Arranged: Life in Left Field

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

July 16th, 2011 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

I just watched a movie called “Arranged,” about two young women – one a religious Muslim, the other an orthodox Jew – who become friends and share experiences getting set up for marriage. I loved the movie. I also thought it was funny that the woman who played the Muslim was in fact a Jewish women raised in Uruguay, born to a Moroccan Jewish father and Eastern European Jewish mother.

What I loved about the movie was that I could relate to it in ways that I can’t relate to narratives in most other movies. Coming from an orthodox Jewish world gives me a radically different spin on life than coming from a secular society. I remember some feminist gathering, where people were talking about how “we take for granted the feminism of our mothers.”

Uh, not here folks. There was no feminism to speak of in my household growing up – except the innate feminist spew coming out of my mouth since I was about three, and the Wellesely-induced feminism from my sister during her college years and beyond. (I remember pleading with her to shut up about all the gender roles when the TV was on, so that I could watch the damn programs in peace!) True, women’s rights were supported to a certain extent on a community level — ie, outside the family — but within the home, it was a traditionally patriarchal household — raging tyrannical father, submissive deferential mother, and all.

Just the other day, oh wait, I think it was this evening, I was talking to my mom about how when you have multiple layers, it gets really hard to find a match in a man. When the Rucheleh character (the orthodox Jewish woman) was displeased with all the matchmaking choices offered her, all hell began to break loose. The mother panicked about Rucheleh becoming an old maid and therefore destroying the younger sister’s chance of ever getting married.

I come from a family where one of my aunts was married off quickly to a physically violent man, so that the younger sister could get married to a man she loved. Because if the younger sister got married first, the older sister would never, ever be married off. She’d end up an Old Maid.

When Rucheleh started hanging out with a Muslim woman, the mother also panicked about how it would ruin Rucheleh’s reputation and therefore prospects of marriage. I think that’s much more of a Eastern European Jewish thing – that community tends to be far more provincial than Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, for example, who easily mixed with their non-Jewish neighbors.

But the point is that once you start to question the codes and rigid restrictions, once you start to speak up and speak out, you start to bang against the walls of the religious Jewish establishment and get shut out – as started happening to the Rucheleh character. That which was once warm becomes dry ice cold. It’s like a lovingly abusive relationship: As long as you stay in line with what the abuser wants, everything is fine. But the very second you say or do anything that does not fall in step, all hell breaks loose; and the violent hatred is exposed.

So I grew up a devout young Jewess – my heart and my life dedicated to the Jewish way. But then there was all the sexist crap in the synagogues. And the violence in my home. And the entrenched, systemic racism towards non-European Jews like me. And the egomania running rampant in the Sephardi and Mizrahi communities. And the disability issues. And let’s just say that I am not one to shut my mouth.

Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer. With each issue, I was estranged farther and farther from the community. People just did not want to deal with things, did not want to think about things, did not want to do the transformational healing that needed to happen at the root level. There was less and less of a space for me, certainly without a fight. In fact, being part of the Jewish world came to feel like a constant battle. To the point that I gave up.

Tonight is Friday night. While my preference would be to light candles and pray and say qadous and sing songs, I am utterly isolated from the Jewish world, for all the reasons listed above. So I watch movies and just chill out instead.

And finding a man is one hell of a pain in the ass. Because I criss-cross worlds, points of view, values, beliefs, and needs. It’s part of this, part of that, not quite this, not quite that. Orthodox Jewish ideas and secular ideas about sexuality, for example, are equally myopic in my opinion, equally oppressive, just in polar opposite ways.

Anyhow more on that later. I’m thinking about relationships between women and men – gender roles, religious values, all of the many pieces that play out. And how, the more one has perspective on all these things, the more difficult it seems to be to find a mate. People like to do things by rote. And the more you pay attention and act on principle, the farther and farther out in left field you find yourself.

And left field is a lonely place to be.

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