Fully outfitted in my ankle-length skirt and long-sleeved shirt, I unfolded a small piece of paper with directions to Keset Hasofer. I had been to Mea She’arim plenty of times before to visit family, but this place was really buried in there. Winding up and down the narrow roads, I finally found the sign.
My sofer (scribe), with his long beard and black hat, risked his reputation to teach men and women from all backgrounds the art and skill of Hebrew calligraphy at Pardes. Once he deemed that my skills were good enough to write a megillat Esther (the book of Esther recited on Purim) he even offered to purchase the supplies for me. But I wanted to do that for myself. Having learned the halakhot (Jewish laws) that specifically permit a woman to write a kosher megillah, I didn’t want a man to do my shopping for me, unconventional as it may be.
I tried to project an air of confidence in that store, but I stuck out like a sore thumb. The shopkeeper stopped what he was doing, approached us, and asked my husband if he needed help. Jamie – who had come along for the adventure – motioned in my direction, signaling that I was his real customer. Nervous and starting to sweat a little, I explained in my broken Hebrew that I needed klaf (parchment), dio (ink), and a kulmous (quill) for a megillat Esther. A bit perplexed, he looked at me and asked,
“Mi kotev et zeh?” (Translation: “who is writing it?” – spoken in specifically masculine-gendered language.)
“Ani” (“I am”).
“At?” (“You?” – shifting the gender to feminine, and his tone to surprise.)
Confidently, I replied, “Ken” (Yes.)
And just like that, with a little lift of his eyebrows, polite acceptance and a glimmer of possible intrigue (was that just my optimism shining through?) he said, “Hm,” and turned to gather my materials.
Thus began my journey of writing a megillah.
Two children birthed and five years later, I am still working on its completion. The process is slow and the writing is meticulous. But each time I sit down to write, I get a bit of a thrill. I still marvel that I possess this ancient skill and that that I am just as qualified to use it as that little, old, surprised shopkeeper in Mea She’arim.
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