Everything He Wanted To Know About Sex Among the Orthodox

Interview With Haredi Politician Gets a Bit Awkward

Let The Rebbe Call Her Rebel: Former Jewish Home party candidate Racheli Ibenboim sits down for a chat with Tuvia Tenenbom.
Isi Tenenbom
Let The Rebbe Call Her Rebel: Former Jewish Home party candidate Racheli Ibenboim sits down for a chat with Tuvia Tenenbom.

By Tuvia Tenenbom

Published February 16, 2014, issue of February 21, 2014.
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She ponders what she had said, pauses a bit, and then asks: “Okay? Have we finished this chapter?”

“Not really,” I say. “What happens the day after?”

“Like a show on stage. It takes time to adjust. So many changes. But at the end you make peace with it, with your new life.”

“What about love? When do you start loving each other?”

“I see that you want to know things that —”

“You are a special woman, and that’s why I don’t let go of this topic.”

“Special woman?” she asks. “I will answer your question. When I got engaged, I went back home and I started writing a journal. I wrote: ‘Today I was given a gift, a gift that is fully wrapped and I don’t know what it is. Worse yet, I don’t know what I would like the gift under the wraps to be.’ This is what I wrote and this paper accompanied me for the seven months of our engagement period. I also wrote what I expect of him, how I wanted our marriage to be, that I wanted him to be the best friend I ever had. I wrote about my fears, my doubts. Everything. When we got married there was a big distance between us, as you would expect of two people who never really talked to each other, but two weeks after our marriage the ice between us melted because of my journal. I made him sit next to the computer and I made him read my journal. He, a hasidic man who at that time had communicated only with men, read a document written by a woman. Women dig deeper, unlike men, and this was his first time to face such a thing. For him it was like — bomb! — a real slap on the face. It forced our relationship in a totally different direction, and because of that we started to talk, and together understand the meaning of our marriage, what we would like to become, what we are. When I started writing that journal I didn’t know what I would do with it, I didn’t think in these terms, I just wrote for myself, but it ended up shaping our life together, forming our relationship in a way that would not be possible otherwise. This is my story, my life story. I don’t know what happens to other people, other girls.”

“Racheli,” I blurt out. “You are a rebel!”

“No, I’m not. I am just different. I challenge my society, but I’m not a rebel. I love the world of Hasidism. Many things in it. There’s much magic and beauty in the world that I came from. My society is the ‘real’ Judaism, keeping values that did not change for untold number of years. My society signifies truth, a truth that doesn’t change with the years or with the moods.”

“You ran for office and later dropped out of the race. You were threatened. What were the threats?”

“That my children would have to leave their school and that we would have to leave the neighborhood, that my husband would lose his job. All kinds of threats.”

“By whom?”

“People of authority.”

“The rebbe (leader of the community) as well?”

“This I will not answer,” she says. “Enough.”

Tuvia Tenenbom is the author of the Der Spiegel bestseller “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room.” His follow-up, “Alone Among Jews,” will be set in Israel where he filed this report.


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