Jun 10, 2010

A Tale of a Tichel

Note: A tichel is a head scarf, much like the one I'm rocking in this photo from one of my many adventures at Starbucks. 

I'm so glad that my post on shomer negiah elicited so many comments -- both positive and critical of a sweeping understanding as modesty and separation as a cure-all for wedded bliss. I agree: There is no cure-all, not even the observance of ta'arat ha'mishpacha (family purity) can guarantee that a couple will last as many years as Abraham and Sarah or that they'll be blessed with a gaggle of children and happiness.

But those who warn, Beware, you feel this now, but in a few years? ... I ask you to hold that thought. I know a lot of people who have stopped covering seven or ten years into a marriage, women who have opted to wear pants three years in, or couples that have decided that observing the laws of niddah just isn't working for them. I know women who don't go to mikvah, women who cover their hair in-shul, but cherish their flowing locks outside the walls of the beit k'nesset. And yes, I'm aware that at some point, without knowing it, I might become one of those women. I hope, however, that I always feel as I do now.

The funny thing is that covering, for me, is something I was excited about. A friend commented that at some point, I might miss being able to soak my hair in the fresh rain. Truth be told, I hated walking in the rain before I covered. After all, my hair style limited me from just about any kind of poor weather. I hated walking to shul in the rain, I hated rain jackets, I hated wearing hats (they flattened my awesome hair). Now? Well, it's been raining the past few days and I've relished in it. I've walked outside, looked upward, and almost danced to my car with rain drops on my tichel or hat. At last, I feel comfortable in my skin -- and all because of a simple head covering.

I feel more comfortable walking around Monsey, too. I know it's silly, and I don't seek acceptance, but walking around with Tuvia before I felt like people knew we were dating, shopping together, even, but unmarried! What a shonda! I'll admit that little kids still look at me funny when I'm in Monsey (after all, my jean skirt and colorful tichel with bangs a blowin' in the wind don't exactly scream "Monsey), but I felt like the reason the clerk at the health food store spoke so kindly and willing with me was because, well, I clearly was an observant, Jewish woman.

The funny thing is, I almost feel less comfortable walking around in the general Connecticut population. A man with a gigantic cross at Christmas Tree Shops (oh the humor in that one) looked me up and down, watched me standing at the register. Maybe I was paranoid, but I felt a piercing glance. If anything, covering my hair makes me "look the part" a little more than I used to. In the end, I'm okay with that (I dream of someday living in Jerusalem when looking the part just means looking like everyone else).

I know it's crazy to think that a few weeks into being married I'm so sure about how I feel, where I'm going, and how I will observe for the expanse of our happily wedded future, but my neshama hasn't led me astray yet, and the excitement, passion, devotion, and eagerness I feel about all of the things rolled up into the ideas of modesty and family purity has me thinking positive.

For all intents and purposes, I'm a modern girl. I'm liberal (let's not go into how I feel about women and the GLBT community and how people think it doesn't fit into Orthodoxy), I'm a Democrat, I like funky fashion, I think communication with the outside world and within the greater, global Jewish community starts with Social Media and the Internet, and I see Orthodoxy as awesomely modern and beautiful. I may appear to be a contradiction in terms to many, but in truth I see myself as a positive example of the possibilities of Orthodoxy in the 21st century -- what Orthodoxy should be: halakic, positive, modern, fulfilling.

I hope you all stick around for my journey as a married, Jewish, Orthodox woman ... I'm sure I'll have plenty of interesting things to offer you as life moves on (and I mean that literally, as we're moving at the end of the month to Teaneck, New Jersey!), and I only hope that you read with open eyes and ears and that if -- at any time at all -- you have questions or misunderstandings about something I say, that you'll email me and ask. I'm equal opportunity here, and I want to appeal to every person (Jew or not, Orthodox or Reform or Reconstructionist or Humanist or Lubavitch, etc, etc).

Peace and tichels, friends!


Drew said...

Wonderful post Chaviva! I can't wait to read more about your changes and thoughts on married life!

Suburban Sweetheart said...

I'm loving these posts, Chaviva. I haven't commented lately, but I'm here & reading & observing. I'm so glad to see you finding yet another place for yourself. <3

sh'mi.dev0rah said...

Haha, I love how you put "Lubavitch" at the end of that list... hehe! Hatzlocha raba! Yehi habinyan adei ad!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chaviva,

This is my first ever post. I am a reform jew who has been interested in wearing a tichel. By choice I feel most comfortable in long shirts and modest clothes, and for many years that is all I would wear. I usually am only one of very few women at my shul that wear a shirt for services. Anyway, I was wondering if you have meet any reform women who also want/choose to cover their hair. I am not sure what the reaction would be if tomorrow I showed up for torah study wearing a tichel.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Devorah I didn't put Lubavitch at the end of the list for any reason ... did you think I did?

@Anon You know, I am sure there are plenty of Reform Jewish women who cover their hair, although I personally do not know any that do. I guess that in Israel there probably are plenty of Jewish Reform women that cover, because it's a cultural thing there, I think, as a Jew. I say -- do what feels comfortable for you, and see what happens. If others ask you "why" it will be a learning and educational experience for them!

Anonymous said...

@Anon I am a Conservative Jew and I cover my hair. I think you need to do what is important to you, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum :)

sh'mi.dev0rah said...

Haha, no I didn't think you put it at the end of the list of any reason, it was just a funny combination of labels--that's all!

Lol okay, so anyway... Good Shabbos!! =)

Anonymous said...


your new community

the rabbi's wife said...

I hated covering while we lived in America, but I totally love it now that we live in Israel. It's nice to feel normal, and not ge asked about being Amish, having cancer, or any of the other crazy comments I used to get. It also gives me the chizuk I need to face all the questions/ignorance when we visit the US.
I'm loving your posts lately! Marriage (especially to Tuvia) clearly agrees with you! And, while I understand you hope your feelings will not change, I hope it will only be for the better when they do change (because marriage should make one grow and change for the better, you know?). Feel free to ignore the nay-sayers.

KosherAcademic said...

@Anon & @Chavi -- I know a couple of reconstructionist women who cover, at least periodically. You should do what you feel comfortable with in this case.

Did I ever tell you about the time, shortly after I was married, that I wore a snood to school? I was writing on the "El" toward Lincoln Park, probably going in just to drop off a paper, and some guy came up to me to ask if I was a nun. Ha!

Glutenfreebay.com said...

Chaviva: I wish you so many brachas on your new life together, and endless nachas. I think it's possible hold a space for the fact that your Jewish practices may change (and hopefully grow!) while being full of joy and hope and eagerness about the new things that are bringing meaning to your life. That's the place I'm trying to be at right now, too.

I am happy to hear you're moving to Teaneck. We know a bunch of folks in common and I would be thrilled to meet up with you for a gluten-free pastry or burger (which you can now get in Teaneck, which never fails to amaze me) or cup of tea at some point when you're settled in. I haven't lived here that long and am always eager to meet new people, especially people who are also frum but not politically right-wing.

To Anonymous, the Reform woman interested in covering: There are a number of Reform / non-denominational women on the LiveJournal Modest Style community who talk about haircovering and modest dressing. You need a free LJ account to post there or read all the private posts, but it's http://www.livejournal.com/modest_style or something like that.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@KosherAcademic That's too funny. It'll be interesting to see how I feel more comfortable on the buses in and out of New York -- tichel or hat? I'll be riding in with the rest of frum Teaneck, so I'm sure there will be plenty of variety!

Anonymous said...

When I cover, I can't bear the feeling of how hot my head feels. How do you deal with that?

Anonymous said...

To Anon (and others),
I am a Reform Rabbi who has long been drawn to tzniut as it pertains to clothing, speech, and hair. I am toying with ways to cover that would not alienate me from my traditional, yet liberal, community. I definitely feel as though there is not a place for those of us who want to embrace a more modest lifestyle. Perhaps we can change that!

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