On Tuesday, I am in Jerusalem and want to walk through the ultra-Orthodox district of Mea Shearim. A friend from Tel Aviv recommends that I conform to the code of conduct of ultra-orthodox women: Cover hair and arms, long skirt, muted colours, nude nylon stockings and closed shoes. Because nothing on a woman’s body should attract the gaze of a strange man. My friend also advises me not to look men in their eyes. Always lower your gaze slightly.
OK, here we go. The transformation in Jerusalem is quick. I put a long-sleeved blouse over my dark dress, cover my hair with a headscarf and my legs with nylons. Oh yeah, and I swap my flip-flops for sneakers. Phew, feels heavy. Must be the heat, I suppose… I struggle through the hot streets of Jerusalem. The Mea Shearim district is located about 1 km from the old town.
The street scene is changing more and more. Men wear long beards, black suits, temple curls and hats. Women are dressed as unimaginatively as I am. With the difference that some wear wigs instead of headscarves, which is irritating because they all wear the same straight, half-length hair and make-up. Each woman has 3-6 children in tow and every 5th woman is pregnant. Since neither internet nor TV are allowed in this world (the mobile phones are kosher – you can only make phone calls), you read news via “wall newspapers” stuck to one of the numerous billboards. Welcome to the Middle Ages.
I take refuge in an air-conditioned bus in which I have to sit in the back, like all the women in this community. Arriving at my desired stop outside the district, I look for a shady spot to change back into Ulrike. What a liberation! Even though my Mea Shearim stay was short-lived, the submission triggered something in me. I lost the connection to my higher self for a short time. Now I know even more: my soul needs to be free.