A little while back, my oldest daughter decided to get what’s called a ‘rasta’. As you might have guessed, it’s the usual sort of dumb teenage idea about taking a bit of your hair, wrapping all this coloured cotton etc around it; tying a bell on the end, and then keeping it in your hair forever (until you get sick of it and have to cut it out.)
It was that or the second earring, so I said: “OK! I let the dumb rasta!”
I realised that she’d been through a lot recently, and needed some form of self-expression that wasn’t exactly traif, but wasn’t also exactly kosher.
She got the rasta, it actually so wasn’t a big deal, and that was that: she felt much happier and self-expressed and independent, and I felt like I’d got off lightly, after seeing the boy with huge holes in his earlobes where his ears used to be.
Last week, the whole family went shopping to a super-frum supermarket, to buy stuff to do a BBQ on Israel Independence Day, or Yom Haatzmaut, when my kids are off school.
Independence Day is a political hot-potato in Israel, and people can make all sorts of assumptions about you based on:
- How many Israeli flags you have decorating your house and car, and how prominently they’re displayed
- Whether you listen to music conspicuously on that day (as it’s always in the middle of the Omer, when you’re not meant to be listening to music, unless you consider Independence Day to be a quasi-religious ‘holiday’ like Purim)
- Whether you’re buying any of the following things: BBQs, charcoal, chicken wings and skewers.
In some neighbourhoods, do any of the above and they’ll stone you. In others, don’t do any of the above, and they’ll stone you.
We went shopping for our BBQ stuff in the big chareidi supermarket in a super-glatt part of town, where black is always the new black. We go there every week, but this week, my oldest daughter started to feel very flustered, and wanted to leave after 5 minutes.
‘What’s the matter?’ I asked her.
“Ima, people are staring at me, and it’s making me feel really weird.”
Hmm. Why were they staring? Was it the BBQ briquettes, sticking out of the trolley? Or maybe, it was the bumper pack of hotdogs that was practically playing ‘HaTikva’ all by itself?
Then it hit me: it was the dumb rasta.
People’s eyes were literally sticking out of their head, even though I’ve seen much less modest things going on with a few of the secular customers that also shop there.
In the car home, my daughter explained the problem:
“Ima, you look like you’re normal dati (religious); Abba looks like he’s chareidi (black and white with peyot) and I look dati leumi (national religious, I guess what you’d call ‘modern orthodox’ outside of Israel). People can’t work out how we all fit together, and that’s why they were staring so much.”
I actually found this pretty amusing. What, does everyone dress the same in these people’s families? (Ok, scratch that, it was rhetorical.)
I guess the real question I want to ask is why does everyone dress the same, in these people’s families?
How can you have honest self-expression, acceptance and individuality, if everyone’s wearing the same style? I know in my family, I have fiercely resisted ‘the uniform’ – but I certainly wasn’t going to impose my preferences on my husband, who loves his black and white to bits.
Ditto for my kids: the rasta is dumb and borderline untznius. BUT – my daughter needs to learn that for herself, so she can get it out of her system and hopefully grow up to love turtlenecks.
After our discussion, I wondered what would have happened, if I’d gone against the clues God was sending us in the Summer, and shoved our daughters in chareidi school against their will.
One probably would have toed the line (I think…) But the other would have kicked so hard I may have lost her, at least temporarily, God forbid. But then I wonder: don’t all teenagers need to be able to ‘self-express’, at least occasionally, however dumb and borderline tasteless it is? And if they can’t do that when they’re 14 without being stared at and judged, then when can they?