Monday, January 12, 2015

Exercising the Right Frame of Mind

At this point, I should no longer be surprised by the getups people conceive of wearing to the gym.

I'll be pumping away on the elliptical, feeling like a triathlete, but resembling a squeezed sponge, soaking everywhere, and  I'll look over to a girl dressed head to toe in a black chador (a full cloak that covers the body and hair but reveals the face). She'll be cruising freely, unhindered by the 5 extra pounds swathed around her neck and waist. To her left will be a girl I'd seen from Hillel listening to Bruno Mars, bouncing in her cotton, jersey skirt, and to my right, a girl also in cotton, although instead of skimming her thighs its stretched as a tiny bralette with Greecian letters. It's one of those moments when you wish you had a camera to capture the comic of the scene- Chador, Knee-Length skirt, Bralette, and "JCC Summer Camp 2010"- following a single powerful momentum.

Recently I've been contemplating the Jewish worldwide image. The examples that come to mind are from the Leftist  coverage during the incursion on Gaza this past summer, the recent bloodshed of the Har Nof and Parisian terror attacks, and the viral video created by  Jihadists entitled "How to stab a Jew." This PA educational video, designed to thwart "resisters" and replicate face stabbing (this video is very disturbing), served for me my own educational purpose. 

To the world, the Jew is a pincushion. To the world, he is a receptacle of denigration and curved knives,  the prop of capitalism, the scapegoat of 9/11, and the perpetrator in the Huffington Post article entitled, "Ultra-Orthodox Men Cause Flight Delay By Refusing To Sit By Women, Again."

I googled "Jew" and under images this is what I found:






And when I see these, I am only more disheartened to think about what this can only be doing to the Jewish identity--to Jews across the world struggling on college campuses to either hide their "Jewish-ness" or actively rebel against their heritage because they are ashamed with the media stigma sewn onto them like the yellow "Jude" star.

To quote a line of  from Deborah Feldman's book Unorthodox: "A Jew can never be a goy, she says, even if they try their hardest to become one. They may dress like one, speak like one, live like one, but Jewishness is something that can never be erased. Even Hitler knew that."

When I returned home at the start of winter break I signed up for a gym membership at the local JCC. Within 10 minutes of my first workout , a personal trainer entered with her entourage of about ten Orthodox women aged between 45-70 wearing droopy head coverings, turtleneck sweaters, and white leather New Balances. As I went about my routine alternating inclines and shifting between speeds, I noticed that none of the women looked like they were going to change into something more "active": all of them intended to wear their street outfits on the machienes.

When I thought this situation could not get any more atypical, a woman strut inside clad in pencil skirt, ballet flats, a dress shirt, a finely curled wig and a full face of make-up. She looked about ready to start a board meeting or attend a bridal shower, not to run beside a soaked sponge. You should have seen my face as she ascended the treadmill's belt, fully glossed. I looked straight into the mirror before me with bulging eye sockets: she hadn't even changed from her ballet flats.

With so many influences and ideas from media, college, parents, and friends both secular and not, I realized that I need to rebrand my own image of Jew. A more flattering, optimistic connotation must be pulled from my schema, when searching the image "Jew" in my head. I have found that unfavorable impressions stick more often than favorable ones. But I think it's my duty-now that I'm aware of it- not to revert to the images of acid pourers in Meia Sherim, subjects of embezzlement charges, or Holocaust scenes. I must exercise my self-confidence as a Jew and recall images of empowerment or joy, of hunting for the afikomen matzah my father hid above the doorpost, or of the pop quiz he'd give from the Little Midrash Says on the torah portion friday nights. It is my responsibility to remember sitting on my mothers lap shaking a noisemaker when the evil Haman's name was read aloud, and that bubbling warmth when I stood before the Western Wall the first time. Being Jewish, it is my responsiblity to remember the good, the positive, the Godly: It is my obligation to remember the Candy Man in shul.

Before I become outraged by the images and impressions I see portrayed on TV- I must first be mindful of the image I have of my fellow Jew, in essense, myself.

Sincerely,
She wore rain boots on the treadmill today- I'm not lying-rain boot! 

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