Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Rebbetzin Naama Henkin, in her own words

The element I appreciated most in Dr. Yagil Henkin's eulogy for his brother, Rabbi Eitam Henkin, was the insight he gave into Rabbi Henkin's personality. To provide something similar regarding Rebbetzin Naama Henkin, I am including here my translation of a blog post she wrote. (The original Hebrew is available here.)

It's not a dvar torah, in the usual sense. It's a description of her feelings about a business meeting with secular Israelis. The feelings she describes will likely be familiar to those who travel in multiple religious worlds.

And again I prepare to travel to a business meeting in Tel Aviv, again I open the closet to vacillate for the hundredth time as to what to wear to be tzanua (private, modest) but sufficiently modern, elegant but not too pretentious, and again I know in the shelter of my heart that when I leave the car in the parking lot in the heart of Allenby that I will feel, as always – foreign, unusual, other, of “them”. My designer kerchief, which at a women’s evening in the yishuv (community) would draw compliments and inquiries of “Where did you buy it,” is exactly as relevant on Allenby Street as a Muslim hijab, meaning that it is not at all relevant.

After I succeed in overcoming a wave of feelings of inferiority, I enter a building tiled in parquet, they are already waiting for me for a meeting that was set ten minutes ago (somehow, the density of the traffic jams at the entrance to Tel Aviv and in its streets always succeeds in surprising me). One last trip into the restroom to arrange the kerchief, to check that the makeup is still present, and a last, final and decisive sigh: Who am I kidding? A dossit (quasi-derogatory term for ‘religious’) remains a dossit.

A moment before I enter the meeting, the usual consideration passes through my mind – will they be surprised that I am religious? Did the  one who invited me add this description as an inseparable part of my description – “We will work with Naama, she designs interfaces. Oh, yes, she is also religious – nu, dossit with a kerchief, but she’s sababa (A-OK)”… I was never present in the room when this sentence was uttered,  if it was uttered, but I can always sense it when I enter the room, even though I am received entirely naturally, and with a smile, the hands of the men are not extended to me for shaking, and the smiling receptionist hastens to inform me that the coffee is kosher.

Then the moment comes when, as part of the small talk, someone is interested in asking, “Where do you come from? Did you say Jerusalem?” (They always remember Jerusalem, because of the area code.) And I blush, “No, no, a small yishuv, in the vicinity of Modiin.” Oh, they all nod, Modiin, yes, we have heard of that city, we really must get there some time with the kids, they say there is an excellent park there.

There will come a day – I promise the small, agitated pursuer of honesty inside me – when I will gather the courage, and in response to this question I will answer with the truth: I live in Neriah, a community yishuv in Binyamin. Yes, it is across the Green Line, what they call in the media a “settlement”, but we prefer to call it a development. You should come to visit some time; it’s very nice here.

This is part of what was viciously taken from us - a thoughtful, sensitive human being who lived in multiple Jewish communities, and who could have brought them together through her actions and words. חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין, woe to us for those we have lost, who are no longer found.


  1. I was struck by this line (not to take away from your point)":After I succeed in overcoming a wave of feelings of inferiority"
    Some might find this post of interest.
    why we feel this way is an interesting study, hopefully (and unfortunately not for Rebbetzin Naama Henkin zll'hh) we reach a point of self esteem where we realize others can project whatever they want, we are proud of doing what hkb"h wants of us (especially those who understand that HKB"H created a world with both Neriah and Tel Aviv for us to fulfill our destiny)
    Besorot Tovot
    Joel Rich

  2. I was concerned about publishing this translation, because I worried that sentences like that would be interpreted negatively. But I don't see it that way; I see it as sensitivity to the responses of others. (And I decided to post the translation because Rebbetzin Henkin felt comfortable posting the original.)

  3. I can't pretend to know the authorial intent, I can say that Impostor syndrome, which describes people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments, is a fairly common event. Folks should be aware of it, then it can be overcome.