Gabi’s post was my first exposure to the “menstrual slap.” But now I’m kind of wishing that I’d been thwacked by my mother, too. It’s not actually the slap I’m after, rather, at 12 or 13 I would have benefited from making a direct connection between being a woman and being a Jew.
Rather than the minhag, my mother gave me a big, teary hug. This was a gift, (lately much has been made of touches), and how much they mean) and in her embrace, I felt drawn to something long-established and greater than myself. At that moment, womanhood seemed to trump Jewishness.
My red message came after a long car trip. Each year, my family drove eight hours from our home in Georgia to New Orleans to celebrate Christmas with my now-Jewish father’s devout Catholic family. Mom made it clear that this was not our holiday; we lit our menorah in a corner at sunset. Our car pulled into my aunt and uncle’s driveway, and I sprinted towards the bathroom with a toddling female cousin on my heels. When I finally realized what had happened, she was still oblivious, listing the gifts she’d asked Santa for that year.
My early lessons of Jewish womanhood were subtler than a slap in the face. Jewish women project an openness in relationship to their bodies, and though my mother told me many things, this was something she showed me instead.
I saw the contrast with one particular friend who regularly pilfered my tampons each time she slept over. That’s because she was too terrified to tell her mother that she had gotten her period, a mindset I couldn’t understand. The Jewish women I knew talked about bodies and their many functions; we were proud, not ashamed.
Maybe there are no clear explanations for many Jewish rituals — from the popular to the obscure — but they work like thread to bind our people, to thrust us forward with shared meaning, and to keep us alive. And though I felt no slap, I learned a quiet confidence, and an acceptance of the body.