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  • Writer's pictureAnat Ishai

Are Rabbi's allowed to see my toes?

I remember being 15 years old and my brother and I were invited for a Shabbat dinner at the Rabbi's house. He wasn't your typical Rabbi, he was very laid back and relaxed, but I only figured that out after my panic attack of outfit changes leading up to dinner. I remember going through my closet, sifting through my 20 mini skirts, and skin tight jeans. Surely, I had one skirt that had a knee length hemline? I gave up and proceeded to my mother's closet, there I managed to find a long skirt (wasn't my style of course), but it fit. That Friday night happened to be a hot one, it was unusually warm for a September evening and I opted for open toe sandals. My brother and I arrived at the Rabbi's house with some flowers and tons of nerves. Then it suddenly hit me, is the Rabbi allowed to see my toes? Is there some sort of dress code that I'm violating? I felt so self conscious that night, just stay seated I told myself.

The Rabbi sang some tunes that I never heard before, so I distracted myself by taking in the beautiful table before me. It smelled divine in that house, I was getting hungry. Then my stomach started to rumble which made me even more self conscious. While he held the most beautiful silver goblet, the Rabbi sang an beautiful tune and poured the best grape juice I'd ever had through a snake path into 10 other silver shot glasses. I was mesmerized! Then it was time to wash, another oversized silver cup with two handles was before me. Oh gosh, what do I do with this? His wife, the Rebetzin was so kind and explained that I could respond amen to a blessing she would say on my behalf. So there I went and poured water two times over the right hand and twice over the left hand. AMEN!!! I never experienced a traditional Shabbat meal before that night. It left an imprint on my Jewish soul. I would go back to that house for the next 3 years for many Shabbat meals, Seders and Seudahs. It was that home, that Rabbi and Rebetezin whom I modeled my home after. They informed me on how to be that host to others who would be the younger version of myself.

There is a lot of technicalities to Judaism. Say these prayers in this order, cover the matzah and uncover the matzah, stand up then sit down and now say AMEN! My journey to learning and applying Jewish wisdom and law was just that...a journey. I learned that while the letter of the law was important, the mother infuses the spirit of the law in the home. When I came home from my first Momentum trip (Birthright for Jewish moms to Israel), I felt like I was seeing the world through clear lenses. Things just made sense, and what didn't I sought clarity. I found people who had greater wisdom and years of experience living a traditional Jewish life and I started to ask a lot of questions. I watched them with their spouses, I watched them with their children. I learnt new recipes at their Shabbat tables, and started to engage in conversations that didn't involve a celebrity, Instagram influencer or woke social justice warrior. I felt as though this dormant energy called my Jewish soul was finally waking up. .

You never stop growing in Judaism, because you're always supposed to ask questions. We are all on a journey that is our own. Much of my growth in my earlier years was done privately, in secrecy even because I never wanted to rock the boat with my family. And then the world tilts just the right way and a door opens. Learning is part of my repertoire, and my growth has been a byproduct. I've learned to navigate conversations with family and particularly friends so that I'm not threatening but inviting. I take my cues from my teachers and mentors, and I continue to stay in a student's mindset. In ethics of our fathers we are taught, "Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone". The world is our classroom and I'm constantly learning. What I know for sure is that Rabbi's are allowed to see my toes. But I too still have so many questions.

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