Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Kislev 5764 - December 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

SomeOne is Helping You to Walk
a (true?) story by A. Lapid

Part One

Round the Latke Platter

Something very domestic hovered in the atmosphere of the tiny shared kitchenette.

Deganit was sitting by the wooden table, peeling potatoes. Sharon read the list of ingredients over and over again, including the directions for preparation written on the small notepaper which her upstairs neighbor, Rivka, had jotted down for her.

"Are you sure this is going to come out decent?" she asked doubtfully, frowning.

"What could go wrong?" answered Deganit, adding another peeled potato to the growing pile beside her. "My grandmother always made latkes for Chanuka. As a girl, I used to put a small stool next to her and would stand and watch her making them."

Ofra organized all the ingredients on the marble counter. "Does this dorm apartment perhaps have a grater to grate these or will we end up having a simple supper of mashed potatoes, after all?"

Drawer after drawer was opened. The contents of the kitchen cabinets were carefully examined and finally, Sharon ended up going to Rivka to borrow a suitable grater.

"She wished us luck and reminded us to leave one over for her to taste," said Sharon, proudly standing up the grater near the frying pan. She now took out two tomatoes and two cucumbers from the old fridge and asked Orly to prepare a salad.

"If you've already come to visit our humble abode," laughed Sharon, "you might as well make yourself at home and lend a hand."

The candle flame danced upon the window sill on the metal Menora, actively participating in the bustle. The girls poured some oil into the large frying pan. The smell began spreading through the room, a warm, inviting fragrance.

They shared an apartment that belonged to the seminary for Jewish studies. Several other such apartments were scattered in nearby buildings, loosely related to the human landscape in this Jerusalemite neighborhood. In this setting, they took their first steps, hesitant or decisive, simple or more complex.

The walls in this apartment absorbed soul-searching talks, difficulties and deliberations, were witnesses to moments of closeness, or of alienation. They registered the tears of pain and of joy. And they took leave of those who went onward to establish their own homes.

Orly was now sitting with them. She laid the knife down on the wooden cutting board and spoke emotionally, accompanying her words with expressive hand motions.

Deganit stood with her back to her, briskly stirring the mixture in the bowl, turning the latkes that had browned, and listening carefully to every word.

"D'you understand?" Orly looked into Sharon's understanding eyes. "The seminar was like an electric shock for me. I went there just out of curiosity, for the experience, like someone goes to Mexico or Costa Rica, like I traveled to India two years ago. Like I've always loved to search and discover the taste of newness, of experimenting with, oh, life.

"A little bird whispered to me in my heart that this time it would be different. Something would be demanded of me from all this business. Maybe, that's why in my subconcious I kept on putting off Deganit's invitations for three years. Three years! Can you believe it?" she explained to Sharon. Deganit smiled at the latkes, listening on the sidelines.

"Deganit has been pursuing me for three years. The truth is that she's not the only one after me. When she used to come to Haifa, to her parents, I always hopped over. Something bound us together since childhood.

"At first, I came to see what was happening to her. Perhaps she'd gone off her rocker. Later, when I realized this was so," she chuckled, "I came to try to shake these crazy ideas out of her head. When I realized it was futile, I still continued to visit. You know, out of curiosity, to see what was so appealing about that medieval nonsense, this so uninviting way of life. What had caused her to get up and leave everything, to defy us all and go suffer the slings and arrows of abuse from her society.

"She didn't have it bad, before. I can testify to that. So why, out of the blue, did she choose this way? Deganit tried to explain to me, to convince me, even to proselytize. She would sometimes preach for hours about these lofty ideas. I felt she was being swept up by some kind of strong current, but she was not succeeding in drawing me along.

"From time to time, when she would give up on me and any receptiveness she hoped I had, she would say: `You know what, Orly? I'm a bit weak in explanations. I'm not yet ready for all of your attacks. It's not so long ago that I was in your shoes, on your side of the fence. I haven't yet acquired a sophisticated defense line. Go to a seminar! There, they'll explain everything to you. They won't leave you hanging with unsolved problems or unanswered questions. Go! If you're so convinced of your own viewpoint, what difference will it make?'

"`O.K.' I answered her, as everyone had taught me to say. `Those seminars have brainwashing experts. They can't possibly have real substantial proofs and arguments.' Then, finally, last month I gave in. I was at loose ends at the time. I had just returned from a serious trip abroad and hadn't begun my studies at university yet.

"The timing was ripe, just perfect," she winked at Deganit who was preoccupied with her bowl as if she were out of the picture. "I had the free time and she was able to convince me how boring life was just then. So I went..."

"My parents are always telling me to go and learn something specific, something organized, with a goal and a future. I agree that this is important for the long range. Enough of playing around, of my half-baked attempts in such a wide area of interests, my pursuit of passing whims, occasional jobs, general drifting...

"But believe me, if I had known that that was how they would talk there, in the seminar, I would never have gone!"

Orly seemed perturbed as she continued her monologue, "Now I am facing a real dilemma. My protective walls have come tumbling down, one after the other, like a house of cards. I was always a sincere, truth-loving person. And I can't help admitting -- they are right! Whoever tried to convince me -- was simply right in every single word, every sentence.

"At some point, I regret it. Why did I have to know everything? I had it good before, too, or, at least, pretty good. There are always some tight spots, difficult moments when you confront your own self and wonder where this crazy world is running to. But in general, I didn't have it bad in life. So why did I have to rack my brain to discover that there exists an absolute truth that obligates me to turn my whole life upside down?"

Sharon and Deganit remained silent. They began eating their latkes. Orly was too overwrought to be able to listen. They let her continue.

"What am I doing here now? To be honest, I know this is the truth, but I don't have the strength to change. To be more honest, I'm lacking the courage. My parents don't know a thing. When I came home after the seminar, they thought I had been visiting by a friend. I haven't been sleeping for many nights. I have no one to talk to. There may be lots of people around me, but I don't know of a single person to whom I can talk without fearing that they'll swallow me alive with all my weird ideas.

"What's going to be? I'm afraid of doing teshuva.

"Tell me, Deganit, can one keep mitzvos without doing teshuva?"

"Why not?" said Deganit, smiling inwardly. "If that's how you feel like defining it, go right ahead."

"I've already reached the understanding that I must begin keeping mitzvot. I can't just keep living my life as a lie."

"So you don't want the label of baalat teshuva stuck to you," Sharon summed up for her, understandingly. "Why don't you stay here overnight? We have an extra bed."

"Could I?" Orly had been waiting for such an invitation but had been afraid to suggest it herself.

"Oh, it's quite accepted to have overnight guests. Tomorrow you can go and speak to Rabbi Levine and he'll decide what's best."

"I don't want to have anything to do with rabbis any more!" Orly reacted, laughing at this pronouncement. "At this rate, I'll be going home tomorrow with a skirt down to the floor and sleeves to my wrists. My mother is liable to have a fit! Enough! I'm staying here overnight, but tomorrow I'm going home. And that's final!"

"Say `bli nedder'," said Ofra, who entered the kitchen just then.

To be continued...


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