Friday, October 1, 2010

"We didn't start the fire..." הפסיקו לכבות שריפות

Reading this article ע about gender dividers down Mea Shearim’s main street was frustrating for me, yet not for the obvious reasons. I’m more frustrated by the response of the seculars to this latest Khomeinization measure than I am to the actual barriers. Instead of once again “running to Mommy” to tattle and demand that “she” intervene from above in this endless quarrel, why don’t the female activists and elected officials inject some inspiration and humor into the struggle, a la the Supermarket Stripper? Instead of unproductive hand-wringing and putting out fires, why not engage in what’s sorely missing in this country: grassroots activism and civil disobedience? For example, the female activists could have done one or more of the following:

1. Gone to the site in the dead of night and silently removed the fabric from the barrier
2. Strolled up and down the divided street dressed in their usual garb
3. Strolled up and down the street dressed in swimsuits
4. Strolled up and down the street dressed in swimsuits, reciting tehilim [Psalms]
5. Gotten a bunch of male friends to dress as women and stroll up and down the street, reciting Psalms, or not

Get the idea? And if approached by police or residents, say they’re not violating any law. Same goes for the mehadrin [gender-separate] buses. Why not:

1. Board the bus wearing swimsuits?
2. Get a bunch of males dressed in women’s clothing to board and insist on sitting in the back?
3. If approached, respond by quoting a Psalm?

Or as I suggested in a previous post on the “battle for Kiryat Yovel”, instead of fighting the zoning-defying minyan [prayer quorum], go join them: Send a delegation of 50 non-Orthodox men to the home in question, who announce upon entering, “We heard there’s a minyan here. We want to pray.”

Road closed on the Sabbath because the city bowed to Orthodox pressure? No problem: Recruit a dozen swimsuit-wearing folks to stroll up and down it just as folks are going to or coming from shul. Too cold for swimwear? Then wear your usual garb and sing songs from the Bible.

In other words, turn the situation on its head. Challenge assumptions. Demonstrate to the public the absurdity of these situations. Secular activists, are you listening?

Segueing onto the topic of secular values, I’m reading ארבעה בתים וגעגוע by Eshkol Nevó (I believe the English title is Homesick). In it, a man tries to persuade his wife to enroll their son in the (low-low priced, extended-day) Orthodox preschool. He asks her, “What’s wrong with him learning a little Judaism? A few values?” This is an oft-heard question posed by the Orthodox when trying to persuade Jewish parents to enroll their children in Orthodox schools. After all, who would oppose their kids having values? But it got me to thinking: Why are values so inextricably associated with mitzva observance? Why can’t / don’t us non-Orthodox seem to be able to pass on humanist values to our kids?

I believe the answer is that progressive, liberal people, both Jewish and otherwise, tend to be so concerned with tolerance and pluralism that they forget to actually talk to their kids about these values; they figure they’re living them, so their kids will simply…what? Absorb it all by osmosis? It’s time for us liberal parents to take a leaf from the right-wing parents’ books and start talking at home, to our children. We don’t have to preach, and we don’t have to trash anyone; all we have to do is comment on any current news item and ask our kids what they think. Get a conversation started, and don’t be afraid to let your kids hear your opinion.

If you’re ambivalent about an issue, say so: “The occupation is unjust, but I can’t see ending it without a civil war. How would you propose we end it?” There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that every solution creates new challenges. How else will we raise a generation of problem-solvers? Even kids in the primary grades can learn the lexicon: “occupation”; “settlements”, and “territories” can be explained at their level. These are not dirty words, and there’s no reason to avoid using these terms in everyday conversation; our kids should hear us utter them: After all, in right-wing households, the kids regularly hear about building the Greater Land of Israel and expanding the settlements being God’s mandate. So why are we uncomforable talking to our kids about speaking out against oppression and injustice being committed in our names?

I once overheard an atheist mom twisting herself into a pretzel trying to answer her child’s question: “What’s God? Do we believe in God?” She was trying to walk the tightrope of political correctness with a three-year-old! And we are all That Mom: We’re so fearful of being politically incorrect that we forget to pass on our (humanist) values to our kids.

Guess what? Our kids will not absorb these by osmosis like they (unfortunately) absorb every jingle, commercial, and hit song plugged into their brains via their music players. That stuff is candy; we need to feed them vegetables. We’re not talking force-feeding; just arrange the nutritious stuff attractively on a plate and set it out where they can easily get to it. They’ll bite.

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