Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three mystery men at camp.

I have as much boorish curiosity as the next person, but I was too shy to truly snoop out answers to my questions, which are all most aptly phrased: "????????"
  • The Japanese lecturer who dances alone. He converted to Judaism, left Japan and moved, alone as far as I know, to Israel, where he is a linguistics professor at Bar-Ilan University.

    He gave us a lecture (originally published in Hebrew) entitled "Printsipn funem eynhaytlekhn oysleyg fun hebreyishe verter oyf yidish" [Principles of the Standardized Orthography of Hebrew Words in Yiddish].

    He drinks a bottle of wine each day for his health.

    I peeked in the door at the dance class. Holding hands, four people shuffled around a very small circle in indifferent fashion, and then there was Tsvi - who looks like an acrobatic weight-lifter - dancing among them with extreme and graceful movements of feet, legs, torso, neck, arms and hands.

    At dinner on the last night of camp Tsvi turned on his I-Pod, put the ear-buds in his ears, took out his handkerchief, and danced alone, very beautifully, for about half an hour, all around the dining hall.

    I-Pods have made it much easier for people to dance to the beat of a different drummer.

    He is NOT connected, he says, to the Japan Yiddish Club in Tokyo, well known at camp because for several years its founder Jack Halpern, who is a kanji lexicographer and a unicyclist, brought six or eight of his ethnically Japanese students/followers with him to camp from their home-town, Tokyo. The club publishes Der Yapanisher Yid, "the only Yiddish publication in the Far East."

  • The man who attends nothing and talks to nobody. The first room in our long cabin was occupied by a very orthodox couple. The wife was fairly young. She dressed in long skirts, long sleeves, and a wig or a scarf covering every hair on her head. The father was rotund, quite a bit older, oysgeput in full chasidic regalia.

    They have a young child. When I made the mistake of saying, "What a pretty little girl" the father said huffily (without looking at me in case he might be tempted into sin by gazing upon a 54-year-old woman): "No, it's a boy." I had forgotten that the orthodox do not cut their sons' hair for three years. The son had a rubber band in a cute little pony tail on the top of his head.

    The mother was often seen reading the book, "Fit for Life." The father rarely spoke to anyone. They ate alone, at their room - the kosher dining hall was not kosher enough for them. She prefers to eat only raw food.

    Halfway through the week the mother and child started appearing at some events; she would allow him to run through the dining hall and be near other children, although he was not allowed to eat anything.

    On the Sabbath the father sat alone all day at a card table covered with clear vinyl. He read and sang to himself. His wife and child were alone elsewhere.

    The mystery: why had they come?

    This mystery was somewhat cleared up by a teacher who told me the father is a Bobover (on Shabbos he wore the large, cylindrical, hairy hat you see at that Wikipedia site, with white stockings and knee britches). The wife began to study Yiddish a decade ago, was from a secular family but became frum (very religious). In this sect, parents sign an agreement that they will speak only Yiddish to children in the home, and that the children will not spend time with any relative outside the sect. However, the mother told her professor "They cut me and my family some slack because I'm a baal teshuvah (someone who 'comes back' to very religious practice)." She is also allowed to drive, while other women do not. "Our men treat our women like queens. A woman should be taken care of. In a car she might be seen by a man." The teacher thought a woman walking down the street can also be seen, but whatever, at any rate, this young PhD student is not eager to give up her car keys. Her husband drives a taxi but only within his religious community. He came to camp in order to make sure his wife didn't do anything untoward.

  • A vegetarian modern orthodox Jew from India. A tall man from India became interested in Hebrew and Yiddish and traveled halfway around the world to attend this camp. He met and fell in love with the camp founder, a Yiddish poet and the daughter of a pre-eminent Yiddish scholar. He left India and converted; he wears a kippah and tsitsis; he and the camp founder married and have three smart and beautiful almost-grown children who look like gypsies and who speak English, Yiddish and Tamil fluently.

    One of the days we were at camp this man drove back to the city, ran 26 miles in the Transcendental Marathon, and drove back to camp afterwards, tired but happy.

    How did all this come to be?


At 2:05 PM, Anonymous novelera said...

Wow, what an interesting cast of characters. You have a true gift for describing people that makes me feel like I was there as well!


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