Adam and Eve in the Garden of Jerusalem
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Adam and Eve in the Garden of Jerusalem

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Jerusalem

We were in an old world together, that's for sure, but not the one they expected.

by

It was difficult for my relatives, right from the start.

When did it start?

Not last week, when my daughter got married in Jerusalem. They already knew what to expect: that the men would be on one side, women on the other.

Was it back in the eighties, then, when they first heard we'd put her in an all-girl school? Or before that, in an all-girl kindergarten? Maybe it dates back to when they first found out about the religious emphasis in the educational curriculum -- morning hours, Torah studies; afternoon for secular subjects. But how will she get into a good college?

Was it when I myself got married? This is segregation, my father had murmured, pained, under his breath. It makes your mother and sisters into second-class citizens. Can't we enjoy the wedding all together, as a family?

Didn't it start back in the seventies, when I stopped wearing pants? When my hemlines got lower, my sleeves longer, when I stopped going to coed college parties? When I wouldn't eat with them at restaurants, when I first koshered one of my mother's pots, one of her pans, a single set of silverware, when I had to say no to her vegetable soup, that I'd always loved, her homemade herb bread. On Saturdays, when I wouldn't join family outings anymore, when I wouldn't turn off and on lights... The phone would ring and they'd call, "Sarah! It's for you!" I -- sitting there on my isolated Shabbat -- looking deaf and dumb, befuddled, feeling guilty for all the discomfort I was causing. Of course, it's wonderful to find out more about your heritage, but why go overboard? Can't you discover your Jewish identity without being so extreme about it? You're going back to the Old World.

*     *     *

Last week they came from America for the wedding. All the relatives -- the agnostics and the conservatives, the Orthodox and the atheists. The female rabbi, the Reconstructionist, the Federation activists, the Jews for whom Jewishness seems so irrelevant that they don't even bother to define themselves - we kept joining hands to dance. We danced and danced and danced, not for one hour or two or three or four but 'til the wee hours of the morning, men on one side, women on the other, hundreds of us, in what my mother, amazed, called "an explosion of joy that just kept exploding all night."

What was it that lifted us up off the floor like that, almost as one person? For my part, it wasn't only what any mother feels upon seeing her daughter arrive safely on the opposite shore; it was tasting the first fruits. Here was the first generation born into this way of life after the break in continuity which had occurred, in my particular family tree, two and three generations back. Here were a young woman and a young man who have grown up in a society that emphasizes not a person's desires for satisfaction but his or her responsibilities; a society that says everything he or she does in the world has meaning, and importance, in ways that transcend human understanding. And one of this society's more noticeable hallmarks, for those looking on from the side, has always been that daunting separation of men and women -- a custom which to uninvolved observers seems so oddly archaic and unnecessary as to be outrageous. Why the all-girl, all-boy schools, why those weddings and bar mitzvahs and synagogues that insist on men on one side, women on the other?

Here was Michoel with his community of beloved friends, holding hands and dancing jubilantly on their side of the mechitzah, the separation. And in another sphere, hidden from those young men's view: the unrestrained, absolutely celebratory and exultant dancing of Rachel and all her friends, with whom she's grown up, young women who were raised to find themselves not in their possessions, or their mirrors, but in their deeds; who have imbibed an understanding from their earliest days that we're each given precisely what we need, if we only have eyes to see; that we can rejoice in another person's happiness because it can't infringe on our own. It's a society in which children don't judge each other by their clothes, or their coolness, or their looks, but in which they're taught to perceive the Divine image in every face.

Mine was the joy of seeing with my own eyes what all those years had been for. All those years of mutual embarrassment, and apology for hurting the people I most love, and their subtle sense of having been repudiated by my choice. All was worth it for the two children who have never been wounded by other relationships, so that neither is afraid now of giving himself and herself whole-heartedly, extravagantly, splendidly.

We were in an old world together, that's for sure, but not the one they expected -- not the stereotyped caricature of Orthodox Jewry to which they were accustomed. We were in the old world that is forever a new world: the world that lives like a hidden oasis within all of us, the Garden of Eden, green and lush and fresh. When all is stripped away, what are we each left with? What matters?

The dream at the center of the world: a young man, and a young woman, in love for the first time.

This article is from "A Gift Passed Along:" [Artscroll]. Sarah Shapiro's most recent book is "The Mother in Our Lives" [Targum Press].

Published: September 10, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Joseph Mory, September 16, 2005 12:00 AM

Beautiful and Ispiring

BS"D

I am showing this article to my mother, when she comes visit us to New York, where me and my family moved from Guatemala, Central America, as a first stage to live this beautiful life Mrs. Shapiro talks about and who I agree with wholeheartedly.

(7) Anonymous, September 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Such a moving, stirring, magnificent article.

One could 'feel' the unbound joy that was experienced at this chasuna, moving one to tears for sheer delight. What a Kidush Shem Shomayim.

(6) Toby Katz, September 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Cousin who didn't like the mechitza at the wedding enjoyed herself after all

Subject: "Adam and Eve in the Garden of Jerusalem"

Sarah Shapiro wrote:
"Here was Michoel with his community of beloved friends, holding hands and
dancing jubilantly on their side of the mechitzah, the separation. And in
another sphere, hidden from those young men's view: the unrestrained,
absolutely celebratory and exultant dancing of Rachel and all her friends, with whom she's grown up, young women who were raised to find themselves not in their possessions, or their mirrors, but in their deeds; who have imbibed an understanding from their earliest days that we're each given precisely what
we need,....
==============

The above is from your beautiful article about your daughter's wedding, on this week's aish newsletter. It reminded me that a non-frum cousin of mine came to my brother's wedding -- daughter of my Marxist professor cousin -- and my mother put me in charge of her, since she didn't know anyone else at the wedding. She kept making snide remarks about the mechitza, separate seating etc, and since I am a very argumentative person and can debate anyone under the table, I was all ready for a fight -- except that the music was way too loud, so in lieu of argument, I just kept dragging her along with me every time I got up to dance or to greet another friend and so on. A few months later she called me up and told me she had decided to keep Shabbos because she had never had such a good time at a wedding in her life!

(5) rochel, September 12, 2005 12:00 AM

You did it again!

You did it again, Sarah Shapiro. Thank you for articulating my thoughts and emotions. I have been religious for 20 years -- thank you for capturing our similar experiences -- your articles touch my soul.

(4) Adam Neira, September 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Fun in Ganeden !

Nice story.

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