JO SUGARMAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - ALIYAH

ob­ser­vant fam­ily, we do not live in a re­li­gious area, and I would feel too self-con­scious. I vis­ited two shei­tel bou­tiques — one fancy, one less so — and in both I was made to feel very much at ease. My de­sire for my shei­tel or fall (a hair­piece which doesn’t cover the whole head, of­ten worn with a wide band) to look as much like the hair un­der­neath as pos­si­ble was im­me­di­ately un­der­stood. I went to the first place with my sis­ter — I felt ner­vous and very much ap­pre­ci­ated her sup­port.

Yes, it does take some get­ting used to, and there are def­i­nitely days when I come home and am only too happy to take my fall or shei­tel off my head. But there are oth­ers when I am barely aware that I am wear­ing one at all. I have re­ceived com­pli­ments on both of my new looks, from peo­ple who think I have sim­ply had a change of style to oth­ers who are aware that it is not my real hair (I am not alone in be­ing an avid shei­tel-watcher!). Best of all, I have been the re­cip­i­ent of some re­ally en­cour­ag­ing com­ments, too, a lot of women of all lev­els of ob­ser­vance telling me “Good for you.” And while I am not do­ing this for any­one else, it is lovely to have their sup­port and en­cour­age­ment.

I recog­nise that thoughts of my chil­dren and the world in which they are grow­ing up have played a huge part in my de­ci­sion. I have two girls and a boy. I be­gan to look ahead to my son’s bar mitz­vah (he is only four, so it is some way off yet!) and I re­alised that the woman I saw my­self as be­ing then would be cov­er­ing her hair.

How­ever, and more im­por­tantly, it is in large part for and be­cause of my girls that I am do­ing this. It is a re­ac­tion against the world around us, and my means of try­ing to pro­tect them from the cor­ro­sive ef­fects of over­ex­po­sure. I want so dearly for them to re­alise that their true beauty comes from in­side, and has very lit­tle to do with the phys­i­cal. They are grow­ing up in a world where they are, and will con­tinue to be, as­saulted by sex­u­alised im­ages of women, im­ages that con­vey to them the idea that their true worth is in how they look and not in how they be­have. And I am ap­palled, and fear­ful, and also very aware that I will have very lit­tle con­trol over how they wish to dress and be­have as they get older and more in­de­pen­dent. All I can do is dress and be­have in the way that I think is right, be­cause this way I am giv­ing them a choice. It may not be how some of the peo­ple around them look, but it won’t be alien to them ei­ther. And if I dress more mod­estly, then I have more cred­i­bil­ity when I say that I want them to dress more mod­estly, too.

There is no doubt that the act of hair cov­er­ing brings with it a lot of ques­tions, and many very ob­ser­vant women of my ac­quain­tance do not do it for many rea­sons, not just a lack of readi­ness: be­cause they do not fully agree with it or see the point of it, or they feel that it is some­how a throwback to an ear­lier time when women lived less in­de­pen­dent and vis­i­ble lives.

And yes, I do un­der­stand a lot of those mis­giv­ings. How­ever, I have also, over the years, be­gun to ap­pre­ci­ate that some­times it is nec­es­sary to take a leap of faith. I have al­ways been very struck by the way that when the Chil­dren of Is­rael re­ceived the To­rah at Mount Si­nai they ac­cepted it say­ing “na’asei v’nishma” — we will do and we will hear. In other words, first we will do what Hashem asks, then we will un­der­stand. And so I have found. For ex­am­ple, when I started to ob­serve Shab­bat prop­erly, I saw it as a re­stric­tion. I had to take it on, I had to live it, in or­der to re­ally un­der­stand the beauty and pur­pose of Shab­bat, and to re­alise that, far from re­strict­ing me, it frees me.

I am sure that there will be good shei­tel days and bad shei­tel days, just as there are with my real hair. But al­ready, just a few months in, I am hold­ing my head higher, feel­ing a con­fi­dence I didn’t know I had. As some­one said to me re­cently, there is some­thing very pow­er­ful about do­ing some­thing not be­cause you nec­es­sar­ily want to, but be­cause you know it is right.

And when my daugh­ter looks at me and says, “Mummy, your shei­tel looks so pretty”, my heart swells, and I am hope­ful that by see­ing me do, she will be­gin to un­der­stand.

Be­fore be­com­ing a full-time mother, Sara Elias was chief sub-edi­tor on a food mag­a­zine. She now vol­un­teers in the com­mu­nity.

BREAK­ING YOUR leg in Is­rael, 18 months af­ter mak­ing aliyah, when your only form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is hand sig­nals, is to­tally in­ad­vis­able. I didn’t even break it do­ing any­thing ex­cit­ing. No sky-div­ing for me. I was ac­tu­ally get­ting out the car. It’s not dif­fi­cult. I’ve done it loads of times be­fore. But this time, I lost my bal­ance, wob­bled and fran­ti­cally tried to grab some­thing to hold onto. But there was only air.

My hus­band’s head ap­peared from be­hind the car. He didn’t find it strange to see me ly­ing in the road. (I’m of­ten to be found ly­ing down — it’s a favourite po­si­tion of mine — es­pe­cially on a sofa). But he could see that my leg was a funny shape. And the fact that I was shout­ing: “Leg! Hurt­ing! Could be bro­ken!” might have also given the game away.

Upon ar­rival at the hospi­tal it ap­peared that I re­ally couldn’t walk. My body is not as sculpted and toned as it once was and as a re­sult I did not have the re­quired mus­cu­lar abil­ity to hop, even whilst cling­ing onto Hus­band. A wheel­chair was needed. Hus­band suc­ceeded in find­ing one that had seen bet­ter days — it only had three wheels — and off we went to the emer­gency room where it tran­spired I had bro­ken my leg “very well in­deed”, “in quite a unique way.” I felt I should get a prize.

My prize was, it tran­spired, a ma­jor op­er­a­tion. I would be out of ac­tion for six months. Eu­phoric thoughts sped through my mind — ex­actly how many episodes of Game of Thrones could I watch in six months? If I ate one tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice­cream ev­ery day, how many flavours could I get through? How many pack­ets of Cad­bury Gi­ant But­tons could I bribe friends to bring back from the UK?

But then re­al­ity set in.

On the first day, they told me to fast in prepa­ra­tion for my op­er­a­tion. I’d done Yom Kip­pur a few times suc­cess­fully (does a cup of tea re­ally count?) so I was op­ti­mistic, I could do this. But by 8pm my sugar lev­els were dan­ger­ously low.

Through a mix­ture of Rus­sian, Ara­bic and Ivrit (none of which I can speak) I dis­cov­ered that the doc­tor had left for the day. Not good news.

But I was cool. It would be to­mor­row.

But it wasn’t to­mor­row. Or the day af­ter to­mor­row. I was be­com­ing in­sti­tu­tion­alised.

This was my rou­tine. Lights on at 5am. Wheel self down cor­ri­dor to com­mu­nal shower. Dress self in

It is a re­ac­tion against the world around us

Cov­ered up: Sara Elias

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