If you've stopped by my blog to read about the latest events in the developing war in Israel, you've come to the wrong place. Not, of course, because it doesn't interest me - I know two women whose husbands have been called up to reserve duty up north, and I'm sure it will get worse before it gets better.
What I wanted to write about today is how the women - at least those in the national religious world - react to the tumultuous events that always seem to affect the Jewish people. If you want to stop for a few minutes and see what is happening on the "home front" - read on.
Yesterday I spent the whole day perfecting my art. No, I didn't go to a writing workshop. I spent the whole day in Jerusalem learning how to better carry out one of the crucial roles of the Jewish woman, how to strengthen herself and her family in the face of the craziness of the outside world.
Away from the radio and the internet, I attended the ninth annual conference in Jerusalem of Binyan Shalem. (the web site is in Hebrew) This organization was set up some years ago with the idea that the best way to strengthen the Jewish people as a whole was to strengthen its most basic component - the Jewish family. The organization runs year-long courses on issues relating to the family - and sponsors this very successful conference every July in Binyanei HaUma. (No, I do not work for them!)
The topics covered vary from the deeply philosophical to the nitty-gritty details of how to improve the relationships in the family. There are speeches given by fertility specialists in the Orthodox world who are experts on both the latest technologies and how Jewish law relates to these developments. Lectures are given on practical ways to improve communication between spouses and between parents and children. The issues of the day are not ignored - how the events that occur affect our faith in G-d and how to deal with ideological differences in the family are discussed. In addition to the general courses there are three "special tracks" - one for single women and the issues that they face, one for grandmothers (or soon-to-be ones) on how to deal with married children, and one for women who teach brides the laws of family purity before their marriage.
From all of these lectures I chose five - and enjoyed every one of them. I chose one on raising teenagers. It is hard to summarize an hour long speech in a short sentence, but if forced to I would say that I learned that the goal in raising teenagers is to set up strong boundaries - with enough room in between them for the adolescent to find his own way as an individual.
I heard another good talk about how to deal with idealogical differences in the family. This boils down to two main tasks. One, make sure that there are no underlying problems which are just being masked by these idealogical differences - and deal with them. Two, deal with each other with as much respect and love as humanly possible. One memorable quote - "the more love there is, the more creativity in finding compromises."
A unique speech only open to married women was on the role of kedusha (holiness) on the intimate relations between man and wife. The female lecturer prefaced her remarks by saying that the secular world has taken something that should be private and beautiful - the sexual relationship - and smeared it all over the public sphere - to the point where most refined people recoil in revulsion. This reaction should be monitored carefully by Orthodox Jews, so that we don't unwittingly adopt an unnecessarily negative attitude to our sexuality. We have very strict rules as to when, where, and with whom relations are permitted - but when these criteria are met, not only is intimacy good for you and your husband, but it is actually holy. Taking time to work on this part of your life is highly recommended. (Just think, another excuse, a divine one this time, to buy yourself something pretty.)
A lecture which really is impossible to summarize was one given by Rabbanit Idit Itzkovitch on love for our fellow Jews during times of crisis. The Rabbanit spoke about the feelings of betrayal by fellow Jews that many of us feel in the dati-leumi community (national religious) as a result of the disengagement plan. She used Moshe Rabbeinu's (Moses) reaction to the sin of the golden calf (his defence of the people of Israel when G-d offered to wipe them all out and start all over again with just Moses) as a springboard to thoroughly discuss this issue. She brought in Rav Kook and his injunctions to focus on the G-dliness inherent in every Jew.
My favorite talk of the day was one given by Avital Sharansky about her relationship with the late Rabbanit Chana Tau z"l. She spoke very movingly about this great woman who not only taught her about Judaism but helped her during her twelve year fight to free her husband from the Russian prison.
She touched on a lot of different topics both in her speech and in the question period afterwards, including a description of her meeting with President Ronald Reagan, but two other things stand out in my mind. Avital described how when her husband Natan was finally let go and came to Israel, they had been separated for twelve years. During this time she had become observant, but he, of course, wasn't. She was petrified about how things would work out between them, but Rabbanit Chana reassured her. "Treat each other with love, and don't be afraid", she said. "It might take twelve years before you are in the same place, but that's ok, as long as you proceed with love". Good advice for everyone.
A woman in the audience asked Avital what she thought about the aftermath of the disengagement plan, and she smiled and responded beautifully, in my opinion. She said that G-d is always working on his plans and that He doesn't get tired in the middle and stop like humans do. We, of course, don't know exactly what these plans are, but he have to have faith that things are happening the way they should.
Yesterday was one long day of feasting my mind and my Jewish soul, and being with thousands of other women doing the same. It has helped me to "batten down the hatches" of my home against the storms outside. I look forward to doing the same next year, and I highly recommend it to those of you who understand Hebrew.