Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ariel in Love

She first came to our house for a Shabbos meal, a lovely young girl and her mother. They are not particularly observant, but the daughter is interested in learning as much as she can about Judaism. Brought up in a proudly Jewish household and affiliated with the Reform movement, the daughter, incredibly bright, ferociously independent in her conservative political opinions, and hungry for spiritual knowledge, feels the tug of ritual, hears the voice of the shtetl that her grandparents fled; she yearns for the warm embrace of tradition, hungers for an authentic religious experience. Ariel is typically quiet and shy. The only women he has had anything to do with are his lively and funny sisters, Lila and Chloe, and of course Karen, the mother he cherishes. He is not ignorant of what women are, of their inner voices and cycles, for his grounding in Talmud has made him conversant with the most intimate details of femalehood. But he is, by nature shy, and flirting is as far off his radar as, well, the furthest galaxy. Charmingly, the girl gradually draws Ariel out. She has read him well. She poses provocative questions and Ariel is never more in his element than when expounding on Torah. He dazzles with his thoughtful, precise answers, with his utter sincerity. I can see it in the girl's eyes: she has never met anyone like my son. The boys she knows are crude and think nothing of drawing explicit graffiti on her notebook. They are not bad kids, just typical products of a secular culture that has taught its children that men and women are no different and so the normal etiquette between the sexes has all but disappeared. And naturally, it is the women who suffer the consequences. In contrast to their crudeness Ariel seems like an awkward, but adorable prince, a young man who knows who he is and cares nothing for the currents of popular culture. She wants Ariel to teach her Torah. But Ariel tells her that it wouldn't be proper. That she should have a female teacher. She pouts, sullen. What could be improper? Maybe Ariel just doesn't like her. But Karen takes her aside and explains the concepts of tznius, modesty, of the protective gates the observant construct on order to avoid placing themselves in compromising situations. "You mean, Ariel won't ever just sit and talk to me, alone?" She asks in dismay. "Not unless you're going out on a shidduch date," my wife explains. The girl is baffled. She lives in a world where boys and girls interact "normally." This separation seems so... medieval. She shrugs and goes her way. Perhaps this is just too weird. But she signs up for classes at a Jewish outreach program. As she does everything else in her life, she immerses herself in study, flings herself into the sea of Torah and oh my, but aren't the currents powerful. There are more Shabbos meals at our home. Her pants give way to long skirts. Her t-shirts surrender to long sleeved blouses. Her sentences are peppered with phrases like: "Baruch Ha-shem," and "Epes," and "Yeshivish." She speaks like a native.
Ariel comes to speak to us one night. He stutters as he tells us that he's ready. "Ready for what?" Karen and I ask. Ariel smiles: "Shidduch date, I'm ready."
Ariel and the girl, a genuine Baal Teshuva now, go to Starbucks. They sit in hotel lobbies. They talk for hours and hours. And before I know it, Karen and I are purchasing a sheitl for Ariel's bride and we are dancing at his chuppah. I dance with Ariel. Karen dances with the girl and her mother. Ariel is hoisted on a chair at the same time as his kallah and they wave to one another over the mechitzah. We all go round and round in the circle, dizzy with joy, cries of "Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov" echoing everywhere.
All this passed through my head the other day when I sat in Farmer's Market with my friend Cathy and her daughter Cecile. More than anything, Ariel wanted to marry and have many, many children. And though he is gone, I can't help but play out fantasies of his marriage in my head. Cecile is a unique young girl: she's smart and funny and curious and her love for Judaism is powerful and aunthentic. Cathy, an amazing woman has raised an amazing girl. Ariel and I used to read Cathy's social and political articles together. We admired her uncompromising chutzpah. And so, as we sit and chat in this unique market that has not changed since the 30's, I build the elaborate fantasy in my head. I give Ariel this gift of love, this remarkable romance with a radiant young girl and for a few seconds Ariel lives the life he yearned for.
Cecile smiles, she crosses my vision like a moon and I have to hold myself back from saying: Thank you, thank you for making Ariel so happy.


Blogger LukeFord said...

It's the Reform movement. Reformed sounds like AA.

June 10, 2004 at 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So far, for this annoymous reader, this one is the unbearably saddest of all.

June 10, 2004 at 7:15 PM  

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