THE FOLLOWING IS A GUEST POST BY NOTED AUTHOR AND EDUCATOR YAEL UNTERMAN
I heard Yael Unterman speak about her book a few months ago and found her narratives to be captivating, intelligent and insightful. Yael Unterman is a lecturer, author and creative Torah teacher. Her first book, Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar was a finalist in the 2009 National Jewish Book Awards. Her second book, The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love & Longing, was published in 2014. Her website is www.yaelunterman.com Enjoy!
In my book "The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love and Longing”, I spin tales of Jewish women and men who are lacking and searching (as do most of us who have any kind of pulse). These seekers of mine are Orthodox. One might suppose that Orthodoxy pushes in the opposite direction, requiring conformity and simple faith, but for me it is here that some of the most interesting and fruitful tensions arise between the old world and the new, forcing me willy-nilly to encounter the clash of values and make personal existential decisions born out of that encounter.
The second story in my book, “Species”, tells of Hannah, a 30-year-old single teetering on the brink of changes in her life. Tired of being boxed in by matchmakers and society, of feeling weak, she is crossing various red lines and feeling increasingly attracted to feminism. When she goes to stay on a modern Orthodox kibbutz for Succot, she takes her set of arba minim (the four species waved at Succot) to shul, loving the mitzvah, the smell and the feel of the plants. Standing in the women’s section, she notices she is the only one with a set, and is saddened by the fact that she does not have women’s companionship in this mitzvah. As she shakes the set with gusto and sings the Hallel, she wonders if she stands out, and whether it is arrogant to be the only woman there with a set.
At that moment, something rather dramatic occurs. An etrog is hurled over the partition at her, followed by another and another, and then the men start yelling and cursing and lobbing more and more diverse items at her, joined by the women. In the midst of this mayhem, the rabbi seems most concerned to get back to the orderly prayer service. Finally, Hannah, battered and bruised, picks up her lulav and begins swinging back, inspired by the feminist cause, and shouting that she is not doing anything wrong, on the contrary this is a mitzvah. At the same time, she calls out to her attackers to stop, to see her, to accept her and give her support. She does not want to be the outsider – single, feminist, other – she craves the love and acceptance of the community.
I leave the story’s end to readers to discover. But I will share that when I read this story out at a book launch in a private house in London, it created much heated discussion in the crowd, touching a nerve for people around the issue of feminism and singleness, bringing live issues to the fore. For me, the most poignant and personal issue might be the desire of the marginal character to be accepted fully by the community, and the community's inability to do so.
I ended the evening by reading this piece penned by my friend and fellow author Ruchama King Feuerman. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/143085/sukkot-and-the-single-woman . I think that this piece completes Hannah’s journey better than she is able to herself. Where Hannah dreams of a better world, Ruchama gets up and makes one.
And as a positive postscript - a friend informed me that in the shul in the Gush Etzion settlement of Alon Shvut, there are now many women who bring their own sets of arba minim to shake. As a person who has been buying her own set for many years in order to carry out one of the most beautiful mitzvot of the year, I am happy to hear this. True, we can borrow a set from the menfolk around us - but we don't borrow a siddur, chumash, or hannukiya, we buy one and cherish it... every individual's connection to G-d should be his or her own, not a borrowed one.
Thus we see that the 'species' that is Orthodox woman is, indeed, ever evolving and changing, and with it the community, I have no doubt. Chag Sameach.
Yael Unterman is a lecturer, author and creative Torah teacher. Her first book, Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar was a finalist in the 2009 National Jewish Book Awards. Her second book, The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love & Longing, was published in 2014. Her website is www.yaelunterman.com