30-Day Tzitzit Challenge: Pious in Public

Today, I wore my tzitzit out in the open where anyone could see them, and no one asked about them – which is just fine with me since I am not comfortable with outward displays of piety. But this is the 30-Day Tzitzit Challenge, not the 30-Day Make Yourself Comfortable Challenge.

I chatted with some lovely folks waiting in line at Gugelhupf, our German bakery in Durham, North Carolina; and I shopped for groceries at Harris Teeter; and the only people who took note of my tzitzit were two toddlers. I don’t know if people were being polite, like when I dyed my gray roots red and almost no one mentioned it, or whether few people actually noticed my tzitzit – which might also have been the explanation for no one mentioning my fiery red roots, but I doubt it. It makes me wonder what I’m not noticing about others people.

I also left my tzitzit out while I helped my sister-in-law get ready for Thanksgiving at her house. She has been hosting the dinner for several years, ever since I woke up one Thanksgiving morning to find several inches of water on the ground floor of our home. A blessing on my sister-in-law’s head!

I was worried that the tassels would get in my way as I swept and vacuumed and such, but they were no trouble at all. They did seem to tug at my soul when Jesus Christ Superstar came on my iPod and I was reminded of how fanaticism can wreak havoc with society.

It’s only been a week now. The moon has filled out from the dark whisper that it was when I started this adventure to something more substantial, hanging in the midday sky today. I certainly find myself more attentive to many things: what I eat, the needs of the stranger in our midst, prayers for peace in Israel. However, I also find myself adhering to halakhic practices that I have consciously rejected. I’ve been avoiding pork, shellfish, and milk with meat. I slipped my hand into my purse with some shame on Shabbat when I wanted to buy a soda. I have not, however, cleaned up my language. I still swear like a sailor when I’m frustrated.

So, the value of this experience is that I’m learning that I can be more attentive and intentional, but that I resent the external reminder of the tzitzit. A week into this challenge, I think that I will be glad to stop wearing the tzitzit at the end of the month, but I will also be glad that I tried them because it has helped me to distill from my everyday life what it takes to be holy in ordinary time.

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