An Outsider’s View of YOU
One of Israel’s most famous baalei teshuva is Noa Yaron Dayan, who was a TV and radio celebrity before she became religious about 15 years ago. I just finished reading Dayan’s bestselling fictionalized autobiography, Mekimi (Am Oved), and I think it’s probably the most gorgeous book I have ever, ever read (sorry, at the moment it’s only in Hebrew). In the book, Yaron-Dayan tells the story of how she became religious and met and married her husband (b”H, today she is a JewishMOM herself, the mother of 7 children)…I found the story of her first Shabbat with a religious family (translated below) to be especially powerful. It was a reminder, for me, of the powerful impression we JewishMOMs make on an outsider’s eyes…
The following is an Excerpt from Mekimi by Noa Yaron Dayan:
Halfway to Jerusalem my stomach begins to turn. This is too much for me, an entire Shabbat inside the ghetto. I still haven’t gotten used to my Tel Aviv Shabbat. Their dozens of children will definitely look at me like I just fell from outer space. What I’m wearing, what shoes I have on, it’s definitely not modest enough for them.
They are definitely very strictly observant, and I’ll just make mistakes all the time. They’ll laugh at me. I know, of course, that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and will turn off the bathroom light by mistake. I’m still not clear on everything. It’s one thing to do that in my own apartment, nobody sees me. But this family will wake up in the morning and will see that there’s no light in the bathroom, and they’ll start to ask, who turned off the light on Shabbat? Who here broke Shabbat? And everyone will know that it was me.
How will I make it for a whole Shabbat? What I want is to fold up and flee…
Mika is dressed in a light-colored dress, a white scarf and pearl earrings. Beautiful, very beautiful. Every time she gets more beautiful. She gives birth to another baby, and she becomes more beautiful…
“Welcome,” she hugs me, “welcome. I am so happy that you came.”
I get a close look at her.
“Hello sweety. How beautiful you are.”
“Me? Beautiful?” She is truly surprised, “You are so funny…Come, come in…”
It’s an Arab house with a high ceiling and an old painted tile floor. A white linen tablecloth covers the wooden table in the center of the room, and upon it is a silver tray covered with a white napkin embroidered with gold. At the head of the table is a plate with a shiny Kiddush cup, a crystal bottle full of red wine, and in the middle of the table is a delicate vase with a single branch of a white rose. Everything is celebratory and ready.
I begin to thaw.
A warm home she has, Mika does. Family…
Two doors slam somewhere within the house, and from inside one of the rooms walks past me a small curious herd dressed in Shabbat clothing. Four beautiful children stand around me, stick me with innocent eyes, and from the direction of the kitchen a pink baby with a red ketchup mustache crawls my way.
“You are our guest,” the biggest child determines.
“I am your guest, yes. And who are you?”
Mika sits next to me on the sofa. They press against her, her puppies.
“This is Sara,” she pets the biggest girl’s braid, “This is Nachman, this is Natan.”
She presents them in descending order.
“This is Yisrael Dov, and this pink sugar cube is Miriam.”…
Cute children. It has been so long since I’ve spoken with children who wanted something other than my autograph. And they don’t speak Yiddish. What a relief…
I look at Mika and see her putting a second shoe on that one, she puts a ribbon in that one’s hair, she clips a kippah into that one’s hair. She doesn’t yell, she’s not stressed out.
“Tell me, do you think that I’ll also get used to Shabbat one day?”
She smiles at me.
“You don’t get used to Shabbat, you get addicted to Shabbat. Once it wasn’t like that, but today, already on Thursday I cannot breathe, I don’t know how I’ll manage until Shabbat. How do people live without Shabbat? Remind me?
I feel myself fulfilled.
Let go, let yourself flow with where the stream takes you. I close my eyes and breathe deep. I try but I don’t succeed. What do Jerusalem and I have in common? I am all secular and you are all holy…
Mika gives her final instructions and then approaches the candles. The words leave her whole and soft, her face is aglow.
“Asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu lehadlik ner shel Shabbat.”
“Amen,” I whisper along with the herd, who immediately begin to mess up the order that Mika worked so hard making. The oldest daughter jumps rope in the middle of the living room, the little one rides his car with a bottle and a pacifier. The baby is crying, nobody’s sure about what. What noise. I could never live with noise like this.
I look at Mika. She is praying. How does she not hear them? Is it possible that she has gotten used to this? I clarify with her after she places her prayer book on the shelf.
“Tell me, do you get used to this?”
“To the noise and the chaos…”
“What, there is noise and chaos here?” she laughs, “In our home we call this quiet and orderly.”
Yes, it appears that a lot of work on myself awaits me.
“Don’t get confused. I was also in shock when I realized that being a mother is the most difficult career you can choose. Everything is easier than this. It is easier to succeed on the outside, and it doesn’t matter in what, than to raise one of these little ones in holiness, not to mention 5 of them”…
I listen to her and force myself to remember the other Mika, the old one. The change she underwent is inconceivable. That one has totally disappeared, and this one sitting next to me is more pleasant. Softer. Without thorns or tricks. Sort of straight. Whole.
8 years have passed since Mika became religious. 8 years during which I built myself a career, and Mika built herself a family.
Mika gives them Shabbat treats, blesses them one by one, whispers “Shabbat Shalom” into their ears and sends the older children to synagogue to Abba. They leave and she sits down…
Afterwards there is Kiddush and handwashing and “Hamotzi Lechem Min Haaretz.”
I sit silently. Breathe, close my eyes, try to forget myself. I don’t really succeed, and still a thin layer of tranquility steals into my heart. Maybe one day I will also have this kind of sweetness? I will also have a lot of chairs around the table and a high chair and big pots like theirs on the hotplate, and that kind of tranquility.
I see them. They are Jews. No apologies, no hiding.
I also want to be like that one day, even though it scares me to even think about it.
I keep up a smile until after the fish. After that I break down and tears pour into my soup. On the one hand my soul is fluttering, it wants holiness and closeness to Hashem. On the other hand, I’m scared out of my wits. Where will I find the strength to be a Jewish mother?