to adopt a little girl.)

And I think of all the many people who would dearly love to have children, if only they were in a position to do so.

I think of the assistant to one of my bosses, now in her late twenties, still single, still hoping for an opportunity “to raise children to Toirah.”

And I think of the Wiz, also in her mid-to-late twenties, also still single despite being one of the most brilliant and patient people I know.

And of the man, described in a blog post, who watches in silent envy as his married friends dance around the synagogue on Simchat Torah with their children on their shoulders.

And the woman who described that man, who sometimes feels as if her own Shabbes candles are mocking her for lighting them while alone in her apartment, with neither children to rise up and bless her nor husband to praise her. Who lamented that she could “only wish that S[imchat] T[orah] had any joy left in it for me. This year was a misery of discomfort and unbelonging that I'm too upset to even process anywhere yet.”

I think, too, of a single counterpart of hers from the opposite coast, who feels left out of the Jewish community, “. . . mourning the single woman and the loss of Jews.”

And a woman who’s observed every—and I mean every—Jewish law there is, and now finds herself, at 35, not only never having been kissed, but facing the distinct possibility that she never will be kissed—for the rest of her life. Which is gonna make it pretty hard for her to have kids.

I think, too, of those who do have kids, but who can’t be described as entirely glad, because their families have been torn asunder, be it by death or by divorce.

And I thank Hashem for a son who gives me grief—and joy.

And for a husband who teases me to distraction—and then says the sweetest things.

I have no words of my own to offer.

But perhaps David HaMelech/King David . . .

Harofe li-sh’vorey leiv, u-m’chabeish l’atzvotam.” (Psalm 147)

May the One who heals the brokenhearted bind up your sorrows.

And may you, someday, single or married, divorced or widowed, with or without children, feel the joy of being a part of the Jewish community and be able to say, with a full heart, along with all those saying Hallel, “Ze hayom asah Hashem, nagilah v’nism’chah vo, This is the day that Hashem has made, let us rejoice and be glad on it.”


Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said...

Thanks for your compassionate post. Be glad for what you have--it sounds like you are. BTW, NJG's been kissed, but I haven't seen any "post-game" update to see how she's dealing with that choice...

Fri Nov 04, 12:56:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

You and NJG have my deepest respect for being courageous enough to combat the “myth of modern singlehood” in writing. (A few other bloggers come to mind, as well.) In my generation, we spoke of “swinging singles.” There was also that dubious euphemism, “aware” singles, a coy way of indicating singles who weren’t waiting for marriage to have sex. (As if it’s physically possible for *any* human being *not* to be aware of sexual desire.) In your generation, there’s the “Sex in the City” syndrome. It’s essentially the same thing, an attitude that assumes that single people are just “liberated” free spirits who have sex with everyone in sight. What a disgusting attitude—and how patently untrue!

You’ve written so eloquently about the social-religious consequences of being single and Jewish. I wrote a post on June 29, 2005 (http://onthefringe_jewishblog.blogspot.com/2005/06/friday-night-lights-by-esther.html#comments), commenting on your New York Jewish Week article, Friday Night Lights, "'25 hours without electricity can be an endlessly lonely time . . .'" Nobody talks about that, do they? How do single Orthodox Jews survive for the many hours during which they can't use the phone or the computer, and can't watch TV or movies, listen to radio, or play music, hours during which they have, literally, no one to talk to and nothing to watch or listen to? How many hours can one spending reading and napping on a long and rainy afternoon in the summer, when Shabbat (Sabbath) lasts past 9 PM?"

NJG has written mostly about the physical side of the equation—what it feels like to be so starved for sex, having avoided it for religious reasons from her teenage years until her present age of 35, that she’s literally contemplated suicide. People sure as *bleep* don’t talk about *that,* do they? What upset me most in reading her blog was not what *she* had to say. Though I was never shomeret negiah, I “went without” for long enough, in my single days, to know exactly what sexual starvation feels like. Therefore, I found it hard to believe that some of the male commenters were surprised to learn that a woman could have such a strong desire for sex. Apparently, some men think that women are made of stone. (I hasten to add that Dilbert reminded me, when I e-mailed him that thought, that the rabbis of old certainly *didn’t* think that way—they codified a woman’s conjugal rights in the Talmud. So this uptightness is not MiSinai.)

Singles are human beings. They have social needs. They have sexual needs, and, no matter how singles choose to deal with their sexual needs, it’s an injustice to pretend that these needs don’t exist. It’s about time the Jewish community talked about both these issues, and stopped being so unrealistic and placing the entire responsibility for living a Jewish life on the shoulders of those least in a position to do so: As you wrote, “Shabbat and holidays specifically, and Judaism as a whole, primarily provides a framework for family faith and community spirituality. Take away the family, community, neighborhood, or synagogue, and how many would still believe and observe from the core of their being? How much personal commitment comes from the desire to belong to a certain community? Why should I light candles if I find them so upsetting?"

I can’t tell you how distressed I am by the current tendency toward reducing opportunities for Jewish men and women to get together under natural circumstances. As Tuesday Wishes pointed out in my Sunday, June 19, 2005 post,
On “shidduch” dating: Whatever happened to “getting to know you?” (http://onthefringe_jewishblog.blogspot.com/2005/06/on-shidduch-dating-whatever-happened.html#comments), the shidduch system does have the advantage of ensuring that the persons being matched are seriously interested in marriage. But, on the other hand, a shidduch date can bear a rather unfortunate resemblance to a mutual interview. My husband and I knew each other for about a year before we started dating. We got to know each other by serving on synagogue committees together. We didn’t have to size up one another’s suitability for a lifetime together in three dates. Why is this sort of naturally-occurring match now *dis*couraged, rather than *en*couraged? Why does it seem that singles events and shidduch dates are just about the only ways that Jewish singles meet anymore? And why are we surprised that there are so many Jewish singles who don’t want to be single?

Sun Nov 06, 04:28:00 PM 2005  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>