Posted by Lara Berman
Or worse yet, JAP- y.
Sheesh! Where did these stereotypes about Jewish looks come from?
And has anyone noticed that plenty of Spanish, Italian, Arab or Indian folks could easily share the same description?
Whatever the reason, people think ‘Jew’ and Barbara Streisand comes to mind.
They think ‘Jew’ and Alan Dershowitz appears.
And BRILLIANT as they are (and they sure are), we (Jewish people) are pigeon-holed as that look in our entirety.
Well, here’s another area in which Israel could use some better PR, because Israelis are freakin’ GORGEOUS. I stare. I can’t help it. And I come from Texas (originally), NYC (for college), and Hollywood (ever since). That means, I’ve got some means of comparison. ‘Cause, check out what we know about the beauty those places tout:
Texas ~ According to “Men’s Health Magazine,” the most beautiful women in America hail from Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas. Ahem, my home towns. Since 1980, they have a higher percentage of beauty-pageant winners and playmates than anywhere else. And, according to their survey, the greatest number of beauties per capita! (We’re not talking plastic, manufactured beauty either; we’re talking home-grown goodness.)
New York City – Model capital of the world. I used to live across the street from the world-famous Elite modeling agency, where gawky, emaciated, Amazon women roamed the streets as though they were normal members of society and not imported freaks! (I say this of course out of pure jealousy, as I am 5’4” and curvy and doubt I will ever awake in the morning to find myself otherwise.)
Los Angeles – Home of Paris Hilton, Catherine Zeta Jones and every dazzling starlet who ever was or will be lit by the glittering glow of Hollywood’s limelight. They are the beauty trendsetters of the world, their entire existence dependant on the height of their cheekbones and the bounce of their bottoms. And we, the world, impressionable dolts as we are, eagerly down their dysfunctional definitions of beauty unquestioningly like kneeling children swallowing bread at first communion.
I digest…er, digress…point is, I have room to talk cause I’ve seen all these beauties up close and personal and let me tell you, after all that…ISRAEL’S BEAUTIES TRUMP ‘EM ALL! Listen, if any dude ever tells you Jewish girls aren’t pretty, you send that poor fella to the promised land, to witness for himself the land flowing with milk and honeys.
I always had an inkling that Israelis were gorgeous because my mom is Israeli, and poo poo poo, she is and always has been a total cha-tee-cha (hottie)! But I didn’t realize we had a whole country full of stunning people. And I’m not just talking about the women, though we can start with them.
From exile, Jews of the world have returned home and it’s created a “something-for-everyone” collection of beauty. We’ve got the striking, sun-kissed, dark-haired, dark-eyed beauties. We’ve got the Eastern-European/Russian contingent, fair-skinned, classic features, light-eyed and blond. We’ve got the Latin Jews, the French Jews, the Ethiopian Jews, the Swedish Jews and the Indian Jews. And then, oh my gosh, we have the mixtures which make for scandalously, exotic combinations where an olive-complected, black-haired gent can turn to reveal crystal-clear, blue eyes that can (and have) stop me in my tracks. The Tel Aviv beach is the perfect place to observe these many different types of Jews, home from foreign lands.
Furthermore, Israelis love salads. They’ve made the desert bloom, so now they’re taking advantage of it, eating fruits and vegetables as the basis of every meal. This makes for some amazingly svelt bodies for them, and delicious eye-candy for me. Trim guys play “matkot” (a game somewhere between ping-pong and tennis) on the shore, running and jumping and glistening (if I do say so) without any extra skin jiggling! And the women, well, they can just lie there for all to admire. (And they do!)
That isn’t to say every woman is a rake. There are real women of many shapes and sizes and ages. But, whereas in America most women participate in our culture of self-loathing, in Israel women wear their bikinis confidently. Curvy or straight, they own their physiques, and their acceptance and love of what they’ve got translates to beauty. What a small view of attractiveness I buy into in the States. These ladies, without speaking a word, taught me through example the meaning of Sophia Loren’s wise words: “Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than her own thought that she is beautiful.”
By every modern and global standard, Israelis top the beauty charts.
But there’s another beauty, an ancient beauty Israel boasts.
Unlike Tel Avivians who are more secular, Yerushalmi (Jerusalem)beauties cover themselves in brightly colored, flowing skirts and scarves. With bohemian sparkle they float down the streets, their modesty adding to their mystique.
As a Westerner quite comfortable with showing skin, I wondered if these ladies secretly wish to bear it all. So I asked Yifat, an Israeli friend from Tsfat who, for me, lives and embodies the amazing wisdom and richness Judaism offers. She is truly a LIGHT, down-to-earth, holy and inspired.
“Do you ever just want to take it off and wear…a tank top?” I asked her.
She thought and then answered, “You know, when I went to America, I drove past all these billboards with women just wearing their bras and underwear and I couldn’t believe it! I wondered, where are all your feminists?!”
“What do you mean?” I asked her. “It’s the model’s body, and she has the right to do with it what she wants. That’s the feminist movement.”
“Really?” Yifat challenged. “Because I thought the feminist movement was about women being seen as more than just baby-makers, more than just sex objects. Do you think anyone cares what that woman on the billboard has to say? Do they care what she thinks? Will they even care about what she looks like after age 25? Where are all your feminists protesting?! She is on display as nothing more than a body!”
In Israel, when someone gives over a piece of wisdom that knocks your socks off and makes you see differently you say, “Pssssshhhhh,” and you sit back in your chair to absorb it all. This was a “Pssshhhhhh” moment.
Yifat loves the way she dresses and that self respect and modest beauty are palpable. Sure, not every religious girl thinks exactly like Yifat, because no group of people all think exactly the same way. But, she enjoys that people treat her differently. They can see she’s observant. And it engenders a different level of consideration. Folks think twice before speaking crassly toward her or even in front of her, and if they slip, they apologize. In short, her inner beauty is felt. She comes with a different degree of dignity.
Beneath every Israeli’s beauty is a student, a soldier, a Jew. Modern, ancient. Romantic, traditional. Well traveled, rooted. Bohemian, sophisticated. Inner, outer. This is the beauty of Jews, of Israelis.
We’ve all met those people we can’t help but dislike at first glance because they just seem to have it all – like the way I spoke about those models in NYC; they were just so beautiful I wanted to hate them…without even knowing them! Well, that must be why the world likes to put us down. Sometimes it’s hard to look directly into the sunlight.
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August 24, 2010 | 1:27 am
Posted by Lara Berman
Neshek means ‘gun’ in Hebrew. You should all know this. So you don’t stand out like a classic, SToOPiD tourist…like I did.
I had just arrived in Tel Aviv, as I do nearly every week. I hopped off the sheirut (shared taxi) and headed into the Tachana HaMerkazeet (Central Bus Station) to catch my bus to the chof (beach). Of course, before anyone enters, they pass through a metal detector and their bag is checked – an unfortunate but necessary precaution at places with high concentrations of people. (Truth is, the checking has become so commonplace that I hardly notice it anymore.) But this particular Friday, because I was staying the weekend, I had a huge bag too jam-packed to be searched properly.
So, the beautiful, Ethiopian, lady soldier simply asked me, “Yesh lach neshek?” (Do you have a gun?)
Now, who knows? Maybe it was because I’d just gotten off the phone, maybe I was still waking up from the nap I’d taken on the drive over, maybe my ears hadn’t yet popped after coming down from the 7 hills of Jerusalem and my brain was clogged – I dunno, but a major, space-cadet moment ensued as I could not, for the life of me, remember what the heck ‘neshek’ meant.
So, I answered, “Ehm, lo yodaat.” (Um, I don’t know.)
“At lo yodaat?” (You don’t know?) She questioned quizzically, looking at me as though I had 3 heads.
“Neshek?” I repeated, cocking my head to one side, like my pup when he’s perplexed.
“Ken! Neshek! Yesh lach neshek?!” she said, slightly exasperated and visibly confounded that idiots like me were allowed to roam the streets freely.
Then somewhere, from the dustiest recesses of my mind, it came to me – ‘neshek’ means GUN!
“Lo! Lo! Betach, lo!” (No! No! Of course not! No!) I suddenly squawked, the context of this incriminating exchange suddenly illuminated.
A moment of silence followed, as we each sussed out the other.
She debated, I suspect – is this panicked chick just playing dumb or is she an honest-to-goodness imbecile? I stood, subtly twitching, trying to play it cool, while inwardly cursing myself for not reviewing my vocabulary words more diligently.
And then, probably against her better judgment, she said, “Ok, teekansi.” (Ok, come in.) At which point, I grabbed my bag far too eagerly and dashed inside with an awkwardly, high pitched, “todah!” (thanks!).
Suffice it to say, and I am not proud of this, I am not yet an Israeli.
It was also made clear the day I walked into the “SuperPharm” through the exit instead of the entrance, and so, had the glass doors open and close on me repeatedly while the does-it-really-need-to-be-that-loud siren sounded. See, whereas in English, I look at a word and can’t help but read it, in Hebrew, I still have to focus and concentrate…neither of which I did…(as demonstrated by completely missing the enormous, red YETZIAH (EXIT) sign) and so, was trapped and mashed between the automatic doors like grapes under Lucy’s feet, too stunned and embarrassed to escape with even a morsel of grace. When I finally entered the store, a woman approached me to see if I needed any help. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she meant in the store or in life in general.
That wouldn’t happen to a real Israeli.
It was then reaffirmed again the day I slipped down the Jerusalem-stone steps on my way home from the shuk (market), breaking my newly-purchased eggs all over the street. This happened because I’m too vain to buy practical shoes with good traction on the soles because I don’t think they’re very pretty. As a result, a dime’s worth of water tripped me and next thing you know, I’ve landed flat on my bum and am looking up to find a very concerned Bubbe hastening toward me with arms outstretched, “At beseder???” (Are you alright?) I nodded and she went into action, flagging down a passerby. “Gever! Ha’meeskena nafla—ta’azor la!” (Mister, the poor thing fell! Help her!) And so the dude came to my rescue, carrying my flying, rolling-cart down the rest of the steps for me. Bubbe dusted me off, helped me clear the street of eggs (as much as was possible), ensured I was ok, made me promise to be careful, and then sent me home to clean myself up.
Worst part is, I still haven’t bought decent shoes. I’m just walking veeeery carefully. Totally not an Israeli yet.
Then there was the time a car stopped to ask me for directions. ‘Perfect opportunity to speak Hebrew!’ I said to myself. As I thought about how to express the directions, I just kept repeating “Yashar, yashar” (straight, straight) because I knew for sure that was the first part. Well, apparently, my thinking took longer than expected because at a certain point, all the people in the car joined in saying “Yashar, yashar” in unison with me. Very funny. They all started cracking up. I think I was supposed to be a good sport and start laughing too, but I’m really trying to learn Hebrew. This is very sensitive for me and it just kinda hurt my feelings. I felt dumb and being a very expressive person, my deflation must have been evident, because as they drove away, one girl stuck her head out the window to yell back to me, “No, no, ze haya beseder, todah!” (No, no, it was ok, thanks!) But I could still hear the others laughing. Oof.
This all happened within about two weeks and I don’t really know how to wrap it up. I guess…mmm…I can’t wait to be an Israeli.
August 12, 2010 | 2:16 pm
Posted by Lara Berman
Before I left Los Angeles, a couple of folks handed me dollar bills. See, when flying, it’s customary in the Jewish world to give the traveler a dollar to donate upon arrival. This practice comes from a teaching that a person in the midst of doing a mitzvah cannot be harmed. So, in giving me this holy task, they also protected me, in my travels, from harm.
Along the same vein, my extraordinary girlfriends also wanted to look out for me. But instead of dollar bills, they gave me tasks, actual good deeds to perform:
~”When you get off the plane, smile at the first person you see,” Cathy said.
~”Go to the Kotel (Western Wall) every week; remember where you are!” Barb added.
~”For at least the first three days, when you wake up – stand, connect to Hashem and say the Shma with total concentration…even if it’s just the first line.” Anna offered.
Holy women. True friends. They’re my ladybugs and they’ve taught me so much about friendship and life and Judaism—and much of what they love about the aforementioned came from Rabbi David Aaron, founder of Isralight. At their referral, I’d read “Endless Light,” a brilliant book that resonated deeply inside and affirmed that this was a teacher I needed in my life. So, being in Jerusalem, of course I couldn’t pass up the chance to study with this special rabbi. (Though between us, I nearly flaked after realizing the potentially irrecoverable damage missing an entire week of progress at Ulpan Morasha could cause…eeeek! Nevertheless! Halachti! (I went!))
For 10 days I lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Did you get that?
That couldn’t have happened even 50 years ago.
How did I merit that?
Suffice it to say, it was completely surreal.
Each morning, I’d slip slide on the smooth Jerusalem stone to class, my sandals unable to grasp the well-worn stones. The golden tones of the city’s rocks created my daily wall paper. Yiddish and Hebrew conversations dotted in the streets, and I overheard talk of Talmud and halacha in shops and cafes. Thursday night, the smell of Shabbat-food cooking already filled old, windy, streets named, “Ha-Talmid,” (the student) or “Or Ha-Hayim,” (light of life).
Let me give you a taste, tireh (check it out):
Friday night, dressed up in my long-skirt and gypsy bells (every outfit needs a splash of fun, after all) I headed with a friend toward Kabbalat Shabbat through the rova (quarter) square. There in front of the stunning Horva Synagogue, clusters of children ran and played - tzitzit flying behind the boys; girls carefreely, twirling in their dresses.
One such girl was Nechama, a 4-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed moppet, who we recognized as the daughter of one of our Isralight rabbis.
”Can you help us find Isralight?” my friend and I asked her.
”Ok, c’mon,” she said as she led us, skipping all the way. “You go in here,” she said, pointing at the stairs upon arrival.
”Aren’t you coming too?” we asked.
She shook her head. “I’m going back!” she replied and danced her way back to the square, knowing the area like every child knows their local playground.
Such a simple story, but quite emotional for me. See, she’s the dream, folks.
The prophecy goes: “One day, men and women will rest on their walking sticks from old age and children will play in the streets of Jerusalem.” This was no prophecy. This was reality. Nechama was proof. Here was a Shabbat-loving, Hebrew-speaking sabra, skipping in the footsteps of her ancestors, living in the land of her soul among brothers and sisters, playing without a care in the world.
And then I got it. I was doing that too. My long skirt, brushing against the ground, a brightly colored scarf wrapping my shoulders; if I ran into Avraham Avinu that night, we could speak to each other in the same language (thanks to my ulpan).
And it started happening, as it always happens on Friday night, I became much bigger than myself. My little body just couldn’t contain all the goodness that I felt. And so, at the Kotel with a crew of other women –sisters disguised as strangers – we saaaaaang! And we blessssssed each other! And we daaaaaanced! And we cryyyyyed! And it was magical and moving and magnificent.
It was happening to Sara too. And to Vanessa. And to all my new friends from Isralight. I’d seen it before on Birthright: Jews with hardly any Jewish education or connection, who’d been fed a strict diet of cock-eyed media suddenly moved to tears inexplicably at the Kotel on Shabbat…what can I say? It’s a soul thing.
I’ve come to the conclusion that you simply cannot ignore your self in the Old City, especially on Friday night. There’s a swell that happens inside that bubbles up and out – it’s the sense of being fully connected to who you are and learning, if you didn’t know before, how beautiful you are and how special your family is. Recognizing that your connection to everything is real and that the driving force within is divine. It’s about being present to the blessing of the moment and knowing that these gifts have always been and will always be – yours.
Rabbi David Aaron only strengthened this organic outpouring of connection. He filled in the blanks and filled out truths I’d arrived at intuitively. Now, it wasn’t simple – he challenged me and my mind felt stretched out after a class with him! But in the end, I landed with strong affirmation. Judaism is spiritual and rich and wise – that’s not my version of it, that’s what the sages and the Torah and texts have always said – that’s what it IS.
Passing the ancient ruins built by conquerors in the Old City of Jerusalem, I couldn’t help but think, for all their pomp and circumstance, I was the one standing there, not them. A child, like you are, of the generation that gets to live the prophecy!