Sunday, July 31, 2011


The moment he crossed the threshold into Shifra's living room, I was immediately captivated by him.  He is 84-years old, of medium height, lean and slim, with an erect posture and a kindly face, and he was wearing a black wide-brimmed hat and a long black coat.  It was not so much his appearance as his serene demeanor that riveted my senses.  He was economical in his movements and did not advance further than a few steps beyond the door. Shifra's many children greeted him and he in turn layed his hands on their heads one-by-one and gave them their blessings respectively.  I too wanted acutely to be blessed by him who I now deemed in so short a time to be a kind and a humble man.  The sensibility of his holiness just washed over me. Sapir and I requested to be blessed by him. He blessed us in a short prayer in English, he is British after all, without the laying of hands because a grown man is not supposed to touch a grown woman.  Then he left as quietly as he arrived.  Later, Shifra confirmed my impressions of him who is her father.  He had 13 children and Shifra, who has the most beautiful and the healthiest unadorned complexion I have ever seen on a woman, has 12 children.


After quelling my fear of terrorist attacks (which of course took hold only after I bought my plane ticket - go figure), the next arduous task for me was finding appropriate wardrobe.  Having found a long black skirt after three hours of getting in and out of several permutations of a skirt that was black, I was relieved and ready to fly into the Chareidi sunset.  Not so fast Noli, one is not enough!  I was told that if I was in the company of Noach, specially during religious gatherings, I have to wear a skirt and follow all that was prescribed in the way of modest dressing.  With my over-the-top BMI, this was not going to be a walk in the park.  And since it was in the heat of summer, I was not about to wear stockings, or was I?  What have I gotten into?  For the first time, I felt totally out-of-my-depth.  I am a modest dresser myself but I could not remember when I last wore a skirt.  However I was bent on respecting this requirement even if it killed me.  I googled and googled and still, I could not get a foothold on the style.  Until I arrived at Chareidi International Airport, where disembarking female passengers were wearing black and white ensembles in many elegant varieties and were moving with ease in them. I was literally mesmerized. True, the attires were indeed ultra-modest with closed-necks, long sleeves, hemlines midway between the ankle and the knee, legs stockinged, and feet in flat invariably black but stylish shoes.  And if you are a married woman you wore a fetching hat underwhich you had a wig, either that, or you wore an equally attractive snood or scarf which covered your entire head, or a hat alone so long as none of your hair is showing.  Although the designs did not necessarily avoid emphasis on a narrow waist or on appealing curves, the modesty was refreshing and amazingly settling.  It was truly elegant and very becoming on a female form especially if that form is well-proportioned. But what was tantalizing was the many ways modesty-in-black-and-white can be cleverly interpreted by the female mind.  Indubitably, femininity is irrepressible.  I really don't know how I came across in my own version of black and white abroad.  But I resolved in my mind that I will lose weight if only to sport one of these black-and-white confections one day soon.


I lifted every step of my preparation to God and I was convinced of His approval since logistically everything was coming to pass with ease. Remember there was not a lot of time to be indecisive.  Yet there is a soupcon of trepidation because of the travel security advisory issued by the State Department.  However I'd rather die brazenly keeping my word than live a long life regretting my cowardice every single day.  The pathetic weakness, if fear overwhelmed my vow, would have dishonored not only myself but also my parents, my grandparents, my ancestors, and all whom I represent.

While I was in this contemplative space, I've decided that I will take a stance of stillness and quiet.  After all, this is not about me.  This is about Ari and Menuha and the celebration of the beginning of the rest of their lives together.  Ari advised me that I will experience festivities I have not seen the like of, and that I will attend every event where his family is expected. I felt utterly blessed by the honor and privilege he had conferred on me.   All the more I committed myself to clear my mind and my heart of biases and of clutter that will prevent me from riveting my attention on what is to come.   I wanted to be totally present to every context with all the wisdom that only innocence can bring.  My spirit was ready to be enriched.  My mind recalled to itself all the understanding it can exercise.  I was also more than willing to physically extend myself in any way I can at any time when called to do so.  Otherwise I was content to meditate on all these sacred gems in my heart.  It was a blissful state to be bereft of an agenda.  I was free to be me.


Ari, Moshe and Noya's youngest son is an attractive young man, in looks and in spirit.  He has his mother's sensitivity and warm expressiveness.  He came into sharp focus in my life when he started seeking for his own truths. After he finished his bachelor's degree, he went into a culinary institute (I remember how I enjoyed looking at his notebook with lovely drawings and doodles), after which he started a pizza business.  Still he was restless.  Next thing I knew, he was working for a mercantile exchange.  It was there that he met a rabbi who led him to the Path that chose him.  Shortly he moved to Chareidi Country where he studies in the yeshiva both for learning Hebrew and for going deeper into the Torah and the 613 Mitzvot. In one of his return visits to the States, he edified me, "Noli, there is one out there specifically intended for each of us; we are not meant to be alone."  I wanted very much to believe him and in the same token, I sincerely wished for him to find his life partner and henceforth to live happily ever after.  It was in this spirit that my promise to him was born eight summers ago: "I will attend your wedding wherever and whenever it will take place and only death will bar me from doing so."  So when his folks announced that he found the love-of-his-life and was getting married in Chareidi Country, the decision was a no-brainer - I will be there to witness it.  The Napoleon Bonaparte once said that the only way to keep a promise is not to give it, but I think the poor fellow had not enjoyed the untold wonders of a word well-kept.  


I met Moshe and Noya in the Winter of 1984.  I have always known them for the neat power couple that they are but also for their wisdom and compassion. They were the first to invite me to their home and rabbit stew was the main course at dinner.  The stew was deliciously seasoned but the rabbit needed more stewing.  Noya proved to be an imaginative cook, creative and daring.  Meals are always sumptuous and set in enviable tablescapes that enchant the senses.  She is the soul of style and just by being herself, I discovered my own artistic inclinations and found joy in indulging them.  Moshe by dint of who he is commands attention, not because he assumes it but because his reputation precedes him.  A man of few words, he is smart and wise, also very avant-garde.  They have three sons whose ages are close to mine but I am older than the oldest.  I was present in a lot of the milestones they have celebrated through the years, and they were in mine too.  When my 26-year-old brother passed away, Noya roasted a delectable turkey for my sister and me and unabashedly joined in our tears.  Also she and Moshe are two in all the world who remember to ask about my parents.  Their fabled thoughtfulness is the staple of this most improbable and yet the sweetest of friendships.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Welcome to my series of essays on my expressions and my impressions of my recent visit to Chareidi country.  Under the aegis of an enduring friendship, every aspect of the journey was pithy with mystical insights.  Every experience was both awesome and humbling all at once.  I went to attend a wedding but it culminated into more than I could have imagined in my most fervent prayer.  I learned a lot.  I understood a lot. I am still learning.  And I am still understanding.  It was a seminal experience that I hope would make me a much better human being than before I went and that I would be a source of peace in my daily movements, for my self and abroad.  I acknowledge and appreciate everyone who sent me on the wings of a thousand blessings and good will.  Thank you.