Saturday, 19 January 2013

I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR! by Naomi Elana Zener

"Beep! Beep!" shrieked the alarm clock, annoyingly reminding Samara that it was five thirty in the wee morning of her twelfth birthday. Time had expired with the day of reckoning resting upon her. No longer able to idly sit by as an innocent bystander and watch time creep slowly by, Samara was keenly aware that the silence floating ethereally through her family home, illuminated by the pearly glow of the moon, would be shattered by her explosive birthday plans.  Samara had been waging a calculated yet failing war against her parents’ efforts to thrust a Bat Mitzvah upon her. D-Day, as her seventh rescheduled Bat Mitzvah date, was seven months away, narrowing the field of time during which she could succeed in kiboshing the dreaded event.  It was not that Samara did not want to be Jewish, but rather she did not believe in god or religious rituals. Rather, she wanted to go to public school, eat pork and date whomever she pleased, not things in which her modern orthodox parents believed.

Despite her failures in having the celebration cancelled, Samara’s creative imagination had proven to be her most competent ally in her rebellion against the rite of passage. During her eleventh year of life, Samara mounted several battle campaigns. First, she faked laryngitis at her Bat Mitzvah preparation classes. Then, she redacted her Torah portion in her notebook redacting all text claiming that the C.I.A. advised her to tell the Rabbi that it contained top secret information and there was no way she could recite it in public. When those efforts resulted in little more than verbal admonishments from her teacher, Rabbi, principal and parents, Samara upped the ante: she ordered Hawaiian pizza with ham to the principal's office on Teacher Appreciation Day, skipped out of gym class to plaster the school's walls and lockers with "Jesus Saves" bumper stickers, and organized having Father McCreedie from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Imam Hosseini from Mosque of the Golden Dome preside over the Bat Mitzvah as a peace initiative. Finally, when her parents went on vacation for six weeks to Europe, Samara cancelled the date of her Bat Mitzvah evincing Newton's Third Law of Motion, which resulted in her expulsion from her Hebrew day school. Samara's twelfth birthday also marked her first day at a new Hebrew school, which obligingly admitted her after much begging and pleading on her parents’ part. 

At seven o'clock in the morning, Samara's parents descended upon the kitchen after realizing that their daughter had fled the house, so as to avoid their well-rehearsed "be on your best behaviour" speech, but left behind a seemingly lovingly made quiche for their kosher breakfast. Both of her parents tucked into the meal with vigour ravenous from a night of fasting in observance of one of the many Jewish holidays Samara tried to ignore. Her parents ate more than half of the food their daughter had left for them before taking notice of an envelope addressed to them in Samara’s handwriting. After neatly wiping her mouth, Samara's mother put down her fork, opened the envelope and turned green upon reading the letter. Samara had spiked the quiche with lobster and prosciutto, the taste of which was cleverly masked by the sweet siren call of sugar. For good measure, the offensive quiche was served on the dishes reserved for milk-based foods. Samara’s parents, ever the pious people, chose to believe that the incident was not a sign of what was to come that day.
"Class, please welcome Samara to Jewish Hebrew Day Academy," the teacher instructed. "Not only is she new to our class, but today is her twelfth birthday and marks the year of her Bat Mitzvah. Samara, are you excited to be standing at the precipice of womanhood?"
"I'm as excited to be bat mitzvahed as I was when I got my period during swim class and aptly renamed Jaws as a result," Samara stated deadpan to classroom laughter. Her teacher clearly was not impressed.
"Since you've joined us in the midst of your Bat Mitzvah preparation, you will have to update us on what you've done to date to prepare for your big day. Also, since you have joined us on a Friday, your parents were told that you would be responsible to lead our school's mini-Shabbat service today and provide Shabbat lunch at lunchtime. Did you make the necessary preparations?"
"Everything is good to go," Samara sang sweetly.
"Now, please come to the front of the class to tell us everything about your Bat Mitzvah," the teacher instructed.
Samara strolled to the front of the class prepared to launch Operation Shock and Awe.
“For my good deed project, or mitzvah project as you call it, I planted 18 trees in Israel in the name of the first synagogue where my Bat Mitzvah was supposed to take place,” Samara began.
“What do you mean, ‘where it was supposed to take place?” the teacher asked.
“My first date was cancelled,” Samara advised.
“That’s a wonderful good deed,” said the teacher, “but why would the synagogue cancel your date?”
“I planted the trees in the synagogue’s name in honour of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Samara stated to a snickering class.
“Class, stop laughing at once!” the teacher ordered. “A cancelled Bat Mitzvah is no a laughing matter. Samara, perhaps they simply did not understand your attempt to endorse peace between Iran and Israel. Please tell us about your charity project. I understand that you chose to raise funds at a Jewish National Fund dinner?”
“That’s right. It was a fantastic night. The fundraiser was being held at the new synagogue where my second Bat Mitzvah date was scheduled. The synagogue’s ballroom was staged to look like a 1950s glamorous Hollywood party. The goal of the night was to raise money for Israel’s army through the sale of war bonds. All of the Bat Mitzvah girls were dressed up as ‘cigarette’ sales girls, but instead of cigarettes, war bonds were the goods being sold,” Samara explained.
“How much money did you raise that night?” a classmate inquired.
“None,” Samara replied.
“That’s too bad,” said the teacher. “Did the other Bat Mitzvah girls have similar trouble selling bonds?”
“Not at all! I think they raised a combined total of twenty thousand bucks,” Samara explained.
“I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t anyone buy Israeli war bonds from you?” the teacher asked.
“I was selling Hamas war bonds,” Samara stated. 
The bell rang announcing the commencement of Shabbat services. Samara ran out of the class with the throng of girls and boys racing for the sanctuary before the teacher could say another word.
Samara recruited two of her new classmates, who had enjoyed her morning comedy routine, to hand out programs for the liturgical services. Samara took her place next to Rabbi Dorkin who introduced Samara and gave her the podium to commence the prayer session. Before the students could open their prayer programs, dancing Christmas elves burst down the sanctuary’s aisles and on to the stage accompanying a singing Samara:
"On the first day of Chanukah, my Rabbi gave to me, a nose job to sound less jappy.”
“On the second day of Chanukah, my Rabbi gave to me, two diamond studs, and a nose job to sound less jappy.”
Rabbi Dorkin, Samara’s teacher and the principal promptly rushed to the podium putting an end to the heretical performance. After the roaring laughter of the student body died down, traditional services resumed. Samara received a stern post-services warning not to pull any more stunts by the principal and ordered to return to class. Upon her return to class, Samara was greeted by the sweet smell emanating from the box marked with the “COR” kosher symbol sitting on her teachers desk containing the Shabbat lunch she had ordered.
“This food smells delicious,” the teacher offered kindly, as Samara handed out the meals, hoping that there would be no more hijinx. After a customary blessing on the food sung by the entire class, everyone began to eat.
“The food is amazing!” the teacher remarked.
“We’ve never eaten something so yummy for Shabbat at school before,” a classmate announced.
“I’m so glad that you like the food!” Samara exclaimed. “I was worried you wouldn’t enjoy it.”
“Not enjoy it? I don’t think I put my fork down once to inhale,” the teacher exclaimed showing Samara her empty plate.
“Milky way sweet pulled pork is the best!” Samara stated.
“What did you just say?” the teacher asked.
“I said that Milky Way sweet pulled pork is the best,” Samara retorted with a snarky smile.
“You fed us pork?” the teacher shrieked. “CLASS, STOP EATING AT ONCE AND SPIT OUT WHAT’S IN YOUR MOUTH! How could you serve pork in a kosher Jewish school? And, mixed with milk no less?”
“It’s not really mixing milk and meat since Jews don't consider pork to be edible meat,” Samara replied.
 “Go to the principal’s office at once!” the teacher screamed. “Everyone else, run to the washrooms to wash out your mouths and then come back immediately so we can pray this sin away!”
After a second stern meeting with a very disappointed, but forgiving principal, Samara was instructed to go to her Bat Mitzvah prep class with Rabbi Dorkin.
“Samara, I understand that you have reservations about having a Bat Mitzvah and religion generally, but this is really a beautiful tradition that celebrates you as a woman and your place in the Jewish community,” Rabbi Dorkin offered. “I believe you are performing Parashat Ki Thetze, but that you are sharing it with a few other girls, so you only had to write an essay on the part you are responsible for. Why don’t you read me your essay?”
“God is a misogynist. My part of the Torah portion talks about how a Jewish man is a caveman who can club any woman he wants over the head, force her to become his wife, be naked, become ugly so no other man would want her and basically be owned by the man who dragged her from her homeland. And, when the man has used up the woman for all that she is worth to him, basically for sex and to be a baby-making oven, he can toss her away like garbage because she is too insignificant to be his servant. Last, the woman cannot be sold for money because that would be wrong and offensive,” Samara read.
“How can you take the words of the Lord in vain like that?” Rabbi Dorkin raged.
“I call it like I see it. Take a look at the English translation of what I have to read at my sanctimonious Bat Mitzvah. How can you expect me, as a girl becoming a woman, to simply accept this wonderful place I hold within the Jewish religion?” Samara replied as she passed the translation to Rabbi Dorkin that she had received from her last school. The translation stated:
10. If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives,
11. and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.
12. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow.
13. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you.
14. And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.[i]
“I think you should go home,” Rabbi Dorkin solemnly ordered after reviewing the Anglicized ancient text. Samara left without a word triumphant and assured that she had set off just enough landmines to vanquish her parents plan to impose their religious mores and way of life on her.
On her return home, Samara was met with the defeated, blank and forlorn stares of her weary parents who were waiting for her in the living room.

 “We received two interesting voicemail messages today. Can you please explain why I got a phone call from Father O'Leery asking me to confirm that both dad and I are Catholic?” Samara’s mom queried.

 “Well, they need to make sure that you are not trying to sneak in a non-Catholic before I can be enrolled at Our Daughter of Futility,” Samara replied. “Just lie. It’s not like you’re a real Catholic, so you can’t burn in their hell for lying.”
“I see,” her father stated shaking his head. “And, what’s this we hear about Rabbi Dorkin quitting as your tenth Bat Mitzvah teacher?”

“Don’t worry! I found a new, more secular teacher, who respects my view of Judaism,” Samara replied. “He should be here any second.”

As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Standing in the doorway was Don Gong, the Hebrew-speaking head-waiter from Shanghai Gardens, her family’s favourite kosher Chinese restaurant.

"Shalom! Baruch hashem," Don Gong stated. “I am new Bat Misva teacher. Want a spring roll?”

© 2012 Naomi Elana Zener.

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