Why I cried at the (Summer 2009) Kolech conference
I cried (at least) three times at the Kolech conference today [July 2009] and I don't think I've cried at a JOFA conference since the first one in 1997, when I realized, at the tender age of 17, that I wasn't all alone in the world!
I don't know if that's because things are so much worse here in Israel, or so much better, or if it's just because I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all the women (and the very few men) who are doing so many amazing things.
What made me cry?
- I went to a session on "גופנפש" (one word--"bodysoul"? I dunno) and a woman who runs a women's only dance studio told the story of a woman who had wanted to dance since she was a little girl, but the men in her life (father, teachers, etc.) always told her that it was not tzanua and she couldn't. So she never did.
Finally, later in life (when she was already "אישה מבוגרת," I won't hazard a guess as to how old that is), she decided to dance. Specifically, flamenco. And she participated in a performance that men could come to (at the studio's annual recital, men are invited to the first half but not the second half, and women can choose before whom they perform--some want their husbands, sons, etc. to be there and don't care if others' husbands, sons, etc. are there, too). And she danced. And it was great.
The point was, she wanted her husband to be there and see her, and he was, and was supportive.
And I cried out of happiness that she got to do that, finally, and anger that she couldn't for all those years. (Uh, this should be a blog post.)
And then she told another story, about a Chabad rebbetzin who had also wanted to dance, but never could (not tzanua, etc.), and when she was a bit older, and had eight children, she also studied flamenco. And she decided to share it with her female relatives at their annual family thing where the guys and gals shared stuff--songs, jokes, divrei torah, whatever--in separate rooms. And she danced, and her husband came in to watch. And he started laughing at her. And soon the whole room was laughing at her. And she kept dancing until she was done with what she had started. And she still studies.
And I cried out of anger for all the women whose men/families laugh at them when they express themselves fully. Fuck that.
Then I was crying because of the things that people told me that I could not or should not do that I've therefore not done for years and year and years, or done and then felt bad about. Like dancing and singing. (I was told to stop coming to pre-ballet when I was five because I couldn't hop around the room and my family has always reinforced their strongly-held belief that I should never, ever, ever sing because I can't carry a tune, even though I love to sing.) And then I started thinking about all the things that I have done because people said I could or should. And I've been working, for awhile, on doing what I want to do, but it's sometimes hard to figure out, when what others want/do not want you to do feels so ingrained that it has become a part of you.
That was all the first episode of crying.
- There were some stunning, Three-Weeks-appropriate performances in the evening that also made me cry. And for some reason, a woman who had always wanted to be a professional singer but decided that it would take her away from her family too much, so instead became a music teacher, also made me cry when she said that in the dati (Israeli) schools, they don't let female music teachers sing in front of 5th and 6th grade boys (who should be ages 9-12) because of kol isha. That made me cry. Then she performed these absolutely stunning piyutim and I'd never heard a woman sing (Morrocan) piyutim before--I always associate traditional liturgical singing, be it ashkenazi or sephardi, with men--and it was so stunning, coming from this plain-looking, 50-something Israeli kibbutz woman in her pants-skirt and old lady sandals, that I cried again.
There was also a stunning (Orthodox) chazanit who made me cry, and a theatrical performance that was heart-stopping.
- And then they announced that arvit (maariv) would be after the conference, and I went to the shul to daven, and there was me and another young woman (younger than I) and a 50-something year old man, and he was like, "There are no women here and there were very few women at mincha, too!" in a very accusatory tone, and I wanted to shout, "You tell them that they can't sing or dance and you wonder why they don't run to daven mincha?! For shame!" but I didn't. And then he wandered off and six other women showed up and the eight of us davened together and then I really cried and couldn't stop. (It was actually kind of horrible.)