by Judy Heicklen
My first-grade daughter’s semi-annual dance recital is approaching next month. She takes ballet and tap at the JCC, so twice a year we order a special frilly costume, ensure that the bag is packed with both sets of shoes, and send her off to appear on stage. We sit with the other admiring parents, moonstruck grandparents, and disinterested siblings, as the various classes each perform their three-minute routines. We collectively “aww” as the youngest group toddles out, and we hold our collective breath, hoping none of them will fall off the edge of the stage. For forty-five minutes we clap enthusiastically as the girls—and they are almost always girls—get their individual moments in the sun.
My daughter also takes ukulele lessons at the JCC. Who knew that they made pink ukuleles? I know that many feminists hate pink, but I don’t mind it. I also don’t mind the frilly costumes and the princess fantasies. More important to me is that my daughter is gaining an appreciation for music and is trying new things. I can hardly wait for the ukulele recitals to start.
She also plays soccer in the fall and softball in the spring in the local Teaneck leagues. On a recent morning, before her game, she told me she wanted to quit the softball team. We talked about her having made a commitment to the team; she reluctantly agreed to play for that one day. When we got there, she was happy to go out into the field, but became nervous at the thought of batting. It was the first year that the girls were being pitched to instead of hitting off a tee, and she was anxious. Her first at-bat was three swinging strikes—but she was just glad to get it over with. When
she realized she was going to have to bat again, she became morose—but she went out there and got her first hit. She was bursting with pride the rest of the day. When I asked her later if she wanted to quit, she said, “No, my team needs me.” She’ll be back on the field for the next game.
Confidence, poise, self-expression, a sense of pride and accomplishment, teamwork, a lifelong love of music, and an appreciation for fitness—these are what I hope she has gotten and will continue to get out of these activities. But I think of them as just that—activities, to be pursued as long as she enjoys them, and to be discontinued if (or when) she no longer has the time and/or inclination to participate.
There are others, however, for whom these are more than just activities to pursue in their free time. They have
a dream, a talent, a discipline, an inner voice calling for expression. And I think that one of the challenges they face is how to reconcile that passion and that drive with an observant life. Here in Teaneck we are lucky because both the JCC and the sports leagues are shomrei Shabbat, and the concession stands are kosher. The larger world is not so accommodating.
As an observant woman, one also must grapple with the questions of voice and dress. At our December conference, one of the documentaries we screened was The Bulletproof Stockings, about a hard-rock women’s group that plays only for all-female audiences. Perl Wolfe and Dalia Shusterman, members of the band, joined the session for a Q&A, and they both spoke of the strong desire they had to make music and how they reconciled that with their religious sensibilities. (See article, Bulletproof Stockings Rocks the Frum World) We also had an appearance from Ofir ben Shitrit, the teenage Israeli singing sensation who was thrown out of school for performing in public. She spoke of how her religious thinking influenced her, including in how she dresses and moves when singing. (See article, On Becoming 'The Voice' for Young Orthodox Women)
On Pesach we read Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, in shul. Shabbat Chol HaMoed is usually the first chance I get on Pesach to go to shul, and one of the reasons I push myself to go is because I love the Song of Songs. It speaks of love and yearning, of an equal partnership between the two protagonists. One of my favorite verses is 2:14,
“Let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice.” I hope that however each of us chooses to raise our voice, it will be heard and thought sweet.