Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Worth it to Wince

Last week I called the family of my third cousin. As my long-term readers may recall, I have very few family members in Israel. The only family I have here within an hours' drive is my third cousin, who is ultra-Orthodox and lives with his wife and 10 (bli ayin hara) children in a 3-bedroom apartment in the Bais Yisroel neighborhood. I once stayed with them for Shabbat, but the noise and activity level in their house was a bit much for me. So what we do now is that I sometimes stay with friends in Ramat Eshkol and walk to Bais Yisroel for Shabbat lunch. Basically, I see these cousins about 2-4 times per year - enough to keep up a family connection, but not enough to really be close.

I don't know how close I want to be. They are very nice to me, but sometimes they or one of the kids will say something that reminds me how different their lives and outlooks are from mine, and it's a little uncomfortable for me. For them, too, probably.

Anyhow, I called last week to see if we could set up a time for me to see them. I usually speak with my cousin's wife, Chevy - because she's the one who is home, and also because, I think, he's not really supposed to be having friendly phone calls with a single woman, not even a third cousin. He learns full-time at the Mir.

Chevy asked if I like the theater. I said "Uh, yeah, of course." Because I do. But since when does this family go to the theater?

"My mother is directing a play at her seminary, and the show is next week. Do you want to go with me and [my oldest daughter]? My mother will make sure we have great seats."

"Um, OK," I answered. Because they are the only family I've got within 50 miles, and what am I supposed to say that doesn't sound rude?

So last night I went to a play performed by the American girls at a new Bais Yaakov seminary program in Jerusalem. It was about a 13-year-old haredi boy whose chassidish father is killed in the Yom Kippur War (he is in the Galil teaching soldiers how to wave the lulav, when a bomb falls on them all). To raise money for his poor mother and two sisters, the boy goes to England to take a job as a mother's-helper in the home of an assimilated British Jewish family.

At this point I knew: The play will end with the whole family becoming frum, because of this boy's influence. I whispered as much to Chevy, who confirmed it, and so the show was over for me.

Meanwhile, a few things were clear:
a) Given that the girls had only 2 weeks to rehearse (due to logistical difficulties), they did a fantastic job.
b) There is only so well they could do, with only 2 weeks to rehearse.
c) One girl, who provided comic relief in the character of the family's cook, was absolutely hysterical. There were a few other girls who also did a really great job.
d) They could have used more time to rehearse the scene changes. As it was, it took a few minutes between scenes, and I fell asleep a few times, waiting.
e) The production was a few steps above the level of my high school plays - these girls actually had song and dance numbers, with full choreography, microphones, professional lights, etc.
f) It was only a few steps above a high school play.

Imagine going to a high school play because the mother of your cousin's wife directed it. Oh, God. Help.

g) A level of complexity was added to the plot: The British mother becomes ill and might die, and we don't know at the end of the play whether she will live or not.

I amused myself during the down times by imagining fantastic endings:
The mother will die, and the father will become frum and marry the hero's mom!
They will all become frum, and the British boy will marry the hero's little sister someday!

h) None of that happened, but indeed the whole family is frum now! Hashem has guided our hero to exactly where he needed to be! All's well that ends well! (Except that the mom might die. But that's OK because she has become frum before it was too late.)

Oh, God.

When the lights went on and my cousin and her mom asked me what I thought, I smiled and told them, sincerely, "the girl who plays the cook is absolutely terrific."

Anyhow, for all that it was a night of internal wincing punctuated, occasionally, with a laugh, I'm glad I went. The proceeds went to charity, and anyhow, that's just what you do -

for family.

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