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September 1, 2015 | 17th Elul 5775

Be Happy!

March 9, 2003
Marc Rosenstein

This week we had a group of 50 girls from an ultra-Orthodox boarding high school staying in our hostel for three days, as part of a Rosh Chodesh Adar outing that is apparently a tradition in their school. They were led by half a dozen teachers, all young matrons, and another four counselors, recent graduates. They were a vivacious, yet civilized group, and we enjoyed watching them enjoying themselves. The teachers and counselors worked hard, keeping them busy all day and all night with games and art activities, food preparation and cleanup (they brought all their own food).

On the first night, I happened to be standing nearby when “the rebbitzin,” who seemed to be the program director and main authority figure, told the teachers to go around and lock all of the girls’ doors (i.e., from the outside). I couldn’t keep from butting in, and told her that we simply couldn’t allow that -- what if there were, God forbid, a fire; or what if a girl got sick and needed to get to the teachers’ room. She reluctantly backed down, and accepted a teacher’s suggestion that a girl in each cabin be given responsibility for the key (locking from the inside). The next morning, of course, that teacher came to me looking for a master key, as they had kept the girls up so late that they weren’t getting up, and she couldn’t get into the cabins to awaken them.

On their last night they hired a couple (Orthodox) who do party entertainment, who came and set up an inflatable trampoline and a sound system in our open-air amphitheater. The girls danced happily for a couple of hours to the blasting disco music. At first, the teachers were disappointed that we have minimal lighting in the amphitheater; but in the end, I think they were relieved that the semidarkness eliminated their concerns about ogling passersby. Meanwhile, in the meeting room adjacent to the amphitheater, our Jewish-Arab women’s circle was having its biweekly meeting. About a dozen Jewish women and an equal number of Arab women, from communities in the area, participate; this week they were discussing their fears about the apparently imminent war with Iraq. Once I had gotten the Orthodox girls all set up with the requisite extension cords, and the Jewish-Arab women’s circle settled with coffee and cake, I went back to work in the office, but within a few minutes there was a call from the women’s circle complaining that the volume of the music was making it impossible for them to function. So I went back up, and managed to move the speakers and adjust the volume so that both sides were content.

Today I spoke with C., a “secular” Jew, the leader of the women’s circle, who said that the discussion last night had been fascinating, and that once I had intervened, the noise was not a major problem. However, she said, she felt that the girls’ celebration of Rosh Chodesh Adar was in somewhat bad taste. When I asked why, she said she felt that after the terrorist bombing that morning (15 people killed in the suicide bombing of a bus in Haifa) they should have toned down their celebration. Interesting, it never entered my mind to make that connection. And since that conversation, I have been uncertain whether I am being insensitive, or she is being oversensitive. Can we really expect people, especially children, to live in a state of constant national mourning, to turn off the music every time there is an “event?” What should be the criteria for observing mourning customs -- every drive-by shooting in the West Bank, every soldier killed in battle in Gaza -- or only “large scale” attacks? For how many days should we mourn, and what should be the parameters of “toning down” our enjoyment of pleasure, our rejoicing in holidays and personal simchas ? What if the bus had just skidded off a curve, with no malice aforethought?

And I wonder (here we go again), would C.’s response have been the same if the girls had not been ultra-Orthodox?


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