Two sharks and the Haredim

Well, the reason my previous post sat unpublished for days, was 1) “Cookie’s” dental appointment, 2) my Autistic son being so enthusiastic about our new bead templates and 3) me having decided that enough is enough, the book I have struggled getting through, had to get finished once and for all.

As I suspected, there was to be gnashing of teeth, after the dental appointment. It didn’t take very long for the dentist to get the rubbler bands in, even if there were a couple of mishaps, thanks to it being so crowded in “Cookie’s” mouth. But on our way out, she started to complain about how much it hurt, how all the teeth felt lose and that she absolutely needed an ice-cream. After twice asking “Gubby” if he did not want one, that was all I heard for the next three hours! I don’t usually loose patience with him, but let’s say, I was upset with her for planting the idea in his head in the first place, and his nagging, which is an unusual thing, was driving me insane. He did not complain at all about the walking, but as soon as we got in to the book shop, to look for a mini binder, he was bored. I did not enjoy buying acid plastic page protectors, but there was nothing else to be had. So the photos, the pages and the binder will be alright, but stickers and page protectors might spoil the entire project! As a trained archivist, this hurts! It makes my skin crawl as much as it does watching Simon Shama, and other historians, sit and look in books from the Middle Ages, without cotton gloves on! You destroy things with the oil and acid in your skin and when making things that you want to last, you really need to use acid free products. But I had no choice. So, unhappy, I walked out of the book shop, having spent more money than I had planned to.

We moved on to the craft shop, and now the ice-cream nagging really hit the roof. I tried to make “Gubby” think of the funny bead projects we could make instead, but forget it mamma, temporary satisfaction is all that counts when one is five years old! They had a sale on, and I ended up not only getting the expensive square bead templates, but also scrapbooking papers, stickers and cut outs, for decorating “Gubby’s” little album. I keep reminding myself that it needs to be simple for me to finish it quickly. Can a perfectionist like myself really keep anything simple? It is going to be a gigantic test, that is for sure. I haven’t even sent for the photos yet!!! Since that bill also came up to more than what I had expected, I was in a foul mood when I walked out with my two nagging children. We next passed the ice-cream place, which sells the nicest ice-cream in town. It being a chocolaterie, they of course dip the soft ice-cream in the best chocolate among other things. But they also charge an arm and a leg for it. And suddenly, I just felt: NO! I went in to a convenient shop beside, instead, and grabbed the cheapest ice-cream I could find, which happens to be “Gubby’s” favourite. An ice-cream sandwich. He is content with whatever, as long as it is ice-cream and his taste buds are not that sophisticated, so why waste the money? But “Cookie” was an entirely different story. She did not want that sort of ice-cream so I informed her that if she got an expensive ice-cream, that day, there would be none next week, when they put on the “railway tracks”. She solemnly informed me that she will wait till next week. That time, the appointment is for two hours, so an ice-cream will be needed.

Content, “Gubby” walked out as happy as can be. But boy had time flown by. I started suspecting that my husband would soon arrive at the train station and why not give him a lift home? But he was stuck on the tracks in the middle of a field somewhere. So we walked in to a pen-shop, founded by University students, just to kill time. “Cookie” has begged for a pencil with 1,3 lead, in other words, really thick, and if anyone was going to have a pencil like that, this was the place. They had it. While I looked around at all pens, beautiful Italian stationary, Tintin items… I let “Gubby” sit by a table and use these amazing colouring pencils. They cost too much for me to buy, but they are wonderful. Really chubby and the crayon itself is so smooth and really covering the paper. Of course, “Cookie” had to tease him and draw monsters, because one can’t just be nice to one’s sweet little brother can one? Making the entire experience a nasty one for at least two of us, but I managed to walk out of there with beautiful Italian cards, with ladies in 1931 fashion on them, and being even more mad at myself for having spent money I really should not have spent in the first place!

We walked to the car and saw the hideous amount, I had to pay for parking. And soon we were joined by T. so that we could finally get home. They all went swimming, while I tried to quickly move all beads from one template to the new ones. As soon as they came home from the pool, “Gubby” of course wanted to finish the shark. Even though my Hypothyroidism told me that I should go to bed, because I was exhausted both mentally and physically. He was excited over the shark, and wanted me to help him make an octopus next, but I had to tell him that we should go sleep instead. I really felt like a party pooper, but what does one do when one can hardly keep one’s eyes open? D. came and told me that I am a “partygooba”. The new family word! I tried to make “Gubby” call D. a party pooper last week, when he did not want to join us and see a film, but prefered his stupid war game on the computer. “Gubby” did not understand the word of course and what came out was, “party gooba” which for my poor speller of husband, came out as Swedish word “partygubbe”. A man who parties. So now, it has become the word most used in the house. “Dollie” is a partygooba because she doesn’t load the dishwasher, “Gubby” is a partygooba because he refuses to eat the edges on sandwiches…

imageThe next morning, I decided to spend time with my sweetie, since “Cookie” was a partygooba and did not want to help him make an octopus nor get off the computer and help us iron our images. He had me show him how to make a blue octopus, meaning I have to take out as many beads that he needs for every row, and point where they go, because the pattern are not too user-friendly for children. Then he made a big orca or whale, difficult to determine the species there, which took almost two hours to make. By now I was pooped, but he was not! He also wanted me to help him with a jellyfish and finally we made a big red mini-bus to symbolize our red Toyota bus. The entire day was in other words spent, sitting making these bead projects! (Apart from spending the morning at BUP, but that will make another post!) Think that sitting making these bead things can make you so exhausted. It gave me a migraine so I was wasted that evening. But “Gubby” was so pleased and proud of the things he had made.

My little shark, decided to also sit and make bead things, which made a nice change, since she nowadays just plant herself in front of the computer to watch silly TV-programs. Maybe I should start calling “Cookie” for “Sharky” instead, since she is so snappy and have double rows of teeth at the bottom? No, that would be mean, but she is a handful at present. She would not help her brother with his bead projects and spare her mother’s head, but went upstairs and hid, making lots of different octopuses in different colours. Nice though, that all of the children can have fun with this and the pattern books. I did think that she would sit engrossed in the books I bought her though, for the summer holidays. For Easter I bought her “Cinder” and “Cress” and for summer, “Scarlet” (Marissa Meyer book series), so there is absolutely no excuse for sitting on the computer, saying she has nothing to do.

Yesterday, I just felt tired and depressed and I decided to make a dent in the book I have been reading over the past three weeks. For years, I have been under the impression that it would be a really good book. When I studied Judaism in the Religion History department, at the University, our professor, taught the Middle Ages part. She taught Kabbalah, something none of us understood, and I am not sure, why she recommended us to read this book about the ultra-orthodox by Samuel Heilman. Perhaps because it had just arrived to Swedish book shops? Or because she had just read it? Or because she did not have the time to touch this aspect of Judaism? I bought it, in other words, in 1994, but with all course literature, and the horrible task of learning the basics of Kabbalah for the exam, I never had the time to even open the book. The book has just been sitting there and now and then, I have been tempted to pick it up, but then it has just felt too overwhelming somehow. I was right, that it is an overwhelming book. But why?

The first time I heard about Eastern European Jewry, was in 1981 when Isaac B. Singer had won the Nobel Prize. My mum’s book club, sent her a book she did not want, by him. She only wanted the encyclopedias, that were included with every third package. The only one who took interest in the book, was me. One summer, I sat down with it, and was totally engrossed in this entirely foreign world to me. I had never read anything like it. The smells of pre-war Poland, the streets, the Jewish people with their wife wigs and easy divorces, their vices, their studies, all came alive in Singer’s words. What a story-teller.

Isaac B. Singer’s world, including the story “Yentl” filmed with Barbara Streisand, together with the experience of living in Northern London, near Golders Green, having orthodox Jews as neighbours, and watching films like “Winds of War”, “The Holocaust”, “Schindler’s List” and reading survivor stories, have just made me more and more fascinated in the phenomena of Haredim or the Ultra-orthodox. Just like the Amish, few people really understand what they are all about. And I have been drawn to both like a magnet for years. One thing, as I mentioned above, is the fact that I even studied 20 points of Judaism at the University for the simple fact, that I was fascinated by everything surrounding the orthodox. I say Orthodox now, since in my view, not only the fanatics, are interesting.

After all Yeshuà (Jesus real name, his Hebrew name), the founder of Christianity, came out of all this. He studied the Torah, he lived the commandments, he celebrated all the holidays, he had a Bar Mitzvah. How can one not be interested in it? And like I said to the children in my Sunday school class, two weeks ago, when I taught them about Moses and how he received the ten commandments on Mount Sinai, “People might not realize this today or think about it, but in every Christian country in the world, the ten commandments are the ones that rule their countries. They are part of the law. You are not allowed to steal, murder, lie in a court of law or in business… or you will end up in prison. And is it not every parent’s goal, that their children should listen to them, obey them and head to their advice?”

14 weeks ago, I happened to stumble in on a new TV-series, on a TV-channel we have not had for years. Suddenly the channel is back and this was the first episode. I was stuck and hooked from moment one. The series is one set in Israel, Jerusalem to be precise, and takes place in the ultra-orthodox parts of the city. It’s all about this family called “Shtisel”, which is also the name of the series.  Their problems all relate to their religion but not all together. Some things are universal, whatever your religion or your country. Every Wednesday, I have been parked in front of the TV-screen at 20:00 for eleven weeks. The final episode, was to be shown on the day D. graduated. “Dollie” insisted we watch a film (“Toystory”), all of us together, and the film was not over at 20:00. But I knew one could watch “Shtisel” on Play, so I did not get overly upset. Sure, I had looked forward to the final episode and to see if it had a happy ending. Sure, I had been REALLY excited about seeing it, expecting a romantic happy ending. But my family was more important. While I was waiting for the final episode, I picked up the book from 1994 (copyright 1992) , to try to figure out more about the Shtisels. But so much was going on, that I did not make a lot of headway with it.

Then the second disappointment came. There was so much happening, that I did not get to sit down on the computer and watch the final episode, the following day,  but my children have told me that when one miss an episode of something, one can watch it up to a month later. So a week after it was broadcast, I went in on the channel’s site, when things had finally calmed down a little bit, and I could relax doing nothing but enjoy. Only to discover that it was not there. They had shown some re-runs of it, on TV, during the week at insane times, but now a week later, it was all taken away from the channel’s internet list of old programs one could watch. I surfed the internet like crazy, but nowhere could I find a place where I could watch the final episode! Upset, I went to internet shops selling DVDs. The Swedish ones did not have the series at all. Probably never will because it is a not a much watched channel. And Amazon, who first sold the series for 30+ pounds, and then brought the price down to 17 pounds, now had raised the price to 23.40 pounds. I felt VERY upset and VERY depressed. I did not have a penny to my name for all of last week so it was out of the question to order it and now when I have, it is taking forever to arrive. But I had the book didn’t I? A piece of Shtisel! Or is it?

If “Shtisel” had been anything like the book’s haredim, not a single person would have watched the series, nor would they have loved it as I did. Because from what I have read on the internet, people have loved it everywhere. That says a lot. But the people encountered in the book I just read are not the least likeable. imageIn my religion, we are taught that we must love all human beings because they are all sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. We are all siblings, as spiritual children of his. We might not get along with every human being, because we all have different personalities and we do not have to love the actions of others, but we must love them for who they are. But, when you read a book like this, you get a bad taste in your mouth for several reasons.

First of all, it was not a well written book. There are people who can write and there are those who can’t. The ones who can, realize that you need to capture your audience, to keep it. Noone likes to read a book which takes months to finish, because it is so complicated in its structure and so boring you can’t stay awake. The author of this book might have improved with age? He wrote it in 1992 so he has had 22 years to learn by his mistakes. Also, he might not had me as his target audience. It might have been his professors, his colleagues or his students? Students of anthropology or what we here in Sweden, would call ethnology.

But if this was supposed to be an ethnological study like the ones I read, when I studied it, at University, he failed. Which is the second bad thing about the book. He did not really ask the interesting questions. He did not really get to the root of them, in my view. What he looked at was just the surface things really, and maybe that is why the book was so boring? Where were the questions about faith? REAL faith, not the show performed to create unity, or the so-called faith built on tradition but just being boring routine to everyone involved except in perhaps a few, very few cases. To just do things because one’s ancestors did it 200 years ago in Poland and be dressed in black, because one thinks they did so out of purpose but it only meaning that they were poor, does not make one have the right heart nor does it make one interesting to study. And why did the man not send a co-worker in to talk to the women so he could get true answers from them, instead of just tiptoeing around taboo subjects, the women not being able to answer him because he was taboo in himself, being a MAN. In a Haredi society, to go in and study it as a man, well you are just going to get half the truth in the first place. And then the study really is pointless.

In my Judaism studies, I was taught that Jews believe that God does not waste words. He doesn’t say a word too many, in the Bible, nor too few. He only used the words needed to say something and that is it. I wish that Heilman had followed this concept as well. To sit and read page after page, how he slowly moves through a room, having to push himself here and there, with a glass of grape juice, to drink it with the rebbe. It’s worse than Valium. Yes, in a way, he brings us there and lets us go through and see exactly what he saw and experienced. But it can become too much. And it did, over and over in the book’s 363 pages.

My final problem with the book is the fact mentioned above. How it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t say that I belong to a minority religion, since millions belong to it, BUT in Sweden at least, our numbers do not count millions. The thing which we are taught is love for thy neighbour and with love comes tolerance right? I live in a country which on the paper, has religious freedom. But in reality? No! You are not supposed to be religious at all. Religious freedom in  Sweden means being an atheist and having the right to be so. The odd people are the ones who believe in God, go to church and have commitments there, who live according to certain religious laws foreign to society, like keeping the Sabbath day holy at all times, not having sex before or outside marriage, not drinking alcohol and so on. As a religious person myself, in a secular country, all I ask for is to be left alone. To be allowed to keep my faith and follow the rules of my religion without interference from others, since they do not break the country’s laws. As a religious person, I also accept that others will not believe in the same things as I do. My religion is a firm believer in free agency and the free will. I do not condemn those who do not believe in anything, nor do I condemn those who believe in another God or gods. But I do expect other believers to give me the same courtesy.

That is where this book’s theme is offensive. I have lived in Jewish families and let us say, that it was not an all together pleasant experience. Quite the contrary. Who wants to be treated as a second-rate person? Not me. I have a very difficult time with the “we are better than everyone else” attitude. I am not going to sit and argue about doctrine here but our Heavenly Father loves all his children equally much. He doesn’t have favourites. Parents are not allowed to have such. That constitutes a bad parent and Heavenly Father is not a bad parent. In the New Testament, that the Jewish people do not believe in, Yeshuà is trying to show his Jewish disciples, that even though he is their master, their rebbe, and as such, in one way more important than anyone of them, noone is more important than another person. To think so is really, really against the will of God. He wants humility. I taught the children that lesson in Sunday school, last Sunday. How Moses was told to make a copper snake for the people to look at, when stung by snakes and scorpions, in order to be healed. As they were healed by watching that snake, on a pole, so are we healed by looking at the crucified Yeshuà. The children of Israel was tested for 40 years, because they lacked humility. And when Yeshuà, at Passover, tied a towel around his waste and kneeled down to wash his disciples dirty, smelly feet, he was trying to show us the correct way of acting towards our fellow human beings. The right attitude.

The ultra-orthodox, who Heilman describes in his book, written 22 years ago, so some information of course is dated, are haughty, far from humble, non-tolerant and show extreme better-than-though attitudes. They even spit at religious Jews who do not dress in black and white, who go to University and who have ordinary jobs. They count everyone as gentiles or goyim, basically, who are not haredim. 363 pages of that was way too much to handle. To be that judgemental and say that everyone else is evil. It just is not right. The ones who should be the least judgmental in the world, ought to be the deeply religious since they know that slander and gossip is bad and that the only one who has the right to judge is God himself! That is what the scriptures tell us over and over again, since it seems that man’s deepest fault is to judge others!!!

As a woman, I of course was the most interested in the women. But there is a big lack of women in the book since among the ultra-orthodox, as among the Muslims, women are all together evil since they make men think about sex. What does that say about men? Who are the evil ones here? You can’t blame someone else for you not being able to control yourself and your thoughts! You can’t say to a police officer, after speeding, that all the other cars around you made you do it, because they were driving faster than the speed limit. We are all accountable for our OWN sins and can’t drag other people in to the equation! How can these Haredi have missed that part in the Torah? But they have missed it alright. Women are supposed to stay out of sight as to not tempt the men and therefore they are basically out of sight in the book as well. And when they are mentioned, like in the chapter about sex, they are no better than their husbands. Because as ignorant as they are, knowing nothing at all about the world outside them, and when encountered with it, they don’t understand it, they pass judgement on all women who are not haredim. We are all sex maniacs who think of nothing else but that and who will do it all the time and with whoever. According to the haredi men, we do nothing but have sex at University, all of us.

To me, who belong to a religion, who does not allow sex before marriage and outside of it, who only ever had ONE boyfriend before marrying and he is the one I married, these narrow-minded statements are clearly offensive. And finally I just felt that the entire book was offensive, because their so-called faith is offensive. They refuse to learn anything about the world outside them in order not to get tempted away from their religion. But if your testimony is that weak, that you don’t trust that it will hold up to the test, you really don’t have a testimony that what you believe in is true. I can sit and read books about all sorts of other religions, I can find some of them very interesting, I can even take a University course in Judaism, and still have no problem with my own religion. I know what I believe in and do not feel all the others as a threat. They just make life more interesting. But these people do not agree. Heilman states “Understanding might lead to tolerance, tolerance to sympathy, sympathy to pluralism, and pluralism, the notion that there was more than one way to legitimately exist as a Jew, to an erosion of their own way of life”. If they learn about US or Jews who worship in another way, they might actually start thinking for themselves and test their faith, and I guess they deep down realize that it might not be able to stand the test. Must be daunting to be that insecure in what one believes in. But that is what this entire book is about and that is what I have wasted all my time with, instead of catching up with my blog and reading something much more uplifting. I don’t judge them, but it was very, very disappointing to see exactly how narrow-minded they are, exactly how judgemental they are, exactly how triumphalistic they are (Heilman’s words) and it makes me weep for them. Man was created to be happy, and these people are not happy. From what I have seen and read, they are so full of hatred for their fellow human beings outside the Haredi world, that it makes them unhappy. Can one but pity that?

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