I’ve learned to observe these women discreetly, smiling as they “practice the presence of God” en route to their jobs, classes, or other daily tasks. And I’ve learned to watch for that predictable moment when a woman finishes her reading and closes her book: She lifts it to her lips with a kiss, before tucking it back into her bulging backpack or handbag.
One day, I laughed when, from the corner of my eye, I saw a woman standing in the aisle of the bus, appearing to kiss her prayer book repeatedly—only to realize that her hands were full. Struggling to balance her bag while holding tightly to an overhead hand strap, she was actually attempting to turn the pages of her prayer book with her lips, because her hands and arms were so overloaded!
Many of these women juggle more than just their prayer books and their backpacks. They coordinate their roles as women having home-based responsibilities (their homes embody the very epicenter of Jewish life, faith, and identity) with fully modern, fast-paced careers in a patriarchal culture where the conveniences of Western societies are mostly unavailable.
I stand back impressed at the traditions that make such practiced devotion to God (and immersion in His Psalms) a regular part of each woman’s morning routine. Even—or especially—in the middle of practical matters, the most practical purpose of all is not forgotten.
By Crystal R. Nelson
A graphic designer with Bridges for Peace since January 1997, Crystal first worked in the United States office and now serves in the Jerusalem publications department.
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