I wrote this piece over two years ago. I no longer go home, and I no longer clench my teeth, or my fists under the table. I no longer put myself in situations where I must be silent. Even if I go to frum events, I try not to be silent. It doesn’t always work – at the friend’s wedding I went to recently, someone made a racist joke and I ignored it, but she pressed it and thought I didn’t understand, so she explained the racist joke to me, and I said nothing because it was right before the chupah and she wouldn’t have understood anyway and and and…. And I feel guilty about that. But when I’m not silent: If someone makes a comment about how getting married and having kids is the goal of every woman’s life; if one of my (female) friends makes a sexist joke or comment about how stupid and weak us girls and women are; etc.
Anyway, here’s what I wrote over two years ago:
So much of going home OTD is about silence.
Events in the past years when I listened to speeches and resisted exploding out of my seat in outrage and indignation:
- a dinner for Bais Yaakov High School at which my mother was being honored. The speech included a mention of how wonderful she is because all her children bring her such nachas, because they’re such good Jews, following the mesorah. (My OTDness wasn’t well-known in the community at that point…) It also included lots of mentions about the Holocaust and how we carry on the interrupted legacy, and how the girls in Bais Yaakov are so tzanua and so willing to serve their husbands.
- my grandmother’s levaya. Speeches in Yiddish included praise of her selflessness and how she never thought of herself, how she was great because she didn’t consider herself important and completely erased herself in order to serve others.
- my uncle’s yahrzeit seudah, at which a rabbi whose opinions I already had reason to despise talked about the posuk “ishtecha k’gefen poriyah al yarkisei baisecha.” A good wife is compared to a grapevine, he says, because she chooses to put all her efforts into the fruits. She is not like a tree, infused with a sense of her own worth, building up her own trunk and branches. Instead she finds her greatest joy in the accomplishments of her children. (He actually used the words “sense of her own worth” in saying this…)
- my grandmother’s hakomas matzeiva, where I saw that my grandfather’s headstone contains a verse from gemara about how his whole life was about learning, and my grandmother’s newly erected headstone merely says “she served her father and husband with honor and respect.”
- my uncle’s second yahrzeit seudah, at which a nephew started off a speech saying “we all know everything happens for a reason.” I was sufficiently practiced by that point to tune out the speech while appearing to listen. Well, okay, no I wasn’t. I did listen to it. But it was something about Parshas Noach, and I don’t remember it, to my great relief.
I go to these events because they’re my family. I stay quiet because this is not the time or place for an argument. I clench my fists under the table, I grit my teeth, because it is so hard to be the only person in the room who doesn’t take these ideologies for granted.