Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Stare

When I left the house this afternoon, I was dressed a tad unconventionally for Flatbush. Not that I was dressed improperly mind you; I had the heavy stockings, sensible shoes, neutral colour, etc. Yet within one block of the apartment, going in the opposite direction to where I might actually meet people I know, I crossed paths with two wives that I know tangentially. One of them gave me a rather blank stare, although that might be attributed to the fact that she was pushing a stroller with her two youngest sons (I think she's up to child #6 at least). The other woman however, is the notorious "standards" lady. When I walked by her, in her Plain Jane sheitel and all-black garb, I got the famous Flatbush stare x 9 million.

Since she was so openly ticked off by my appearance (did I mention I was wearing a glossy lipstick? HORROR!), I decided to take pause and contemplate her reaction. First, I personally found her blatant disapproval inappropriate. Even if I had been dressed completely inappropriately, which I wasn't, what gives her carte blanche to judge me? If a major concept in yiddiskeit is accepting our multiplicity, aka ahavat yisrael, then who cares about whatever "violation" she felt I was committing. If I hold differently than her, why is it acceptable in her mind to stone me with her look? What if I had reacted by becoming embarrassed versus simply offended in my own right?

In short, it was another instance of the typically warped existence that is Brooklyn. It's either the ultra right way or the highway. But what this mindset neglects to note is that there are actually many different types of yiddin in Flatbush. Yes, most of the people in this neighbourhood are yeshivish, but not all. And to expect everyone to act yeshivish is downright insulting, not to mention elitist.

So while I suppose it's all par for the course, I just have to ask what this holier than thou attitude is accomplishing. Yes, we have an obligation to ensure that our brothers and sisters stay on the derech, but without propagating embarrassment or disharmony. And I guess it goes to show that most of the time, those who cling to standards so vehemently are simply hiding behind them. Because if they were deep-down frum, they wouldn't be ticked off by others doing differently than them. Instead, they would choose to reflect on the positive versus the negative, to give proper weight to their fellow yiddin who are, just like them, tzelem elokim.


  1. oy. I hate (kids, don't say what mommy says, k?), hate, hate this whole thing about conforming to just one standard. I understand that there tznius standards - skirt length, sleeve length, etc, and one has an obligation to conform to those. But there are other things that appear seemingly out of nowhere - why sheitels are preferable to any other mode of head covering? why black and white for men? what's up with those hats??? and why does a woman have to wear a suit on shabbos? (And yes, some people blatantly stare if you don't conform. Better yet, they pull you aside and educate you about the proper mode of dress "if you want to belong" (I.e. want to marry off your kids to someone other than the drunk under the Brooklyn bridge.)

  2. SW- I totally hear you, especially concerning the added pressure once you have kids. Thanks for the great comment!

    While I certainly understand that one needs to set an example for one's children, and that one consequently should take a more stringent approach once one has started a family, we also have to remember that kids can spot insincerity a mile away. So if they sense that we're doing something resentfully, they're not going to buy into it. You have to strike a balance between doing the mitzvot properly, and doing them with joy.

    And hopefully, through doing so, one can continue to grow organically in yiddishkeit as a family. Without the additional pressure of the witch hunt.

  3. It's not even about the halacha any more or accepting a more stringent view on tznius. That's what's killing me! It's simply about looking like everyone else. While I have no problem with that, I never got the whole thing about expressing oneself through clothes, some things are just inconvenient. For example, the whole thing about white shirts for men. Why white? Why not blue? White is very impractical, which turns out to be quite costly at the end. I have the whole shpiel about it, to which SubHub is subjected on a semi-annual basis and which starts with white shirts and ends somewhere about treatment of women. LOL, there's logic behind madness, trust me.

  4. To hell with conformity, never mind stupid, narrow-minded bigots! The last time somebody stared at me (mind you, it was a kid from the block who was playing in my Dad's front yard!), I just stuck out my tongue at him. Oh, the pleasure of seeing him and his chaparone!

    LPC, next time somebody stares at you, I suggest you stare right back, or ask them if they misplaced their Emily Post (a good one, since at their great educaton level they have no idea who or what it is), or you can always do what I did