A HOUSE DIVIDED

Arlene Appelrouth

Some Jewish laws bother me. Maris ayin, which means “the vision of the eye,” is one of them. This is how I learned about it.

I was in Jerusalem, visiting my son, who opted to spend his first year after high school at an Israeli yeshiva rather than heading to college. He agreed to take a morning off from his Torah studies and meet me in  the Old City, where we planned to go to the Tower of David museum.

The museum hadn’t opened yet and I was hungry, so I asked my son to come  with me into a nearby restaurant so I could get some scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee. He wouldn’t join me.

“I can’t go in there, Mom, because it isn’t a kosher restaurant,” he explained.

“You don’t have to eat,” I said, “Just keep me company. I’m not eating anything that’s not kosher.”

“Mom, it doesn’t matter what you eat,” he objected. “The restaurant isn’t kosher, and if I go in wearing my kippah and tsis-tsis, if an observant Jew notices me, I’ll give him the wrong impression. It’s against Jewish law to do that.”

His wearing tsis-tsis and a kippah was something new. I was still adjusting to that.

“David,” I said. “Tuck in your tsistsis and take off your kippah. I’ll buy you a baseball cap if you insist on covering your head.”

He refused. No matter how I presented it – that I preferred to have his company rather than eat alone – he was not coming with me. So I went in, ate my scrambled eggs and drank my coffee.

I wondered how else my son was going to change as a result of this year in Jerusalem. Had anyone told me what the future would bring, I wouldn’t have believed them.

My son, my baby, had always been easy-going and easy to get along with. It never occurred to me that his choices would change our family in unimaginable ways.

Fast forward to a few years ago. My son is an adult, has been ordained as an Orthodox rabbi and is married with children of his own. He works as an assistant rabbi. His sister has become Orthodox; his father, my husband, is practically Orthodox.

Our family has become “religiously diverse.” We have different belief systems that create family tensions.

My grandchildren are being taught that married women should never wear pants and that they should always cover their hair. When I have visited wearing slacks, my eldest grandson becomes visibly upset and expresses his concern that his friends will make fun of him if they know he has a grandmother who doesn’t follow the same rules that their grandmothers
follow.

The world is being presented in black and white to my grandchildren. It is easier for me to wear skirts and hats than engage my grandson in a discussion about the different branches of Judaism, as he is at an
age where he doesn’t understand “grey.”

I tell myself there will be time later, when he will become aware that Judaism is a rich, diverse religion. Hopefully he will be able to understand that, and I will regain my freedom to dress however I please without upsetting anyone.

My intention is to have family vacations in which all three of my adult children participate. I want my grandchildren to know each other AJT and to know their aunts and uncles.

We have packed a cooler full of kosher food and gone to an amusement area. Everyone agrees to meet at noon at a spot where there are tables and chairs in front of a restaurant;the restaurant isn’t kosher, but we
will only be purchasing cold drinks from it.

As soon as we open the cooler, there is an objection.

“We cannot sit here because of aris ayin.”

I knew exactly what that means, but didn’t believe this law will apply when our cooler was in plain sight. Anyone passing by could see we were having a family picnic with our own food.

My family now consists of Orthodox Jews, modern Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, unaffiliated Jews…and me. I tell everyone I’m a “flexidox” Jew. By that, I mean I’ve become flexible enough to be comfortable no matter whether I worship – in a Reform temple or an Orthodox shul.

We are all Jews. We just worship differently. We also have different standards regarding what and where we eat.

And back at the cooler, we had a serious problem.

The more religious among us took the cooler elsewhere, while I removed some food from the cooler and made plates for those of us who were comfortable eating in front of the non-kosher restaurant. Clearly, my family is not of one mind anymore.

I wish I could end this column by stating that during the time that has
passed, my family has come to an agreement regarding kosher food. But today, the most religious require special certification on their products, and the least religious think a lot of the rules are ludicrous.

Being Jewish is an ongoing challenge.

Editor’s note: Arlene Appelrouth earned a degree in news-editorial journalism from the University of Florida and her career as a writer and journalist spans a 50-year period; she currently studies memoir writing while working on her first book.

 

By Arlene Appelrouth
AJT Columnist