While walking on Saturday morning with my tallis bag (the bag that holds my prayer shawl, that women in my congregation, as well as men, wear on Saturday mornings while in synagogue), I encountered two groups that made me feel uncomfortable holding the bag.
The bag is very obvious to those that know what it is – when you have a beautiful tallis, as I do (see photo – Adam bought it for me when we were in Israel two summers ago), you put the bag that the tallis lives in (in this case, the item at the top of the photo) into a clear plastic zippered holder/pouch that is made for the purpose of protecting while displaying the beautiful bag. So many Jews who see someone carrying this bag instantly know what it is, because all of the protective pouches are the same size and shape and, well, duh, on a Saturday morning it’s pretty obvious that that’s what one is carrying.
However, my Yonkers neighbors likely don’t have any idea what a tallis is, let alone a tallis pouch. But that did not stop me from feeling rather awkward and uncomfortable as I walked out of the house with my tallis pouch on Saturday morning. The street was for some reason very busy, mainly with teenage boys, but with a few adults as well. So a number of people saw me walking to my car with this brightly colored pouch under my arm. And I couldn’t get over the feeling that I didn’t want them to know that I was Jewish. I really don’t know why. It’s so irrational, but it’s also the reason that we put our mezzuzah behind the screen door on the back door – so that our house doesn’t shout “Jews” to our neighbors. It just feels a tiny bit risky to do so. And that makes me quite sad.
But perhaps what makes me even sadder is that once I got to Riverdale and started walking towards the place where Bat Mitzvah I was attending was (this week our services were in the social hall of a church – go figure), I encountered not one, but three groups of orthodox Jewish men walking in groups on the sidewalk I was walking on. All with the black hats and dark suits that are common in Riverdale. Two groups came towards me and one was ahead of me, though I passed them. And I know that if they even deigned to notice me at all, they disapproved of my tallis bag. Because to them, women are not allowed to don a tallis at all (among the many other things orthodox women cannot do, including reading the Torah) – so it would be completely crazy that I should be carrying one. It’s actually pretty likely that by carrying the bag I became invisible to them – as if I weren’t even a Jewish woman observing Shabbat.
Sometimes those that should be closest are the farthest away.