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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let her stand where she wants

There was a Bar Mitzvah in our synagogue this past Shabbat, and the young man did an admirable job in all respects.  However, as he was getting towards the end of his Torah reading, I noticed a little old lady standing in the men's section next to the Bima (raised platform with the reader's table). 

I'll admit that having grown up in a Reform temple, the sight of a woman in the men's section didn't really phase me.  But knowing that such a departure from the norm in orthodoxy might raise a few eyebrows (to say the least) among the other congregants, I waited for the expected commotion.

But none came.  She just stood there leaning on her cane, and nobody said a word.

When the reading was finished, the congregation began throwing candies at the young man... and it quickly became apparent why the old lady had taken up a position so close to the Bima:  She had stuffed her pockets with candies, and wanted to make sure she was within easy throwing range of the Bar Mitzvah Boy.

While the candies were thrown (and the old lady tossed well-aimed salvos of her own), a friend of mine came over to where I was standing and asked if I'd noticed the old lady in the men's section.  I nodded and then asked why nobody seemed to mind that she had spent most of the Torah reading in the men's section? 

He just smiled and said, "Oh, you don't know who that is?  Let me tell you a story":

"That lady", he began, "is the Bar Mitzvah Boy's grandmother.  Before the Six Day war she lived in one of the Jerusalem neighborhoods that abutted the 'non-man's zone' dividing the Jordanian and Israeli positions.  She had endured years of random sniper fire aimed at her apartment building, and had seen many injuries and deaths in her time."

"Just before the war she had undergone surgery on her hip and was only able to walk with the aid of a cane.  When the news went out over the radio that the war had ended, she was among the first to emerge from the bomb shelters.  She limped into the street, blinking at the bright sunlight, and immediately began beating the bodies of the Jordanian soldiers with her cane to make sure they were dead.  Many weren't... at least when she found them."

"She was so full of fury at the conditions under which the Jordanians had forced her, and her neighbors, to live for so many years that she'd jumped at the opportunity to dole out some personal retribution."

When my friend had finished telling me the story, he tilted his head in the direction of the old lady (who was, by then, slowly thump, thump thumping her way back to the women's section with the aid of her cane), and asked, "Do you want to be the one to tell her where she is and isn't allowed to stand?"

Point taken.

Posted by David Bogner on May 24, 2009 | Permalink

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you bump into the most amazing stories....thanks for sharing this one!

Posted by: Hadassah | May 24, 2009 2:05:17 PM

I'm so glad nobody told her she was not supposed to stand there.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | May 24, 2009 2:36:52 PM

Aren't you glad you didn't say anything? (laughing out loud) What a pistol! Terrific story!

Posted by: aliyah06 | May 24, 2009 4:11:25 PM

I find this fascinating, both the combination of the simple assertion of an elderly women as well as the flexible tolerance of your community.

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | May 24, 2009 7:29:18 PM

It in fact sounds like the kind of community my family and I would like. Which community is it?

Posted by: Mark | May 24, 2009 7:55:37 PM

Great story! Thanks for sharing it. Let her stand.

Posted by: TimTerpening | May 24, 2009 9:33:47 PM

My kind of gal! May Am Yisrael be blessed with many like her!

Posted by: Mordechai Y. Scher | May 25, 2009 3:16:34 AM

Love.This.Story!

Posted by: Maya | May 25, 2009 3:32:06 AM

A damn shame she wasn't armed at the time. And no, I don't mean at the Bar Mitzvah...

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | May 25, 2009 4:29:59 AM

Huh... no lightening? No loud voice from above? Perhaps that separation stuff isn't necessary after all???!!!
I'm jes sayin'...

Posted by: val | May 25, 2009 5:48:27 AM

Great story!

Marsha- of course she was armed!

Posted by: Nachum | May 25, 2009 6:15:34 AM

Was there a buffer zone, all around her? :-)

Posted by: Rami | May 25, 2009 1:28:52 PM

Reminds me of a quotation I read once:

"Women need to learn that no one gives you power. You just take it."

Good topic for the next JOFA conference?

Posted by: Sarah B. | May 25, 2009 5:21:22 PM

And everyone's just OK with the idea of murdering wounded enemy soldiers?

Posted by: Adam | May 25, 2009 10:57:19 PM

Age is not, it seems, always a detrimental thing. However will the youth of the 21st century process *that* thought?

Posted by: Wry Mouth | May 26, 2009 5:07:44 AM

You find the most amazing stories.

After all that time and fear, I'd probably be furious enough to take a whack at someone, too. I don't know if I'd be strong willed enough to stand in the men's section, though ;)

Posted by: Alissa | May 26, 2009 10:26:39 PM

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