June 28, 2012 On Being Hot
So it’s summer! Oh, sunny, lovely, sweaty summer. The time we pull out the little shorts and flimsy summer dresses. Except if you’re Hasidic, the people who continue to dress in nearly the same heavy layers of clothing, covering their bodies from head to toe. I remember that outsiders would often look at my Hasidic Palm stockings condescendingly, pity me endlessly, and ask “aren’t you hot in those… those.. ‘bulletproofs'”? “Bulletproofs, mind you, is a very original expression of outsider’s humor, and this word would punctuate these frequent statements of ‘utter’ compassion.
The truth is, despite the fact that I went to town with this cartoon, I don’t remember ever feeling extremely hot. I don’t remember ever wiping sweat from my forehead and back of my neck. No, thank you for your pathetic pity, I’m not hot. I’m sitting on this park bench with my stroller, not running, not skating, not biking, not doing push-ups, not rolling down a hill with my son or showing off my cartwheels or dancing on the grass to the rhythm of my spirit, just sitting politely and modestly watching you all with your wide sweat spots on the back of your A-shirts. No, I’m not sweating.
I’m not. hot.
I could have used being a little hot.
I first knew hot, real hot, only later, when I was free. When I’d ride my bicycle for hours on end, under the afternoon sun, climbing a hill with hands so sweaty they’d slip off the handlebars. And then when I’d get over the top, whipping downhill, I’d feel the sweat on my cheeks and forehead turn to ice with the breeze. That’s when I knew hot. When I stopped my bike for a drink under a shade and see my face in my rearview mirror clip-on; red as beat, my hair wet and curly under my helmet, so sweaty I looked like I walked out of a boxing ring. Then I was hot.
I don’t think too much heat is the problem for Hasidim. The modesty ideal that does not permit most forms of physical activity is much more damaging than the modesty rule of wearing an extra sweaty layer. Women are shunned if they don’t refrain from running, acting uninhibited, or getting too physical. Instead, they are meant to be in the home, away from the heat, an isha kasheira. Rebbetzin Hillary Clinton famously reminded us that the solution to heat is “to get out of the kitchen”. Which is what Hasidic women are in great need of doing. Get out of the kitchen, leave the nine days fancy blintzes for Green’s and go climb a mountain, hike through winding trails, run a marathon, ride down a scenic path, play tennis or go skating, or yes, dance to the beat of your spirit. Just for heaven’s sake, stop staring at others and get moving. Stretch your legs and work that body and let yourself be. Exercise those muscles and joints and reserves of kokosh you spent too much time in the kitchen making and eating anyway.
Then you’d be really hot.