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Adonai, Open Up My Ears

During the summer of 2016, I went to Israel with my summer camp and met a man named Yehoshua, who, being male, middle-aged, Israeli, ultra-Orthodox, and a Yankees fan, was everything I wasn’t. For our visit to Meah Shearim, I swapped my usual shorts, hiking boots, and white t-shirt for a long skirt, inconspicuous black shoes, and a long-sleeve shirt that I had bought intentionally for this moment. I was excited. Having been raised in a Reform synagogue by interfaith parents, the ultra-Orthodox world was new to me; it was a part of my religion that I (and most of the other Reform and Conservative American teens on my tour) knew next to nothing about. Once we were all seated in the community’s library, we met Yehoshua, who addressed us in a long, dark gray suit, and a hat. Just when I thought that two people of the same religion couldn’t get any more different, Yehoshua began to speak.

To say the least, Yehoshua and I disagreed about many things. We disagreed about what makes someone Jewish, the ideal way to celebrate Shabbat; but most of all, we disagreed about the role of women in society. In Yehoshua’s community, women stay home. They cook, they clean, they look after the children. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with women staying home if it’s their own decision, but my perception is that these women had no choice.

Eventually, someone asked the question we had all been dying to ask: Why did the girls in our group need to change into long skirts and long-sleeved shirts while the boys dressed the same way they did every day? He matter-of-factly explained to us that men get urges when they see women’s bodies, so women need to cover themselves.

When he finished his answer, at first, no one moved, no one talked; we all just let ourselves process that thought. Men get urges when they see women’s bodies, so women need to cover themselves. Then it hit us, and the room exploded in silent fury. Men get urges so women needed to cover their bodies? To put it simply, I was furious.

“Women have urges too,” my friend said back to him.

Yehoshua responded in the same matter-of-fact tone: “No they don’t.”

No they don’t? Excuse me, sir, I’m a woman and I can attest to the fact that they most certainly do feel urges. Yehoshua further explained that maybe as secular Jews we have urges, but the righteous women in his community didn’t. He’d never asked them though. He’d never, not once, talked to a woman in his ultra-Orthodox community about this topic.

I wanted to storm Yehoshua’s house and take his young daughters away from a community that belittled them and ignored their very humanity. Instead of committing a felony and being arrested for kidnapping, I simmered in my anger, and ranted for the entire bus ride back to the youth hostel, and for much of the rest of the trip.

In retrospect, I wish I had handled this situation better. What good did my little tantrum of anger do? Nothing. Looking back on my conversation with Yehoshua, I’ve realized that I was actually being pretty closed-minded for someone who considers herself to be open-minded.

Let me digress, I’m not and will never be open to the idea that women should be anything less than equal to men. This belief isn’t what made me closed-minded in that situation, it was my reaction to Yehoshua himself. Yehoshua isn’t a bad guy; he was just raised with a completely different mindset from my own. I was raised with the belief that women are, and should be, equal to men. Yehoshua was taught otherwise.

While it’s not Yehoshua’s fault that these are the “facts” he was given, his discriminatory views are still not okay. While all people–men, women, and otherwise–are created B'tzelem Elohim, in the image of G-d, not all ideas are.

Yehoshua isn’t at fault for being given misguided information, but at the same time, I think he should still have the capacity to recognize that the way in which his society treats and views women is wrong. But I also wish I’d done more to try and dismantle his discriminatory views on women. If I could, I would go back, and I would talk to Yehoshua. I mean I would really talk to him.

Instead of being totally put off by his opinions, I would attempt to understand him better, and then try to help him understand me better.  I’d encourage him to talk to women in his community and ask them how they feel. Yehoshua isn’t a bad guy like I originally thought. Similar to me, he needs to engage with people who are different from him to expand his worldview. These are the types of conversations that I truly believe have the power to change people for the better.

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2 Comments

absolutely love this. so so beautifully written and relevant!

Love this, Natalie! Great sense of humour! 

Natalie Harder in Israel
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2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Natalie Harder (left) and friend in Israel, 2016.
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How to cite this page

Harder, Natalie. "Adonai, Open Up My Ears." 12 December 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 21, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/adonai-open-up-my-ears>.

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