Monday, September 6, 2010

Tale of a Sheitel, Tale of a Scarf

I'd thought long and hard about video blogging this (vlogging, as it were), but I opted out of it. When I vlog, I tend to wander and not stick to a set trajectory of conversation. Thus, here we are, a text blog. Old fashioned-style.

I went to an event last week, between all of my orientations and receptions at NYU. My first day of classes is Tuesday, so I was excited to hit campus last week and meet the new students and do some student-y activities. So I showed up for a Jewish student event to visit the Jewish Heritage Museum down in Battery Park, eager to meet some students (knowing most would be undergrads) and excited to see the museum. I walked in to this facility around 10 a.m. where we were congregating before heading down to the museum and was greeted by a familiar face who quickly jetted off to a meeting or something elsewhere. Then, I was left in a room of about 10-15 people, whom I didn't know. There were about three or four individuals who were dressed in the facility's garb, and it became quickly clear that these were the group leaders, there to introduce themselves to the students, ask them how things were going, and make them feel warm and welcome as we schlepped down to the museum. So I stood there, awaiting the introductions. And then?

One of the group leaders stepped -- literally, and I mean that -- in front of where I was standing to address a group of students sitting in the lounge area. She proceeded to introduce herself to everyone in the room, except for me. She asked them their names and what they were studying. She even went out of her way to walk over to a guy that walked in a little late, asking him his name and how he was liking everything. He, too, was a graduate student.

So I stood. I waited. I thought, Okay, this girl is going to talk to me, right? She's made an effort to speak to every single person in this room, so I'm next. And I waited. I waited. I waited for anyone in this group of people -- leaders and students alike -- to say ANYTHING to me. And? Nothing. Not a darn word. Not a smile or a look or anything.

One of the girls offered water bottles to everyone in the room, I said no thank you, and we were off. As we were nearly at the transit station, finally a girl said something to me. "What are you studying?" she asked. I told her, she said that it was nice, and moved along.

Now, I'm not trying to play the oppressed Jewess here, but after my day there and at the museum I sort of had this realization of being exceedingly uncomfortable as the Frum Jew in a Secular Room. There was one guy there in tzitzit and a kippah, but he was the life of the room. There I was, in my skirt and ridiculous sleeves for the heat of the weather and the scarf covering everything but the tefach of my bangs. And no one wanted anything to do with me. People didn't look at me, smile at me, come near me. I was the leper in the room. At least, that's how I felt. It's entirely possible that these people were just as shy as I was. But that girl ... that girl who made such an effort to speak to everyone in the room ... bypassing me with a serious effort ... that says something to me. Something negative. Something hurtful.

I later thought to myself that maybe if I had been wearing my sheitel (wig), I would have fit in. Looked normal. Like a girl with long dark hair like the rest of the girls in the room. I would have been worthy of an introduction or a "hello" or something. Anything. But is that a good enough reason to actively wear it?

I spent Shabbos tormented over this incident and my sheitel. We were back in West Hartford, in our old community of no scarves or some scarves. I opted out of wearing my sheitel both Friday night and Saturday during the day for two reasons: fear of judgment that I'd gone off the deep end and my husband's aversion to the darn thing. I ended up throwing the sheitel on for motzei Shabbos as we drove to the Poconos because it's the easiest way to travel with it -- on my head. Friends saw it, and some said it was cute and one told me I looked silly. I felt ... relaxed. I felt the sheitel on my head, the netted cap causing a bit of an itch, but I felt good. I was irritated with myself that I had let what I worried the community and my husband would say reign over my emotions. The rabbi's wife wore her sheitel both days. Why didn't I? Fear. My old community is a very Conservadoxish one. When we siad we were moving to Teaneck we got laughs, scoffs, and questions of "Why?" I didn't want them to think I'd consumed the Kool-Aid or become one of those "rightwing judgmental Jews." I'm still me.

Sheitel or not. I'm still Chaviva. I'm still who I've been and will be.

But for those who don't know me, I'm a girl in a scarf or a hat or a sheitel and whatever my headgear says about me, I find myself frustrated. I've been told before that I've become more judgmental since becoming "more observant." The funny thing is, I almost feel like my observance allows other people to judge me in ways I have never been judged before. The way I dress, my headgear, my language, everything physical about me says to other people that I'm something that I'm not.

I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that a scarf on my head made a room full of Jewish people not want anything to do with me, and that the thought of wearing a sheitel made a room full of other Jewish people cringe at who I've become. But how much of this is a projection, and how much is reality?

I guess I'll never know.