Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Shabbaton Chronicles Part 22

Don’t look at the container . . . .

Saturday night, 10:30 pm

I know a lot of people, and I like to hang out with those who, as one friend put it, are “not white rice.” I gravitate toward people who think creatively, are intellectually honest, are unusual in some way, and who push envelopes while still being grounded in healthy values and preferably some sort of religion.

One thing I’ve learned from my friends is that it is useless to make stereotypes about Orthodox Jews. It’s so easy, especially for Jews of the non-Orthodox stripe, to say “oh, look at her. Hair covered, elbows and knees covered . . . poor oppressed woman who doesn’t know the fun she’s missing.” Or “Ick. A guy in a black hat. Close-minded religious snob. I hate those people. They are all alike.” Or “Great, another right-wing settler. She probably wishes all the Palestinians were dead. I have nothing to talk about with her.” Or “Yep. A cutesy little JAP from Flatbush. What does she know about the world?”

But underneath those modest clothes and black hats, you never know what a person’s story is. Especially in this day of baalei teshuva (formerly non-observant Jews who become Orthodox as adults), mass media, and Jews moving from one community to another, you never know about people.

There’s the guy I dated – black velvet kippah, glasses, sweater vest – who used to be in a motorcycle gang.

The hat-wearing Orthodox Brandeis alumna who used to be an anti-Semitic evangelical Christian.

The soft-spoken midwife with several children who lives in a right-wing Orthodox community . . . whose immediate and extended family is comprised of a tangled web of Jews, gentiles, and baalei teshuva. And they all get along.

The intelligent, friendly, but otherwise unremarkable Modern Orthodox woman who is a rape victim and came out stronger.

You just never know.

On the way home from Azzam Azzam’s house, the conversation turned to the story of how Moshe and Chani met and how their relationship developed.

It turns out that the story of how they both came to be Orthodox Jews, and married to each other – a story of profound courage and faith and love-- is so amazing, so dramatic, so surreal, so impossible, so mind-staggeringly not what you would expect, that the visit to Azzam Azzam is nothing compared to this couple’s history.

For security reasons, I cannot go into details. I mean that literally. I’m really sorry, but they told us the story on the condition that it never make it into the media, though I have permission to tell my friends one-on-one. They don’t want TV cameras in their house. For me, as a journalist, not to be able to pass this story along is incredibly frustrating, let me tell you.

Suffice to say that when I told Yael and Chava about it, even after they oohed and aahed over the visit to Azzam Azzam, both of them were rendered speechless. “No way. No way.” That’s all anyone can say. As Chava remarked, “Sarah, I know you are not making this up, because no one is that creative. But in the morning I will probably wonder whether this conversation is just a dream. No, I won’t. Even in my dreams I’m not that creative.”

So what we’re saying is that on Friday I checked into Hotel California, and ended up on a Saturday night car ride through the Twilight Zone. It was that bizarre.

“Hashem has his reasons.”

“You never know who you’ll meet.”

“Don’t look at the container, rather at what’s inside it.”

I think . . . . I need a drink.

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