Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"I have become...uncomfortably Frum" (sung to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb")

When I moved to Jerusalem I knew I wanted to move seamlessly and invisibly between cultures, societies and lifestyles, in order to experience and learn as much as I possibly could absorb from anyone and everyone who would be willing to share.

Here, more than anywhere on Earth, if you don't "dress for success" you won't be allowed the All-Access VIP Backstage Pass into the hidden worlds-within-worlds that exist, layer upon layer, in the Holy City. Unlike Corporate America's dress code, in Jerusalem the best option for someone like myself is to observe the "Frum Fashion" dress code for women.

"Frum" means Religiously Observant. The Frum Fashion dress code for women is all about the concept of modesty - and living in a desert where temperatures soar into the 90's all during the summer months, dressing modestly and keeping cool can be a real challenge.

These are the basics of Frum Fashion for women: skirts well below the knee, sleeves that come below the elbow, necklines that reach the collarbone, and no bare feet. I've solved part of the problem with beach-style Crocs (covers my toes but has "ventilation" for comfort), long cool cotton skirts, gauzy and light-weight long-sleeved shirts and scarves, scarves, scarves.

In this style I can float between neighborhoods, cultures and friends without having to go home to change my clothes. I can go from the extreme secular streets of Emek Refriam in Jerusalem where I hunt for elusive American-style items such as Swiffers, Woolite and anti-allergenic fragrance-free laundry detergent, to the blackest of the black-hat Haredi neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Geula, where I visit friends, shop for the cheapest and best electronics in the world, or drop in on Torah classes at a Women's Yeshiva.

When I say I've solved "part of the problem," that implies that there is another part yet unsolved, which would be the attitude of "tznuit" (modesty of character) as the true motivation of the idea of physical modesty. One cannot have a brazen and impudent face and an ego-centric fashionista "look at me" attitude in Jerusalem without drawing extremely unwanted and inappropriate attention to one's self. Here, more than anywhere else, what is displayed for the world to see is a very deliberately concealed hidden treasure.

What a total opposite of the modern, Western, California lifestyle and culture upon which I was born and raised - and, as I continue my journey here, I paraphrase and sing to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" -

"There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can't hear what you say....
and I, I have become
Uncomfortably Frum..."

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