Cleaning up dignity

Today, the day after Tisha B’Av, you see all the laundry that people haven’t done since before Shabbat or even before the previous week, hanging out in all its glory. We in the West have learned not to expose our laundry of any kind, whether clean or dirty. But here in Tzfat, in particular, but Israel and probably the Middle East in general, you hang your laundry where you can.

See the little girl looking at me? She and I played smiles together.

We don’t have access to an outside drying rack of any sort, so we’ve been taking our laundry to a place a few streets up from us. Up, as in steps, and more steps, and then a winding street, and then voilà! We schlepped our bags up this morning when we thought for sure they’d be open. They would be, in just 15 minutes, at 9 am. So thankfully, there was a chair right by the side, and I sat down to wait.

And while I waited, I watched. I saw the old man sit on the steps on the other side of the road. He was actually waiting for me to vacate his chair. Now I know. I saw the young woman with the bandages on her arm and her hand, walking proudly down the street. There were the variety of women shoppers, all with such dignity. I am so impressed that there are so many women who carry themselves with such dignity.

Then there was a woman who approached me and asked when the laundry opens. I recognized an American without hearing her speak (Hebrew), but I politely returned the answer also in Hebrew. She said, “Oh, I guess I’ve got time to come back.”

It was 8:55.

“My bags are too heavy to go back and forth.” In English:).

“Oh, I have time to come back later.”

“Have a nice day!”

And then an older woman approached and opened the door of the laundry. “? אפשר להיכנס Can I come in?”, even though she hadn’t turned on the lights yet…

“Of course!”, she answered with a smile in her voice.

“My daughter and family had a brit milah yesterday for their new son, so I’m here helping out. The lights don’t seem to work, so I have to wait for my son-in-law to come in.”

I knew the daughter was very very much due since we had seen how stiffly she walked around the store, but since I obviously hadn’t seen her since before her giving birth, I didn’t know.

“How wonderful to have a brit on Tisha B’Av! What a wonderful sign for the future!”

What was really really wonderful was that we were sharing her happiness, her nachas, as the most natural thing in the world. Yes, she assumed I was returning customer, but still, this is family business at its very very best.

The other day, we were asked to help some of the young adults studying here to prepare something to say about a question they had, using Jewish sources, if possible. One of the young women asked me why is it that there is such a gap between the Western view of the body, coming from the Greek model of beauty, and the Jewish one. She was very respectful when she asked the question, and so I tried to honor her by answering with respect.

I started by saying that the Torah has a positive view of the body, and that it is a gift that we must honor. It is ours to maintain as a vehicle for doing mitzvot. Otherwise, why would we have been created with bodies? We also have a right to have pleasure, but of course, within limits and boundaries. Nothing can continue without limitations. And then I rattled on about a husband’s obligation to give pleasure to his wife, how smoking is forbidden according to many rabbis, even if their students are not able to handle listening to this (such a terrible scourge! I want to tell the mayor of Tzfat that if he pays his gallery vendors to not smoke, business will improve at least 300%! But that will have to be for later, I guess.), how the body is the vessel of dignity and how we should honor that dignity by keeping a sense of privacy. She was very open to what I was saying, writing everything down quickly.

Then at Friday night Shabbat dinner, another one of the young women spoke. About exactly the same topic, but…

“Why can’t these people (AGH! Really, she said that!) get over themselves and just let everyone do what they want? I’m not telling them they can’t do what they want, so why should they not respect me for wanting to be comfortable?”


The redeeming factor was that my young friend who I had worked with spoke the next day and redeemed us all. She, we were told by someone who witnessed both talks, spoke with seriousness and conviction about the dignity of the individual, the value of recognition of the beauty within all of us. Like Esther in the Purim story, who “found favor in everyone’s eyes.” Yes, she was beautiful, too. But her inner beauty showed through.

That is the dignity that we all should learn to appreciate.


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