Friday, October 12, 2007

Vicarious identity

You sometimes learn more about yourself from what you don't feel.

Several months ago relatives invited us to a Bat Mitzvah celebration for their youngest on their (secular) Kibbutz. I had recently started experimenting off-and-on with wearing a bandanna as headcovering, and I decided I would wear it to the Bat Mitzvah. When we arrived, our hostess told us that she had arranged Kosher food for us and for the few other guests who kept Kosher. She had asked a friend who lives on a nearby Haredi Moshav to prepare the food. We ended up sitting with this friend at the dinner, to make it easier to share the nice food she brought.

I appreciated that our hostess looked after us in this way and that her friend was willing to prepare so much food for the people who keep Kosher. I enjoyed chatting with her and with some women at the table next to us. We were glad to be able to offer her a ride home, although it took some accommodating to make it work.

Afterwards, I realized – I had felt comfortable, and non-defensive. I wouldn’t even have realized that I usually feel defensive, until I had this experience. Ordinarily I might have made religious references or felt judged by our table mate because I didn't wear Kisui Rosh. It was as though I used to have to say "hey, I'm religious too!" When I wore Kisui Rosh, I didn’t have to do that. I was automatically identifiable as a religious married woman. I liked that! I felt freed to focus on being sociable, rather than on my own discomfort.

It was always important to me for some reason that people know that we were observant. If I was with my sons, I could automatically be tagged as religious, since they wear Kippot. But I never felt right about being vicariously identified as religious. Experiencing Mitzvot vicariously has never appealed to me. I love leading prayer services and reading Torah. I am bothered when I am in situations in which I'm barred from full participation and have to experience a Mitzvah through men. But my public religious identity was always established vicariously, through my sons or occasionally my husband. Now I identify myself wherever I go, and it feels good. If my sons wear baseball caps to keep the Israeli sun off their faces, it's ok. I don't need them anymore to show that we are a religious family. I can take care of that myself.

It surprised me, but wearing Kisui Rosh has been empowering in this way.

Postscript from several weeks later: My neighbor died several days ago, and some of us neighbors organized to make meals for the Shiva. Since the daughter is very frum, we consulted with her as to her Kashrut requirements. She said that as long as the people cooking keep a Kosher home, then she will eat food prepared from Badatz ingredients. I was happy to be able to help in this way, and it pleased me to know that she would not be nervous about my home's Kashrut. On the one hand, my home is no more or less Kosher than it was when I didn’t cover my hair. It seems silly to be focused on the outer symbol that – in my case, anyway – doesn't indicate anything about our Kashrut. But on the other hand, I certainly don't want someone in Aveilut to be worrying about the Kashrut of the food provided to them.

It was a new experience for me, having someone who doesn't know me understand that my kitchen is Kosher. Ordinarily I might have felt defensive when cooking for someone frum or bringing a potluck to a gathering with frum people, etc. I would wonder if they trusted my Kashrut and feel irritated if they didn't. I was so used to feeling defensive that I didn't even notice I felt that way. It felt liberating to *not* feel that defensiveness. I liked that feeling.

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Ciel said...
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