December 22, 2005
The Married Charedi and Me
I met Oren after watching "Kol Nidrei," a new play by Israeli playwright Yehoshua Sobol. The play is about Charedi (ultra-Orthodox)
Jews who lead double lives -- as Bnei Brak yeshiva bochers by day and Tel Aviv bar-hoppers by Friday night. "Kol Nidrei" is inspired by real life, and the main characters are played by former Charedi Jews who had left their communities for the "free life" of Tel Aviv and who now study acting.
My friend Tovy and I got in the elevator with Oren, who was wearing a black kippah and a blue collared shirt. Curious, we asked him what he thought of "Kol Nidrei."
"I'm shaking," he said. "It really spoke to me."
He revealed to us that he lives in an ultra-Orthodox community with his wife and child, who didn't know where he was. By going to see the play, Oren, too, was leading a double life.
Tovy and I sat down with him, and he continued to tell us his story.
"I was always a very appeasing child, I always did what people expected of me, and I've always suffered," he explained.
Now 27, he was set up with his wife when he was 18. He doesn't love her, and they both know it. His work as a computer salesperson brought him into contact with secular Israelis, who seemed so much freer to him.
"You have a choice," he said to us. "I want that choice."
Internally, Oren is completely secular. He no longer believes in God. He doesn't pray or don tefillin. Externally, however, he looks like a good yeshiva boy.
"I can't just shave my beard and go to my family and say, 'That's me.' I don't have the courage."
I felt sorry for him, but also happy for him that he was courageously questioning his confines. And I couldn't help but be tempted to encourage him.
"Are you into nightclubs and bars, like the characters in the play?" I asked.
"I'm intrigued," he admitted. Once, an 18-year-old gas station attendant took him to a pub, but he felt "out of place."
Then I told him I was well connected with the Tel Aviv nightlife scene, but I debated whether or not to exchange phone numbers. On the one hand, he seemed like an interesting project. On the other hand, he was married.
"He's definitely into one of us," said Tovy, as he left.
That was obvious enough.
A few days later he called me with an "idea." "Maybe I can join you when you go to bars or nightclubs?"
He wasn't really experienced in asking a woman out on a date.
I deferred the date for a week; I was still hesitant. Would I be evil by escorting him to the Tel Aviv underworld, while his wife and child are at home? Am I aiding and abetting a probable adulterer?
But when he called me again, I decided to go out with the poor soul -- with caution.
We sat for beer at a pub on Ben Yehuda Street on a Thursday night, Tel Aviv's party night.
There was no small talk to bypass to get to the nitty gritty. We immediately began talking real life, and the dialogue was intense.
"Doesn't your wife mind you're out late?" I probed.
He looked at me with a concentrated glance I hardly receive from secular men I date.
"We both know that it's going to end sooner or later," he said. "We talk about it."
His admission relieved some guilt I felt in luring this married Charedi. His marriage was a lost cause anyway. As long as I didn't kiss him, I reasoned, we were kosher.
And I wouldn't want to kiss him anyway. He really looked nerdy in his beard, white collared shirt, black kippah and black slacks. He totally didn't fit in, and I could tell people were looking at us. I fantasized about shaving his beard and taking him to the mall for a makeover. He had potential -- if only one could see his face.
We continued to talk Torah, philosophy, relationships, and I shared with him the process I underwent as I began to question the Modern Orthodox way of life. I realized what I really liked about him: He was a thinking creature. He thought about life, its meaning and his personal happiness.
"How does it feel to be in a Tel Aviv pub?" I asked.
"I'm on a high," he said.
As he dropped me off at my car, we shook hands and he kissed me on the cheek. I didn't like the feel of his beard.
"I really enjoyed myself," he said.
But then I wondered if he was acting. Maybe he dramatized his frustrations to attract a female savior? Maybe I was insecure and liked the feeling of being appreciated and needed by a man who saw me as a tempting, exotic fruit.
Then I remembered that this was not a play. "Kol Nidrei" was over. Art imitates life, but life rarely imitates art. His drama was real. Neither of us were actors.
For now I think it best I remain a minor, friendly character in Oren's story. Once the major conflicts are resolved -- and he goes through a wardrobe change -- then we'll see if I'll take on a bigger role.
Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at email@example.com.