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The Shaigetz - Doing it maai vey



Chassidic life from one on the edge of the gefilte-fish cradle



Updated: 2017-10-14T11:09:31.425+01:00

 



1 Comments

2015-10-04T00:13:46.741+01:00

Dear Roger Waters

We don't need your 
Education
We don't need your
Vitriol
Your calls for sanctions
Concert boycotts
Roger leave us
Yids alone

Hey, Roger! Leave those yids alone

All in all you're just that
Spoiled prick from The wall

Refrain Roger, refrain.



Call Me Desperate


2009-08-11T01:19:37.529+01:00

“Look, the father has no money.”
“How do you know?”
“The shadchan said ‘A poshiter yid.”
“That just means a normal person.”
“No. That’s the same as saying, ‘Somebody insignificant, I can think of nothing he is noteworthy of.”
“Then how do you know it is only money he doesn’t have? Maybe he has no brains either?”
“You’re learning!”
“Or yichus or personality or looks?”
“Right.”
“So what else did he say?”
“He said the girl is sweet.” This is uttered with a smirk of distaste.
“Ah? And that’s not good?”
“Motty, I thought you were listening? What is sweet? Sweet is pretty? No. Pretty is pretty. So Miss Sweet is not pretty.”
Motty is used to the logic of the Talmud and he recognises a straight line when he sees one.
“Ok, so she’s not pretty. Vus noch?”
“She’s got ‘a good heart.” Again her words hang starkly in their inverted commas.
“OK a ‘good heart’ I know this one!” Motty shouts jubilantly. “A good heart is a laidigayer and a Shaigetz whom you can find nothing at all nice to say about.”
“No,” she says wearily, “that’s for a boy. When you say a girl has a good heart it means she has no personality. It is usually joined up with, ‘She always makes peace among all the other girls.’
She is the one nobody wants to be friends with and she has a good heart for not fighting back.”
“So what else do we know about her and her family?”
“They don’t have any friends.”
“Nu, how do you know that?”
“He described them as quiet people living simple lives and not showing off.”
“Ok. So that’s it? That’s all you know?”
“She is average height, she has brown hair and brown eyes and she is eighteen and a half.”
“Wow! How did you figure all that out?”
“The shadchan told me.”
“Oh. So then we should tell him, why should we take a girl with no family no money and no looks and who everybody bullies for our son?”
She stops him with a stern look and holds the silence for a moment.
“He will ask you, ‘You are selling any better?”
“Nu, I will say, ‘Yes. Maybe I am not Rothschild but I make a living.”
“If the shadchen knew what you are earning, he would tell them about you what he told us about them.”
“My father is an important man.”
“Important to whom? To your mother? To his tenants? To the people he owes money to?
Leave me alone with important. If they are as important as your father I will be happy.”
“Shoin. So I will say, ‘I want a girl mit a bissel character. More a leader.”
“Ovay! You know what you are saying? They will start bringing you all the chutzpah girls . The loud ones. A leader? What's a leader? A leader is the one who gets all the others in trouble. A troublemaker they call a leader. Azah leader, I would lead her to the prison.”
“You are so clever my neshamele. So what should I say to the man?”
“Tell him he should make a time and we will meet these people and see what they got.”
“You sure?” he asks earnestly, uncertainty evident in his voice.
“Yes, Motty dear. And do me a favour; the kids are running around upstairs, go up there and show them who the man is in this house.”



JFS Between Ourselves


2009-07-10T03:12:13.227+01:00

Britain's United Synagogue has determinedly struggled to portray Judaism as an alternative version of Christianity for as long as I can remember. The clergy look the same as the same as their Christian counterparts and usually sound roughly the same. Most are equally apologetic for any inconvenience their beliefs and customs might cause and equally eager to bend over backwards to accommodate any difference of opinion even at the expense of watering down their own quasi-beliefs.True, our star does not look quite like the cross, and the crucifixion and resurrection are only remotely mirrored in secular Judaism's holocaust and independence worship, still to the week-end adherent the two religions are differentiated only by superficial minutiae.I attended a lavish Bat-Mitzva party recently. It was in a popular, very upmarket venue and the menu was kosher style. I, the lone kosher guest was honoured with a specially ordered, enthusiastically cling wrapped and doubly sealed kosher meal. The theme was High School Musical and a talented troupe of 'high school' dancers entertained the guests between the elegant courses. I had just remarked to my wife how 'normal' it must seem to the goyim who had probably come with a little trepidation to a Jewish religious party, when one of them leaned across the table to me. “I love your Jewish parties,” he screamed above the blaring rendition of Start of Something New. “They are so much more meaningful than ours.”Israel's Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is unapologetic in his views. His declaration last week that the innocent victims of the holocaust were probably reincarnates who had sinned in previous lives raised a ruckus when it was reported in the media. This apparently is what he believes, based on his vast, intimate and probably unique perception of His workings. The great unlearned in the media, who in their utter ignorance chose to portray it as criticism of the departed are just as entitled to make their point as he was. Rabbi Yosef remains unperturbed and unrepentant.Unfortunately, our Great British leaders have none of this decisive finality.We can only choose between the U.S. politically correct approach, which teaches us to think we are probably right but also to accept that the others might be right too; So we are the chosen people but if that offends anyone we can negotiate it away. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, the local Charedi leadership, teaching that we are the chosen people and if anybody says different they are fascists and antisemites.It has not always been so. England's former Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jacobowitz was never one to mince his words. Among other controversial remarks, he risked the ire of his own community to publicly opine that eventually Israel would have to make peace with the Arabs. In a time when that view was considered almost blasphemous in his community, he suffered for his frankness but refused to qualify it. As one paper wrote when he passed away, “He is the one prelate whose preaching did not, in the views of Mrs Thatcher, give God a bad name.”London's late Rav Padwa was not one to be pushed around either. He once spectacularly agreed to remove his rabbinate's revered stamp of approval from a kosher hotel in Bournmouth, after some pious wankers in his rabbinate complained there were TVs (gasp!) in the bedrooms. After promptly giving in to them he went on to declare that henceforth his hechsher would apply only to the food served there. As his supervision had always been limited to the kitchen and dining room anyway (to the best of my knowledge there were never any hidden video cameras under the eiderdowns) nothing actually changed.The JFS policy of enrolling only orthodox certified Jews is a cynical attempt at maintaining as Orthodox a Jewish school where most children's exposure to yiddishkeit is practically limited to the school's 'Love of Israel' program and the occasional Bat Mitva bash.The school will not maintain a Jewish character by refusing admittance to those it does not consid[...]



The Age of Experience


2009-06-08T16:14:07.678+01:00

With age comes experience, they say. I don't know whether the reason my views change is to do with experience gained or simply because we change as we age. What is certain is that much of the anger that boiled within me when I first started blogging has largely subsided or muted. I have come to accept that the lifestyle I promote is no more necessarily correct for everyone than the one I like to bash. Indeed the Torah im Derech Ertetz model that worked so well in Germany before the war, and that I see as a model for chassidic neo-orthodoxy, actually relies on the societal norms to curb the worst of the most base of our urges. That does not necessarily work in today's world. We have mostly therefore chosen to shelter our children from most of the excesses of the permissive society. Exposure to the internet however is still supplying our youth with the same information that the precocious local youth is getting. To illustrate: A young newly-wed I met, was briefly briefed on the facts of life a few weeks before he was wed. He had known before of course, and he had seen some porn once or twice on the web, but it was still quite an experience for him to be suddenly thrown into bed with a quivering virgin. He rose to the cause though, and they set off on life's journey together. There was just one little thing bothering our man of the hour. She compared slightly unfavourably, in provocative prowess, with the Liliths in those movies. As time progressed and he assiduously studied 'her problem' on the net, the way boys today do, he naturally came to the conclusion she was frigid and needed help. Of course, when they heard, both families came up in arms and it was only with some very professional help and lots of diplomacy that friction was removed from two shattered families and restored to a truly messy conjugal bed.You cannot just nibble at the apple of knowledge. All the little 'bits' interlink in a million possible ways and there is no way you can control the flow of information once it begins its path. I used to counter-argue that the Internet does have the function of providing the only loudspeaker inside the community. Like this blog gets away with saying what no one dares sign their name to. I lied. There is one man who dares to say what no one else dares to say. He lives in New York and his name is Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg. He is a man with a mission. An international mikve expert, he has a telephone hotline in Yiddish in which he regularly rails against sexual abuse of boys in the community. And he does not just rant. He spits into the blind eye of the community authorities. When he gets wind of anything untoward he warns the Rabbis in charge and if it is not dealt with immediately he informs the relevant authorities. To be fair, I must add that I have spoken to many of these men of dark cloth myself and despite their dangerous and damaging silence, it seems to me that most are truly well-meaning. Most Charedi rabbis display almost pathetically naïve ignorance both of the gravity of the damage sexual abuse causes and the frequency at which it occurs. There is also a strong sense of defending the community by denying they do any wrong much like parents would if you accused their son of stealing. I again stress that I disagree with those who state it is more widespread than most other places, or even that it is particularly widespread or generally condoned. But it does happen and the fact that touching does not involve a biblical prohibition should not diminish the gravity of the deed. Rabbi Nuchem says all this and more. He publicly shamed the Jerusalem Rabbinical authorities, who had allowed a Mikve in their own back yard to turn into a den of iniquity right in their blind spot, into placing guards there who would protect the children from preying lechers. He has named many Schools and Yeshivas in the States who harbour molesters on their staff. He is listened to by thousands of Chassidim all over the world and he has suffered much abuse fo[...]



terse verse

2009-01-06T09:14:21.558+00:00

Do not be blinded by their lies
Hatreds as old as the hills are a playing here,
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.

Though wise men know sometimes dark is right
Our liberals strike but fork their lightning.
Do not get blinded by their lies.

Good men wave goodbye with heavy hearts.
Have the deadly deeds over, let’s live in peace.
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.

Wise men who truly know no race nor creed
Having learned too late they were used by It,
Do not get blinded by their lies.

Sad men, near death, who still focus with deadly sights
Blind eyes, could blaze with meteors and still be gay?
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.

And you, my Father, there on sad height,
Bless us instead with your fierce tears, I pray we
Do not get blinded by their lies.
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.



The Gladiators


2008-12-15T17:41:14.212+00:00

They were two Lubavitchers, a Bobover and a Satmerer, a woman about to make Aliya and a backpacker. A group of Jews united by chance in a place far from chassivilisation, now frozen together in time, forever seared into our collective memories as the victims in Chabad House, Mumbai.I cannot begin to imagine the horror of their last hours. A police doctor who examined the dead remarked that the Israeli corpses evinced signs of having been exceptionally savagely tortured before being executed, to the extent that he could not bring himself to speak of the depravities he had remarked. The terrorists were probably aware that Chabad House did not represent the state of Israel and that, like all Chabad Houses in the world, it would house Jews of all denominations and persuasions. That on any given day it could contain anybody from a peacenik who had travelled to be a human shield in Saddam's Iraq, to a Golani on holiday and from a street musician junkie to a shy Chassidic mashgiach. The instructions they had received, to kill whites and westerners and especially Israelis, was sadly not an expression of blind hatred for Jews, it is likely that they had never met any Jews before. But from a cold strategic point of view the amount of media coverage dead Jews get is completely out of proportion to their number. And in this gruesome war, deaths on TV are a means as well as an endIt is a cruel irony that the main grievance of those who had directed and ordered this butchery -objection to the crusade like export of the miniskirt and fruit flavoured condoms under the guise of democracy- is one they share with the Chassidim. It is in the methods they use to combat it that the Jews and Muslims differ. Indeed, if you talk of a clash of civilisations then the finest warriors of both sides clashed in Chabad House, Mumbai.Our side's weaponry is well known to me. Like any religious Jew who travels I have basked in Chabad's hospitality and kindness. I admit, to my shame, that like many of my Central European Chassidic friends I used to treat them with a little disdain; their wide fedora hats symbolising for us slightly wacky cousins who sometimes embarrass us a little with their exuberant religiosity. They often acknowledge it good-naturedly. However, after spending some time with them in their cultural oases I have been humbled by the true asceticism of these young families and more by their utter assurance that spreading God's love to lost Jews and making a kiddush Hashem is the real answer to all the problems of the world, from decaying society to Islamic terrorists.It is a chilling irony that the network of Chabadpoints around the world is perceived by international terrorists as equal to an Israeli embassy. Ironic because I too, as a British Chassid, would probably prefer to be represented in a time of crisis by the apolitical local Chabad chapter than the Israeli embassy. Chabad has turned itself into a well oiled machine. While the other Chassidim, fearful that the permissive society would catch their young, enclosed themselves inside a greasy cocoon and banned anything that might open a window out, Chabad set up their training camps and sent scouts out into enemy territory. Instead of oppressing the strangers and misfits among them, Chabad nurtured the professionals and intellectuals that were joining and set to utilising their strengths. Their exemplary handling of the Mumbai crisis speaks for itself. Their media presence was uniquely professional and reliable. In the midst of the confusion and carnage they were cool and collected and even when the tragic loss of life became apparent, true to their crusade, their spokesman nobly called for an end to hate and extra prayer.The equally well oiled machine they faced came armed too. With the very latest in high tech weaponry, an extreme indoctrination into the justness of their cause and, allegedly, a large amount of halal cocaine. They set to practicing [...]



Who is John Gelt?


2008-03-15T23:57:31.069+00:00

I don't think writing a blog can do much more for my cause than this one has. I had joy and some fun and my season in the sun, and with close to half a million hits, an achievement of sorts for the voice of the lone Chassid. I have managed to avoid being lynched and that is a victory of thoughts too.I have come to the stage where what I have already written more or less covers what I have to say and challenging myself to find a new angle is not satisfying. I could put the points of what could have been the next four blogs in four paragraphs. It makes a far less enjoyable read but what difference does that make?1) Growing consumerism is changing the face of Chassidus. When a young man can announce in shul that he left Kollel to afford a new kitchen to nary the bat of an eyelid, it is plain that our friend Lucre will eventually convert the bulk of Chassidim into (slim) curly locked MOs. It is the ascetics in kippot srugot, who forgo worldly pleasures for a gemara and stop under sniper fire to daven mincha that will be the Chassidim of tomorrow, even above the brave young Lubavitchers who do such fantastic work, practicing true chassidus with blind faith. Indeed the visit of the Belzer Rebbe to the victims in hospital of the heinous butchery in Merkaz Harav and the heartfelt bemoaning of it by the Satmar Rebbe seem to nod in that direction.2) If we chassidim, the outsiders, wish to survive and prosper in a world that will polarise into them and us, we should make ourselves useful to society. An interesting idea that should be considered is to broaden the scope of the Hatzola into a Charedi civil emergency reserve for times of disaster. Zaka and Ezra L’marpeh have very successfully promoted the image of caring Chassidim as neutral emergency staff.3) We are tired and sinking as we wait for moral or practical guidance from the tzaddikate. The Rabbinate is like an oracle. It can answer all your questions except the real one; What should I ask you? If we are to function as a society we must have government. Leaders who know how to lead and Rabbis -clearly briefed on the situation, the options and possible repercussions - they can turn to for guidance. These leaders need to be representative of the actual kehilla and not only those who pay a membership fee!In the battle of civilisations, despite being ideologically closer to true religious Islam than Christianity, our laxity in promoting our own image to the outside world has allowed the secular and armchair yids to drag us with them into the Christian or humanist camps. We must not allow the non-religious establishment to represent us or to imply that their policy of grovelling and obsequious cameraderie with the establishment is the way of the Book to these people of It.4) We must learn to admit our shame. Sex molestation is still going on in the community and we all know it. The names of people who prey on little boys must be handed over to the authorities to be dealt with. It is a disease that can sometimes be controlled but often not and it destroys lives! Oh, and Rabbi, please memorise this catchy little truism; Playing with a little yingele’s thingele, if you are not that yingele, is always sexual abuse!However, this blog is not just my about my thoughts being read by other people. The Shaigetz living inside me has become part of who I am. The authority I gain by knowing how many people will read what I say colours not only the way I write but also the way I think and speak. I have become more assertive at work and have gained much in stature; such is the power of a blog.I have become much prouder of being a Chassid, especially among goyim, since getting to know the Shaigetz, and much quicker to interact with them. The more I do the more I notice how many others are prepared to be as nice to you as you are to them, despite our inculcated notion that most goyim really don’t like us. (Funny to think they thi[...]



The World According to Carp


2007-12-30T15:49:09.965+00:00

The morning dip in the mikve symbolises the washing away of impurities and a fresh start with a clean slate for the new day and although I have lapsed in the last few years and rarely still indulge, with the season of goodwill and cheer upon us and work on hold I thought what better time than now…Like most mens mikves it is below ground and has a pretentious, six foot high turnstile gate to stop unwelcome guests from entering. I descend the stairs and the once familiar smell of shampoo, bleach and sweat assaults my nostrils. I take a neatly folded towel from the pile on a chair and push the changing room door open. I am hit by a blast of Vosene scented steam, the noise of running showers and the carefree chatter Chassidim only seem capable of in the mikve. My glasses cloud up immediately and I have to remove them to see where I am.Astonishingly, nothing seems to have changed in the years since I last visited. The banal sickly green coloured floor to ceiling ceramic wall tiles that must have fallen off a local council building-site lorry, still lend an air of the public lavatory to the place. The rough wooden benches round the communal changing room and the metal hooks for the clothes above them are standard fixtures in every mikve. I used to be rather self conscious about this set up when I compared it to the luxury of the swimming baths where we all get our own cubicle. Seeing it now I realise it is no different to most sport club facilities I have visited. I smile to myself at one more indication we are not as different as we like to suppose.The condensation was plainly not enough to cover my condescension and I am greeted with a gruff “Vus lachst di?” from a middle-aged heavyweight struggling to reach past his ample girth and pull his stretchy, off-white long-johns over his whiter shade of pale legs. “I am not laughing,” I reply as soon as I have collected myself but he is already busy untangling his trouser legs and ignores me.I observe that the massive plastic bin for used towels is overflowing, evidence that a growing number of people take their ablutions here. With a dozen or more places like this in Stamford Hill alone, daily purity seems to be an in thing in chassidistan. I look around for a free spot to undress in and park myself next to a man I recognise. He considerately moves his shoes and clears a wider spot on the bench. He too can see I am no regular. As I fold my clothes and prepare my toiletries I listen to the men opposite discussing the new chastity laws.I gather from their conversation that the Kedassia 9 have found a new way of marking their territory and are insisting that women buy only clothes that have been okayed by a group of checkers. I am encouraged to hear that the black-bearded guy with a very hairy chest and enormous pectorals does not like the idea of the hounds sniffing around his wife’s clothing and told his wife to ‘buy votever de hel she vonts’. Only one of the two others in the conversation thought maybe those exposed flesh seekers mean well, but even he did not sound too convinced.As I head for the shower room armed only with a flannel and soap, Mr T. is expounding on how tzniusdik (chastely) yet beautifully his lovely wife dresses, to the delight of a young boy listening in with a voyeur’s intensity. The shower room contains five showers in a row, four of them in working order, making this one of the better maintained mikves in town. With the impressive row of shower gels and shampoos on display the old canard about Chassidim using only (kosher) margarine won’t wash anymore.The hot water flows for about a minute each time you press the shower tap. With a good ten men in the room, each time a shower stops its inhabitant makes way for the next one to enter, in a bizarre sudsy musical showers. Our Chief Rabbi is getting a real washdown – That is a metaphor of course, I don[...]



Falling Apples of My Eye


2007-10-21T19:52:51.695+01:00

Children, even the best brought-up of all, like mine, have a nasty tendency to grow up. I should not have been surprised therefore when my son announced that he is considering going abroad to study next year. As the perspective merits of different yeshivas were bandied around and I glibly and lightly helped them weigh the merits of the brash but proud Jewishness of the American model against the arrogant but more spiritual intensity of the Jerusalem one, inside my heart sank down into my nether regions.If there is one question that I have always avoided answering readers of this blog with any clarity it is about how I bring up my children, torn as I am between the intellectual freedom I have chosen and the closed insularity of the community I reside within. The years I spent in yeshiva in Israel were among the most miserable of my life. Separated from my books, radio and indeed any contact with the outside world, I felt lost and trapped. The study of Talmud, although in fact difficult enough to be a satisfying challenge, was carried out under such duress and with such dogmatic simplicity that I spent every waking moment dreaming of what I would do when I was old enough to assert my independence and live in the way I saw fit.The lack of physical comforts were easier to bear for one like me, brought up in the poverty inherent to families where learning is the only respected profession. As my father tarried in the evening with his true love in the hallowed halls of learning, we regularly sat alone to our meagre supper and my mother would remind us that to those who valued learning above those prized above rubies, greater rewards await in the kingdom come. That argument sometimes lacked conviction for me and I often swore to myself that my children would have a loving and warm family and as many creature comforts as I could possibly provide.As soon as I was old enough to shake off the heavy hand of parental and rabbinical authority, I left, and celebrated my new-found freedom with gusto. The liberty to do as I pleased was a revelation, and I revelled in it. Yet the happiness and peace of mind I had envisaged and yearned for eluded me, and following each euphoric high I found myself tumbling into the inevitable and interminable nights of gnawing guilt, doubts, and the sure and certain knowledge that His vengeance would be visited upon me unless I repented and returned to the yiddishkeit I was brought up in.I do not regret either the break with my past that forced me to examine and justify my lifestyle nor the decision to return and marry within the fold. The first, because I can today honestly say that any hardships I endure for my religion are of my own choosing, the latter, for the blessing of a perfect and loving soulmate and equally perfect children.I know in my heart however, that although I have managed to subject my independence of spirit and effectively hide much of the rebellion that rules within my mind it is only because I went through all I did that I am able to thus straddle the fence. Those born outside our closed world and who chose to enter it, inevitably find themselves either unable to exercise their own freedom of thought or else unable to enjoy the serenity and utter conviction they so sought, and envy in the mindless sheep around them. It is for this reason that if I wish to offer my children a choice of membership or not they have to fully belong first. And although I could sow the seeds of rebellion, and I dearly am tempted to with the more naturally rebellious of my offspring, I choose not to. Because revolution is painful and its outcome uncertain and the prospect of pain, and risks, should only be taken on by each individual for their self. Because we are all victims of circumstance, and I cannot force these upon them if I am not to be like my father, forcing my own choices upon my chi[...]



The Gospel According To Me


2007-09-11T20:26:56.761+01:00

Once again Rosh Hashana aproaches. Once again I have to endure the familiar exhortations from the pulpit, for critical self-judgement. So once again I arise from my Shabbos afternoon nap, early, and off to listen to the yearly rant on how I should better myself.I do not like listening to my Rabbi speak. Having gotten used to listening to speeches with a recognisable structure, a beginning a middle and an end, I find myself irritatedly editing what he is saying in my head, and deleting segments, at the same time as arguing with the points he is making. I wish I had a Rabbi who actually bothered enough to make it interesting for me and my kind.Boredom begins to set in after a while and I start observing the shabby shul I daven in. Despite its recent makeover, it has the air of a dilapidated refugee camp. The walls are painted in the cheapest shade of brilliant white. The windows, curtainless and finger marked, have an opaque film on the inside, whether to stop people looking in or out I am never quite sure. Beyond them, metal grills protect us from the vandalism and terrorism we have been raised to expect.The furniture, unlike in the formal churchstyle shuls, is light in colour and weight. The tables are Formica topped, metal framed and past their prime, The almost matching benches, with flip-up seats that can cause a painful pinch if a stray bit of flesh gets caught between them, are uncomfortable and remind me of those the litigants sit on while waiting to be called to the real bench. Up front the ambo faces the wall. Beneath four sorry looking candlesticks, the traditional Shivisi drawing, drawn by a 'local artist', and designed to inspire loftiness into him leading the prayer, has some of the naivete of Haitian art when observed from afar. Close up it is hideous! Another example of how, in our desire for insularity, we have deluded ourselves into ridiculous grandeur.Happily, the room has nothing else that could be termed decoration, unless you count the various plaques at a million strategic spots commemorating all those acts of (often forced) kindness that made everything possible. Nothing that is, except for all the kinky, plastic covered velvetwork cloths on the bima (dais) and Amud (lectern). The plastic, of course only there to protect the exquisite needlework embroidery that commemorates yet another donation. The lighting, from bare flourescent tubes, is harsh and bright and a faint whiff of sweat and garlic bears testimony to the heavy, customary shabbos meal and many an afternoon nap.The speech has come to the part where we all must remember to take a good look at how we behave. I wonder whether he does? I mean, I know he does look at how we behave. But does he look at how he does? Does he ever wonder if he might not be driving his big bus, with darkened windows and no stops, straight towards an abyss? Does he ever wonder whether his credentials as a Torah scholar qualify him to lead a generation of kids often dealing with challenges he cannot even fathom? Does he ever wonder whether he is preaching a gospel that cannot be for everyone?Then again, do I? I too stand on on pulpit and rant but have I changed anything for the better? The obvious difference is that I have only a pulpit whereas the Rabbinic one stands for so much more. They claim to have the right to rule our lives, so they should have to prove they are doing it, well. If most people are happy and well adjusted. If the community is providing for itself, fiscally and emotionally, if the prospects are good and the future is looking rosy, then they obviously know what they are doing and we can all sleep tight. If not it might be time to look for a new bus driver in the new year.Wishing all my fair readers a Shana Tova![...]



Studied Indifference


2007-08-28T21:55:57.981+01:00

I haven't written anything on the blog for a few weeks and it is high time I did. I take an evening off to sit on a deckchair over the sea and decide what to say. As always, I have a list of the subjects that have caught my attention and could possibly be used. I scan it to see if anything has developed more body since being cryptically jotted down in my little notebook. An article in the Jewish Chronicle recently, suggests that within a few years the majority of Jews in Britain will be Ultra Orthodox. Proof, yet again, that the most important and vibrant part of the Jewish community in the UK is systematically ignored by the bodies who claim to represent Judaism and Jews. Even more so by the government agencies who ought to be registering our needs and concerns, if only to avoid clashes down the line with a group of highly intelligent and motivated malcontents railing against a society they believe hates them.People in the community I talk to about this don't seem to grasp my argument, that more people from within should be opening channels of communication with the UK leadership. We need our voice to be heard, and needs considered, unhampered by the opposing (if no less legitimate) desires and concerns of the culturally-Jewish network who see us as embarrassing, antiquated relics of the shtetl they are trying to escape from.I have been accused of unfairly 'having it in' for the Board of Deputies, and it is true that our own Union of Orthodox Hebrews is often no more interested in being represented by them, than they are in doing it. The Jewry that dominated the United Synagogue, and is led by the honourable Chief Rabbi, has as its goal, to become an accepted and integral part of British society. They do their utmost to emphasise that 'normalcy'. We, consider ourselves a sub-culture and...No good. I have been through all this before.The tide is in and the beach is deserted. Down on the waterfront two young Chassidim in their flowing yellow tztitzis and city shoes are strolling along the shore and skimming stones across the water. Seeing them reminds me I had the germ of something profound to say about the new generation of proud peyos wearers. Nu? I was thinking about it yesterday over the barbecue? Oh yes, I suddenly remember. That young man I saw yesterday. He was in a deckchair on the promenade, happily oiling his hairy torso. Then, he put on his Ray-Bans (why are the shgatzim and laidigayers so brand obsessive?) and carefully recurled his long peyos before reaching down under his chair, taking out a Woman's Own magazine and settling down to read. I was, funnily enough, quite proud that what I had predicted was coming to pass. That the Peyos and coat are becoming a uniform, worn as self-identification rather than necessarily for religious conviction, much like the Muslim headscarf.Incidentally, the goyim I speak to have never been able to understand what I mean when I say that our youth does not perceive our distinctive attire as a cultural or religious statement. We are taught it is a religious requirement. There is no doubt in most chassisim's minds that they (we all, actually) will eventually be punished for violating the dress code.That the poor young man has not yet developed beyond reading his wife's vapid lifestyle magazines, is the fault of the parents who never prepared him for life beyond yeshiva... bla bla bla....I had a nice sentence that came to me during the davening on shabbes;“Bright young minds, honed to perfection on complicated logic and convoluted reasoning are shlepping boxes in supermarkets, driving school buses, or skirting that shady area between dealing in properties and dealing on properties.”...Nice, but I have said this all before.I could talk about the new Rap song that the kids are gleefully telling each other is '[...]



The Yellow Brick Road


2007-07-16T19:52:27.387+01:00

Car pooling might be gaining ground for the wider community, but for Chassidim, giving lifts is so widespread that I have seen people angry for being passed by drivers they barely know, who did not offer a ride. Rabbis and Tzaddikim (holymen) rarely drive cars in our community, nor can they afford their own driver. Thus it came about that, as a twelve year old boy returning home from a funeral in Enfield, I found myself crammed in the back of a Volvo with half the local rabbinate.Being men who do not waste time, business was being discussed. A call had come through from Hackney council’s planning department seeking clarification for the Jewish God’s preference for yellow clay. It transpired that an application had been handed in for a private, Jewish girl’s school building, in yellow brick. The council had turned the application down because the rest of the street was entirely in red brick. The application was re-submitted with the explanation that it had to be yellow, for religious reasons.To broad smiles and indulgent grunts, we then learned that a well known and heeled family had agreed to donate the building. This was not the first school they had built for the community, and the other was in yellow brick. Humbly wishing to maximise the bang for their cash, the benefactors insisted on matching facades. I don’t remember exactly what they discussed further but the structure stands there today, in all its jaundiced glory.Ben Locker is a writer and blogger living in Stamford Hill. He, more recently, attended a meeting of the Hackney Planning Watch in Stamford Hill library. In discussion was the proposal by the council, due to the high concentration in Stamford hill of Orthodox Jews with large families, to allow certain home-extensions that would probably not pass muster in surrounding areas. He reports that many of the local residents are angered by the perception that the Chassidim are being given preferential treatment. Some have more personal grievances, like the fact that the light to their property is being blocked by an enormous loft conversion or an 18 foot long kitchen extension that towers over their garden fence. To be fair, these are legitimate complaints and it is obviously up to the council to make the final decision, taking the interests of all parties and the wider community into account.In his blog he writes: ‘… I was astonished by the argument one [orthodox] person put forward that Stamford Hill has a miniscule crime rate, thanks to the Orthodox Jewish community: even going so far as to say,“when did you last hear of someone mugged by an Orthodox Jew?” I, sadly, am less astonished. I have been hearing that justification, in its various forms, since I was twelve. Our superior children do not take drugs, wear ripped jeans or sport nose piercings, therefore we should be allowed to …[fill in the blank].The late Gerrer rebbe once advised one of his newly proselytised disciples to adopt the knickerbocker style of short trousers with long socks. The youngster expressed his doubts about his father allowing it and mentioned the biblical commandment to honour his parents. The Rebbe dismissed the argument, saying, “It is a Mitzva to honour him, not to give him what he thinks he wants.”A Democratic society has no problem when those with a different set of priorities express their opinions. The shtetl mentality, that teaches being noticed is bad, is wrong. Not because we have inherent rightness on our side, as some of our fundamentalists will have us believe, but because diversity is enshrined in British law. Thus if a brand new home in which to propagate God’s word to the fairer sex is more important to you than the colour coordination of the street it stands upon, you may say so unabashedly. Why,[...]



British Jew Bugs


2007-06-04T02:07:40.834+01:00

Although I do not have any official figures, it is common knowledge that the divorce rate in the Chassidic community is relatively low but rising slowly as individuals living in this country are exposed to more and more of the local colour and culture. A young Chassidic woman today is quite comfortable complaining to her Rav that her man does not give her enough attention or spend quality time with her and the family.

Twenty years ago she would have been laughed out of the Rabbi’s office. With an admonition on the way out, to stop reading the goyish literature that is introducing such notions, to one whose proudest achievement should be a row of smiling babies and crusty, golden-brown Challas every Friday.

Today she is more likely to be directed to one of the semi-official counsellors who will have had some rudimentary training in a sort of marriage guidance counselling, with an emphasis on avoiding divorce at all cost. I must admit to usually being quite dismissive of these do-gooders, generally proofs of the adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing, precisely because I don’t believe relationship counsellors should have their own agenda.

The overwhelming, pious drive
to avoid divorce at all cost, sometimes leads to counsellors actively assisting the stronger partner in cowing the weaker one. It is easy to fall into the trap of putting pressure on the party most likely to bend, rather than the one who has the most changing to do.

In a fair society the stronger protect the weak. To sacrifice the weak for the smooth running of the machine, is too horrible a notion to entertain, although we all know it happens.

Of course our Universities and College Union, the UCU, voted overwhelmingly in favour of seeking “a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli institutions”. They represent the students, the loony left, the ones who are going to right the world's wrongs – with, of course, special focus on those perpetrated by societies or groups perceived to be more consistently successful than their own.

What really bugs me is the muted reaction by everybody else. Is it just because we don’t blow up trains that nobody cares very much that blatant anti-Semitism has become the hallmark of the British left? Is it just because nobody is scared of us that nobody minds that British academia has been turned into a hostile environment for anyone Jewish? Not for being Jewish, of course. But, because as Jews, they represent the State of Israel.


In an ironic twist of fate the wandering people now carry a state as their cross as they traverse Europe.

I am a British Jew and I am not prepared to carry the torch for anyone. But neither am I prepared to use a different yardstick for my people than for anybody else. I therefore never ask brown people for their views on Africa, slant-eyed ones about Tiananmen Square or short, fat, white ones with loud shirts their position on the war in Iraq. I likewise do not wish to express my views on the occupation except to declare, that if I were to feel under siege, unwelcome and unwanted in the UK, I could hardly be blamed if I recalled the justifications for fighting occupation, I heard on the BBC.



Mendy in Ich


2007-08-28T21:54:04.347+01:00

Just before Yomtov I got my hands onto a DVD of a film called Mendy; the story of the eponymous Chassidic orphan who is caught messing with a girl in the community and is thrown out. He moves in with a friend, Yanky, who had left years before and is now a tattooed, occasional tefillin wearing, whoring, drug pusher. The film follows Mendy through the first few weeks of his life with Yanky and his attractive, black, Brazilian roommate, and watches him painfully adjust to a world where morals and ethics must be decided for one’s self and where solutions as well as love can be just as hard to find as within the gefilte-fish cradle.The film is surprisingly authentic. It is let down, for me, only by the appallingly poorly articulated Yiddish, which half the film is spoken in. For me it would have been far more genuine, not to mention comfortable to watch, had it been played entirely in English, with the classic yiddishisms left in. To me, a native speaker, the stilted Yiddish was a major irritation although those relying on the subtitling might see in it a charm of its own.With at least one Satmar dropout on the credits the film is sometimes refreshingly and hauntingly real. When Shabbes arrives a group of ex-orthos, some bare-headed and holding cigarettes and others still wearing the traditional garb, pool together the kugel, gefilte fish and cholent they received from their families - ever hopeful of their return – then join hands to lustily welcome the Shabbes Queen, in song, to their mixed and half drunk gathering. So eerily authentic that it brought a lump to my throat.I cannot recommend this charming film to the religiously faint of heart. There is occasional nudity and Yanky puts his tefillin on his shikse while making love to her as he whispers the brocho (blessing) into her ear, in a shockingly provocative scene that left even me unsure if I could continue to watch. I sincerely hope they were props and not the real thing! Still, I do believe that the film does tell the story rather well from the point of view of the tortured soul who leaves, and anybody who has dealings with youngsters who have left, or might, can learn much from seeing it.For me it awakened memories that had been pushed back into the far recesses of my skeleton cabinet. In the years since I took a conscious decision to return to the fold and traded in my rebellion and individuality for a Solzhenitsyn style compromise, I have slowly grown accustomed to the comfort and security that being a paid up member affords. This film jolted me back to the time when I would have given anything ‘just to be accepted for what I am’.Now, sitting in shul on Yomtov, I look around me at what I traded that in for. I observe the man across the table, his eyes tightly shut in concentration, his roughly woven, yellowing tallis pulled tightly round his torso and head. In his loud raspy voice the, essentially upbeat, Hallel texts he moans sound more like an audition for King Lear.The teenager next to him is also chanting lustily, anticipating the Chazzan (cantor) in a reedy solo. Unmarried, he cannot cover his face with the Tallis so he self-consciously looks around every few minutes to see if anyone is watching him. Every so often, when his neighbour’s cacophony becomes too loud, he stops his lone performance to glare balefully at the shrouded figure’s formless back and then resolutely returns to his singular devotion. I wonder to myself whether he considers the fact that they are both ostensibly talking to the same being and if so why he thinks his own libretto is more worthy than his neighbour’s? Maybe he is really just having his personal cantorial rehearsal interrupted by the git, and the issue is more about [...]



We didn't Fight the Liars

2007-08-28T21:52:34.266+01:00

This should be read with the original by Billy Joel keeping the rythm true.

Occupation, He hurt me,
Reasons of security,
Disengagement, Disappointment,
Dis is unity.

Kosher meat, Mobile phones,
Hats, snoods and no-fly zones,
Knickerbockers, White sockers,
Frummers follow me.

Chassidic Tish, Funny food,
Beisdin with the fangs removed,
Contraception, contradiction,
Twice a week is still a lot.

The Tzaddik’s son, The other one,
Courts deciding which one won,
The Besht is dead, The Rebbe’s not,
How much longer have we got?

We didn’t fight the liars
We saw them praise each other
As they destroyed our brothers

We didn’t fight the liars
as the fat cats bought them
We just helped support them


Na nach nachman nuts,
Separate seating on the bus
Chauvinism, Feminism,
Cheque Agunot cry.

Denier numbers, Thigh high seams,
Pederast protection schemes,
Orange ribbons, Gay parades,
Good boys don’t ask why.

Sadya Grama’s Romemut,
Slifkin’s book is staying put.
Artscroll, Steinzalz,
Kahati’s work in Russia banned

Viznitz, Satmar, Bobov twice,
Holy city, Rabbi Veiss,
Shtreimels with kaffiyeh shawls,
Carers of our promised land.

We didn’t fight the liars
We saw them praise each other
As they destroyed our brothers

We didn’t fight the liars
As the fat cats bought them
We just helped support them

Hip Hop, Chassidic bands,
Holies eating with their hands,
Manichewitz, Tam Tams,
Gatchkes in the pool

Tzedaka scams, family trees,
Dor yesharim booking fees,
Blood-sucking with a tube,
TV kids expelled from school.

Nasty rabbis in Iran,
Contact with the Taliban
Kehilla grants, not a chance,
Though the numbers seem so clear

All in all it’s pretty sad
but let me tell you something glad,
Many more will learn to fear,
the Shgatzim on the blogosphere.

We didn’t fight the liars
We saw them praise each other
while they destroyed our brothers

We didn’t fight the liars
as the fat cats bought them
We just helped support them

on and on and on and on...



The Oyvey Office


2007-01-03T19:31:42.649+00:00

Most who leave the Chassidic fold, fail miserably in their new lives. Aliens from a parallel universe, they are poorly equipped to deal with the harsh realities of western culture; the shallowness and the self-preservation. Coming from a world where a familiar face is a trusted friend, they confuse flirtation with sincere friendship and think ‘How do you do?’ is a question. Divided from their newfound family by a common language, they are not attuned to what is being clearly stated between the lines, even when it looks like they understand. While their companions happily watch their project tentatively taste his new freedom, they naively mistake their amiability for true concern. Sooner or later they end up, scared, lonely, let down and depressed, with no one left to turn to and nowhere to go.Menachem Lang of Bne Beraq did not fall by the wayside completely. He was a budding cantor when he left at twenty and he is putting his experiences to good use in his new acting job in a theatre in Herzeliya, playing a part based on his own life. One part of him that does not come out in the show is the bit where he was sexually abused by some young adults in the community. Armed with the indignation that exposure to western culture accords such deeds, and a hidden camera crew from Israel’s Channel 10 he set out to confront his molesters. ( Text video -Hebrew)Menachem comes across to me as a walking advert for staying put. He obviously does not realise how shallow he comes across, his outbursts sometimes seem rehearsed and when he adlibs, his positions become closer to his accused. He even seems a little unsure at times what is actually bothering him. All these are classic to victims of abuse and I am sure he needs help but my feeling is that he needs someone to advise him to return to a culture he knows and understands.The three bearded men he identifies and interviews in the TV documentary were never charged although they all seem to admit the basic facts on camera. The reason, in a nutshell, is because "in the Charedi community such issues are dealt with internally" says the narrator. I am aware that the situation in Israel is different than here. The Batei Din in Israel (rabbinical courts) are quasi legal bodies and in cities like Bne Beraq they represent a real force on the ground and enjoy widespread approval ratings despite the scepticism of those like me who prefer transparency and structure. Yet even there some prominent Rabbis have recently started advising people to report all forms of sexual abuse directly to the police.It is laughable to expect our local Batei Din in London or Manchester to take on the function of society’s policemen. They simply lack the power or the influence, not to mention the expertise. Yet our Rabbis, in their infinite wisdom, insist on sticking to the rules and principles they were taught in a different age. Still dutifully fulfilling, to the letter, the orders they were given by their long dead generals in a battle that moved on decades ago. Still industriously firing their salvos at targets that have long ceased to exist, while the enemy has moved on and is busy pillaging the villages.On the other side of the spectrum sit a group of Jews who also live somewhere in cloudcuckooland. The Neturei Karta movement has never been a savoury one although I have no argument with their founding principle, that the Zionists have no monopoly over the Jewish people. But my initial unease at posters on the lampposts on the Hill in the 80s stating “The Zionist state is a misfortune for the Jewish people”, has steadily developed into alarm and disgust as their disassociation turned to denouncement [...]



My Clothes and I


2007-08-28T21:55:28.129+01:00

Writing this blog has made feel much more comfortable in my skin as a Chassid. It has helped clarify to me what is positive within and about our community and lifestyle, at the same time as making me realise that I need not always feel responsible for the collective. Just as they should not for me.Through the discussions I have had with some powerful people, strangely prepared, even eager, to reason with The Shaigetz, I have learned to temper some criticisms which were based on faulty assumptions. That they treat my alter ego as an equal despite resolutely ignoring me, tells me to stop seeing myself thorough the other’s perspective and get on with my own life. To one brought up in the understanding that everything the individual does reflects upon 'the community' and God, and under the menacing shadow of Chillul-Hashem (desecration of His name), and the causing of any negative portrayal of Him or them, this was a big lesson.Today I can prepare to for an important meeting without checking in the mirror to see if my peyos aren't showing from behind my ears, where I carefully used to tuck them away, almost invisibly, when I wanted to make a good impression. I also no longer worry about where I will leave my hat when I go somewhere where no Chassid has ever trodden. I bear it with me, only respectfully removing it when I enter a room.Despite looking more the Chassid than ever, I no longer avoid contact with my fellow man and even fraternise with the locals shamelessly. I have discovered that most are, at best, mildly intrigued by the reason for my ‘funny’ attire while many of the rest are convinced that the Chassidic garb is our equivalent of the Catholic vestments. Very few realise that somebody like me was never given the choice to wear anything else and could only do so by tearing himself away completely from family and friends. Nor could they possibly imagine how embarrassing it is, how uncomfortable it feels, to have someone look at you and smile to themself when you are wearing funny clothes you don’t want to be seen wearing at all.Once past the initial surprise, I find most British people to be remarkably apathetic about my appearance and if I have found people disturbed by it, it was either Muslims who use us as easy targets for venting their hatred of Israel and the Israelites, or fellow Jews embarrassed by my ‘spectacle’.So when I strolled through my supermarket pushing my trolley I was relaxed and enjoying myself. Before me, blocking the gangway, was a store packer pushing a pallet of goods on a forklift. I was in no special hurry so I waited a few minutes until she had ended. After she had turned the corner and cleared the path I moved forward pushing aside a wooden pallet that had been left lying, so my wagon could pass. The employee who was now returning to collect the pallet started hurling personal insults at me adding that I, one of ‘those what does’nt has to work’ had disturbed her in doing hers. It seems from her ranting that ‘they’ do that.I must admit to being more disturbed than I would have expected. After all I was no stranger to such incidences in my youth and to be honest it is only in the recent few years that we have come to expect it in a different accent only.I have no doubt that if I call the store I will learn that she had had a hard day and was going through a difficult period. I will be assured that the company takes such incidences very seriously (it will be made clear that this applies not only for anti-Semitism but for racism of any sort – just in case we get cocky about our special privileges) and that the culprit will be duly discipli[...]



Society Of Members


2006-11-09T19:56:50.532+00:00

Few of my Chassidic friends approve when I am seen socializing with friends who are not religious. The goyim I am seen with pose fewer problems because the possibility of considering one a friend is so remote to a Chassidic Hiller. Eric is a very non-observant Jew. A highly extrovert and deliberately provocative man, he is the one that challenged me most on my journey to here. More than the philosophers and the Rabbis, the societies of thinkers and the earnest helpers, he is the one who asked the awkward questions that I always avoided asking myself. Would you? Why wouldn’t you? Do you? How do you know you do? Strangely enough his skepticism has reinforced my beliefs more than much earnest discourse.His lifestyle was much more shocking to me than I ever admitted. I have had my morals doing flip-flops in their bathrobes as I, for instance, debated behind a fascinated gaze whether to soon to say ‘bon appetite’ to a yid I was watching frying his treife quail thighs in butter? I have learned along the way that there are rules that have to be adhered to in society and when religion is taken out of the equation what we are left with is respect. I do not have to approve of what he eats and I may believe he will suffer eternal damnation for doing it but I do not actively stop him from doing as he pleases. That is his right I have to respect just as he must understand that I won’t taste. I further believe that once my disapproval has been noted it is neither polite nor helpful to keep mentioning it again.So when he dropped into my kitchen on barbecue-night with a bundle wrapped in newspaper I was faintly amused and expected some large salmon he would propose we bung on the barbeque or a dead snake for me to use as a doorstop. Instead the damp paper proved to contain a raspy mound of fresh whelks. Eric knows I don’t eat seafood and a colony of live sea snails in my kitchen really was not welcome. Of course I enjoy a joke as much as the next man and I am well aware that my irreligious friends do eat all the creepy crawlies they can lay their hands on. But I have to draw the line somewhere and with fruits-de-mer in my sink you needed a binoculars to look back for it, despite assurances as to how delicious they taste in garlic butter and his gleeful anticipation of what some of the more religious guests might say when they were produced.To be fair, as soon as he realised that I really was bothered by his gastropod snack surprise he beat a hasty retreat with them and apologised profusely. After my wife had stopped hyperventilating (and poured a few gallons of bleach down the plughole) normality returned and this little episode was duly forgotten until this week’s hullabaloo in Jerusalem with the Pride Parade reminded me of it. I was trying to explain to a colleague that although I do believe the act is a sin, I am not anti-gay. Still, I do not feel that a Pride Parade should be held in Jerusalem. As I had said to Eric, “What you do in your own space is your business but it is disrespectful to me when you wave your perwinkle around in my kitchen.”I have never quite figured out why a group of people who complain they are discriminated against find it helpful in gaining respect to flaunt their sexuality around in public. Indeed if the gay community wanted to prove they are just another part of society they would do better to march neatly attired through the town and let everybody see how normal they are. Instead they prance along semi-naked, flashing references to every kind of depravity they can think of in a demonstration that tries to force their hedonistic lifes[...]



The Package Deal


2007-08-28T21:38:12.199+01:00

The sukkah is intended to remind us of when we were taken out of Egypt. The children of Israel were grandiosely rescued from a despotic, tyrannical Pharaoh who had greedily enslaved them for generations before finally, in fits of paranoid fear, murdering all their male offspring. Chased by the Pahaoh's troops they were led triumphantly from the country through a path in a sea miraculously split before them. Once they had passed, the waters tumbled back in over the Egyptian army, eliminating it in its entirety in one glorious, fell swoop. The soldier's spoils, financed entirely by the labours of those they had been chasing, moreover, did not sink into the deep with them but were washed up on the shores for the refugees to gather.To celebrate these awe-inspiring miracles we gather once a year in a temporary structure, symbolic of the supernatural protection and care we received then and over the years following that awesome rescue and a testament to the pillars of cloud and fire that surrounded the Israelites as they trod the desert toward their Promised Land. That the Israelites, even despite these obvious displays of raw, divine might, hardly behaved like the best of Catholics and His eternal patience with them, must be an integral part of that story.There is nothing glorious about the sukkahs I saw this year on the Hill and nothing that even remotely evokes the dazzling magnificence of that divine deliverance. A ‘temporary structure’ as basically defined by the law has ‘to have three or more walls and get protective shading from an unconverted vegetable source. We have laws stating how high or law the walls must be but only the roof of the structure has to be temporary. A kosher sukkah must be under the open sky and then be covered by raw vegetable matter.Like much in our society, Sukkot has become an occasion that has little to do with its original purpose. Proud sukkah owners today proudly show off how discreetly their sukkah blends in to the house as their comfortably centrally heated and air-conditioned sukkah-cum-morning room’s glass dome slides noiselessly away to reveal the open sky masked by the commercially available, perfectly stitched bamboo mat that once a year is rolled over the waiting beams to fulfil the letter, if not the spirit, of the laws.In a grotesque parade of bad taste, most sukkot are furthermore decorated with gaudy and tacky christmas decorations, from paper apples, shiny stars and baubles to paper chains, tinsel and flashing fairy lights. Like the society around us, we seem to be intent on proving that we too can sell the soul of our traditions to Hong Kong.The Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur period is designed to be a time for stocktaking, learning the lessons from the year past and accepting resolutions for the one upcoming. Over Sukkot we are reminded that though we can be a stiff-necked people God still loves us and He is capable of protecting us from any threat. We learn that although we as a people can be prone to bouts of self-assured rightness these can also be suspect. We learn that we have a tendency to be argumentative and sometimes just plain obnoxious and that we have to learn to fight these urges. In short we have to remember that being religious is about more than the external trappings.When the length of someone’s beard or his wife’s skirt becomes more important than his piety or deeds, when the shape of a Chassid's hat becomes more important than his upbringing and knowledge, when in shul you can be witness to infantile jealous bickering for the privilege of shushing people during the daven[...]



Stand Up or Shut Up


2007-08-28T21:41:23.903+01:00

Heaven, the saying goes, helps the man who helps himself. The Yiddish equivalent translates as ‘Blessed are the hands that do it alone’. Despite the giggles I could raise just by pausing for a moment here with the appropriate expression on my face, I do accept the validity of the sentiment expressed.In Yeshiva one of the things that was drummed into us was the issue of Emuna and Bitochon. Literally translated the first is faith and the latter trust and that is how they are used in our school of thought. We are taught that it is incumbent upon us to believe He makes everything happen according to a very tightly controlled plan in which every single thought, every single heartbeat from the king’s down to that of the louse on his head is divinely controlled and meshes into its very specific place in the universal tapestry. The obvious question that arises as to how free will can exist within a framework of preordination is generally considered to be out of bounds for our puny little brains. Likewise, how it is possible that anything has been around forever?Naturally these are questions you cannot shake off once they have arisen. My Rebbes were not prepared to discuss them with me; telling me instead that I am a Shaigetz for thinking about them. I did of course and in developing my own answers to the theological dilemmas I also came to the realisation that I am proud to be a Shaigetz.The question of divine intervention and how it works is not only an abstract one. There are two well-documented schools of thought within Judaism, the one Chassidim subscribe to maintains that even inanimates have their lifespan and every movement within it planned from the outset and the other believes that the laws of nature are only interfered with for humans who deserve it. Neither gives very clear instructions on how to decide when it is acceptable to sit back and let Him be in control and when it is necessary to make an effort yourself although all agree that sometimes one must.Chassidim take Emuna to stand for unwavering faith in the Lord and the knowledge that He is in control over everything. Bitachon is translated into the assurance that ultimately whatever happens to you is for the good. If you have enough Emuna and Bitachon life can only be plain sailing. The alarming rise of social anti-Semitism in Britain, the tough economic situation of the illiterate school-leavers, the growing worldwide threat of Muslim terrorism and Great Britain’s increasing kowtowing to a growingly sophisticated Muslim PR machine that must be gleefully penning Tony Blair’s name to a growing list of European leaders they have helped topple, all this does not keep you awake at night if you have enough faith in He who sees the big picture.I once asked my mentor whether having Emuna and Bitachon allows me to sit back and observe life. More specifically whether a sum of money I had lying around should be invested for the future or could be used to make my life more comfortable now. I feared that investing in the future displayed a lack of faith in His ability to supply me with all I need at any given time. His reply was that I can only sit doing nothing allowing God to run my life if I honestly and truly rely on Him alone. To use the cyclists Prayer formula and ask for help only when the hill is steep while relying on gravity to take me back down does not go down well in the heavenly applications department apparently.Many Chassidim might therefore be forgiven for watching passively from the sidelines as what I believe is a growing threat to our[...]



Hippocracy


2007-08-28T21:42:33.092+01:00

My people are at war with an enemy who proudly boasts of killing civilians yet screams blue murder when the innocent Lebanese civilians they cowardly hide behind are, tragically, caught in the retaliatory fire. An enemy whose brave heroes shamelessly cheer on the street, fire weapons in the air and gleefully share out sweets when our babies are butchered. An enemy whose barbaric civilians dance for the local TV cameras holding aloft the limbs of our fallen. I do not therefore think now is the time for me to lob my peculiar brand of critique at the petty foibles of my own community. Instead I will take a departure from form and direct my ire at my other family and the democratic society that claims to represent my interests because I am part of it.It was Israel’s best friend, the USA, along with best friend Britain that pressured her, against her much better judgement, to allow Hamas, who they themselves branded a terrorist group, to run in the Palestinian democratic election. Once the people had spoken and the duly elected government of our partners-in-peace had shown its true face (albeit behind a balaclava mask) our good friends suddenly recalled pressing engagements elsewhere and we were left to deal with repressing the rewards for our disengagement, alone.In Lebanon the democratic parliament, enjoying the full support of all Israel’s best friends in red white and blue, has a minister and almost a third of its body coming from Hezbolla, for whom (Jewish) infanticide is part of the manifesto. Just so as to keep this farce fresh and exciting Israel is urged by the colourful black and white coalition of the Talking Heads Club to spare this ‘legitimate’ government, even as it may (grudgingly) wage a defensive war on its proxy who enjoys full control over Lebanon's border with the only real democracy in that part of the world.Democracy, the doctrine that claims to allow the masses to determine the general direction of their governance, has replaced religion for many as the panacea for all the world’s ills. A peek at the Middle East today should be enough to shake even the dimmest of brains out of that reverie. Maybe an intrinsically good people would automatically fare better under democratic rule than the yoke of selfish and cruel opportunists but a democratic election alone will not serve to turn swordsmen into ploughhands. Clearly not all peoples are ready for rule by whatever majority, as much of the population in Gaza would admit if they dared.Democracy, like socialism and theocracy, is an ideal that only works if those wielding it are responsible and worthy. A group of bloodthirsty savages, believers in the Ashariyya doctrine - that because all that happens is caused by God anyway it is legitimate to kill innocents, will not suddenly turn into cuddly lambs just because they were empowered through a ballot box. To think they might is as naïve as to believe that the US and its cohorts have suddenly seen the justness of Israel’s cause.The sad truth is that the democratic experiment in the Middle East has failed miserably. The undemocratic governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are unusually mute in their criticism of Israel’s legitimate self defence this time because they themselves fear the democratic ambitions of these Islamist groups. Parties that have the support of the streets in their countries. Meanwhile the true democracies of the US and the UK, whose own forces are now within plucking distance of these same terrorists, are cynically pleased to have Isra[...]



Another Chip In The Wall


2007-08-28T21:43:36.958+01:00

II must admit to being disappointed when Roger Waters, waxer lyrical in masterpieces of the rock symphony like The Wall, and the exquisite sarcasm in Amused to Death, whipped out his paint canister and celebrated his historic visit to Israel’s Separation Wall by spraying on in bright red capital letters the legend: WE DON’T NEED NO THOUGHT CONTROL.

We all know he can do better than that. Quoting the lines of one of his only songs recognisable to the great unwashed diluted the occasion and did much more to reclaim authorship to the lyrics than anything to influence (without control) the minds of all those who admire him so. With all the subtlety of an elephant with a sprained ankle he makes a crude associational reference to tearing down a walls by shrieking a criticism of postwar educational methods on the very wall portrayed as blocking children’s access to their school.

He did gain my avid approval though for his answer to the Press when asked whether that was his message to the Israeli people. (The reporter obviously had gotten that elusive message.) “No, Of course not.” He simply explained to the camera. “It’s got nothing to do with them. It’s a message to the Israeli government.”

Not many care enough to bother to make that distinction and I am glad but not surprised he did. It is a sad truth though that rock and film stars have more influence on the public than any leaders do and sadder still that most have hardly an opinion worth sharing between them. Without minimising the wonderful examples stars like Geldof, Bono and indeed Waters do set, they are in such a pitifully small minority that I think they must be what they are in spite of their fame not because of it.

It would be nice if I could go on and remind everyone how at least our Chassidic youth can look to their spiritual guides and teachers for instruction but that is unfortunately not true. Instead I believe most of us are still looking for their spiritual guides and teachers. Which is why Mobile phones are not allowed but everybody has them, the Internet is banned and Hyde Park’s Charedi Forums are the busiest in Israel. Our leaders, the cream of our society and the infallible who uniquely can transmit the word of God, find themselves stuck in the traffic behind the great technology juggernaught that is redefining our lives far quicker than they seem to be able to react and divine has become an adjective to describe that latest mobile phone.

For our leadership and community ever to amount to anything they are going to have to become relevant and learn to act instead of reacting. Learn to actually keep a finger on the pulse of both the Shtetl and the street. To stick their stiff necks out and earn their stripes, not to mention their keep. Because for the moment, in the stride between technology and Torah, the chip is in the lead, unlike within the leadership where it sits firmly on the shoulder.



Left, Right, Wrong


2007-08-28T21:44:45.919+01:00

Comedian Jackie Mason once said he has no problem laughing at Jews to either a Jewish or a gentile audience . It is the mixed ones that are problematic because the Gentiles are uncomfortable sitting next to Jews while laughing at them. I feel a similar constraint in my colleagues at work when the Arab Israeli conflict comes up. An uncomfortable silence usually ensues when I drop in on such a discussion. I therefore tend to keep my opinions largely to myself on this issue, at work at least.The recent demise of the Satmar Rebbe and a newspaper article about it in which the Satmar viewpoint was described as anti-Zionist caught the eye of a co-worker of mine who had the bright idea of producing the clipping during a lunch break. She unfolded it with a shy flourish and proceeded to explain that she wished to publicly apologise for supposing that all Jews were Zionists.Caught unawares and unprepared I had no ready answer and explained simply that Satmar’s is just one of the myriad positions that Jews hold and reminded everyone of the age old saying ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. Everyone dutifully smiled and returned to their spam and sports pages. The episode got me thinking however. On the one hand I am an avid proponent of clearly making the distinction between being Israeli and being Jewish. In that respect I believe Satmar has got it right. On the other hand I am squeamish about getting into bed with a group that is happy to curry favour at the expense of their own brethren.The Satmar viewpoint, developed by the first Rebbe and uncle to the one that just recently passed away, was uncompromisingly anti-Zionist. He was a pragmatist however and it has been suggested by many that his message was designed to temper the euphoria within the decimated religious community that the birth of the State and the emergence of a Nation of Jews created at the time. To him and his Eastern European colleagues it was obvious that Zionism and religious Judaism did not mix, this despite the fact that a few of them were personally saved from the Nazis by the Zionist organisations active at the time. His message that the Zionist State was no God given birthright was accepted by the mainstream in ultra-O-Jism until fairly recently. It is the media and their insistence that religious settlers and Chassidim are the same, that taught younger Chassidim to identify with the State. Made it for us more than a Jew- (but not always charedi) friendly place that has falafel balls on sale everywhere and Hebrew writing - for us previously reserved for school, synagogue or dreary kosher shops - on provocative billboards and vending machines too.Still today the concept of the powerful vanquishing Jewish soldier is an image that many Charedim identify with uneasily. The twisted blend of religious fanaticism and right-wing extremism the media paints us with is in fact no more accurate than that which the rabidly anti-Israeli and pro-palestinian Neturei Karta, often misrepresented as Satmar, tries to portray. Indeed it is only the repulsiveness of NK’s uncle-tomesque parades of blind pro-Arabism that stops me agreeing with their posters proclaiming ‘Zionism is not Judaism’. It is the images like those on worldwide TV of their heroes in shining bekishes and shabby shtreimels wearing Kaffiyes like bastardised prayer-shawls while praying for the good health of the dying Yassir Arafat that prove to me they are no more honest to true Judaism than those that proclaim the [...]



Feh Tish


2007-08-28T21:46:54.723+01:00

There is no word for Fetishism in the Yiddish we Chassidim use. The Yiddish of Sholom Aleichem and Singer might, nay must have had a word for it but it does not seem to have survived the move to America and Western Europe and in our climate of puritan coyness there is no need to create one. Not really surprising then that there is no word for lipstick or bra either. These are all concepts or objects that young men will never come across in their lessons in school or their study afterwards and the newspapers cannot use them anyway so there is no need for a word.I did need it though this week when my toddler brought home a picture book from cheder. The book is a poorly executed knock-off of the picture comic book format that was popular for a while. An excruciatingly staged family home is pictured with a smarmily smiling pigtailed (not to mention faced) infant girl solemnly announcing in a stilted Yiddish that she is doing a mitzvah by helping her mummy as she clumsily holds a too large and brand-new broom in an artfully contrived tableau of Chassidic domestic bliss.Less than inspired design coupled with poorly conceived visuals is not the exclusive domain of our community to be fair. Hello magazine is printed every week. Yet, still this still life is so eerily true to life of so many Chassidic homes that I had to comment on it. The table is laid for the Shabbes meal. The inevitable blindingly white tablecloth covers a large table which dominaties the room. The heavy formal carved and upholstered chairs look like something stolen from a French museum and the table groans with ostentatious silverware and a garish dinner service that would look comfortably at home at a Liberace concert.The tablecloth is covered with the de rigueur transparent, disposable, plastic cover that most frum dining tables feature. The room in this picture takes the absurdity of covering tasteful fabric with disgusting plastic to new heights. Here the brocade chairs too have tailored see-through plastic coverings, turning an expensive if flamboyant piece of furniture into a farcical monstrosity of slippery PVC. On the table itself an embroidered velvet Challa cover is contained within another plastic casing. Over in the background and under a mediocre picture that looks suspiciously like a framed 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle the padded sofa too has been given the same treatment.In the commenting on my last piece one commenter noted that the danger of blogs like mine is that they establish norms that eventually influence the reader subconsciously to take on their point of view (though he did not put it quite like that). I must admit that I take his point on the mechanism although not that it is a problem. The passion for plastic is universal to Chassidim. The front cover of the Hella Winston’s remarkably perceptive and charming book The Unchosen features a Chassid on the front cover typically carrying his possessions, not in sports bag or a suitcase but in a black plastic refuse bag - a peculiarity nobody who has ever travelled with Chassidim could have failed to notice.The passion for plastic coverings on all and sundry that can be touched in the home is thus far, thankfully, still unique to the United States where the picture comes from. Their regrettable penchant for eating on disposable tableware has already taken the pleasure out of most parties and simchas in Stamford Hill not to mention far too many family meals, as the steadily [...]



Unreasonabled Out


2007-08-28T21:48:34.807+01:00

I was not a model child. My parents claim that of all my siblings I was the one that caused the most trouble. My father used to pull the ends of his long grey beard forward and examine them minutely as I watched. Unspoken condemnation of the errant son who had caused the pigmentation to abandon his follicles and leave him middle-aged. It was years before I discovered that greying is genetic and even longer before I came to terms with the fact that my life’s choices were not really his business and that it was unfair and cruel of him to suggest otherwise.It is not as if I spent my evenings joyriding in stolen cars and mugging elderly ladies for their loose change and Polo mints. My misdemeanors were more of the nature of forgoing to learn a few mishnas by heart for the Annual Siyum, going out in the afternoon with no hat on or, horror of horrors, watching some TV at my great-aunt’s house.I could cope with the mute rebuke and the silent reproach. What angered me and still gets my goat even today were the discussions about me I could overhear as my parents had their last coffee before turning in at night. From downstairs I could hear my mother voicing her concerns about what would become of me and how my sorry behaviour would adversely affect the futures of the rest of the family. She would make it sound like my leaving the house to go shopping hatless was a deliberate act of defiance designed to sabotage any chance of my brothers and sisters ever making a decent match.Upstairs I was exploding in anger at the injustice of her remarks. How did she know what I was doing and thinking? Why did she not ask me why I did whatever it was? My father would murmur his running agreement and only interrupt her little monologue every few minutes to reinforce one of her rabid remarks with a juicy observation of his own. “It is our fault. We are too soft on him. That is the trouble. What he really needs is two gitte petch (Hard slaps).”This mounting frustration and the helplessness that so infuriated me then sometimes comes back to me as I listen in on conversations in Shul. The intolerance and even prejudice that I come across is in essence no more widespread or pervasive than that which I encounter in other communities I socialise with. It is the utter self-righteousness and ignorant assurance that makes it so annoying. Like the cretin at my table who knows for a fact Goyim don’t have a family life and therefore they cannot appreciate what we go through bringing up ours. That babies can’t get infected from a Bris even if the mohel does not take all the necessary precautions because it’s a Mitzva and that the lack of basic hygiene in the mikve is still no more likely to spread disease than the swimming pool where people with aids are having sex all the time.Bigotism, prejudice and idiocy are not exclusive to Chassidism. We have our fair share of raving lunatics too but probably no more than that. That they sometimes manage to be promoted to exalted positions in the community is just another sign that we, who do know the difference between opinions and facts, should be standing up and making our voices heard. Even if it won’t make any difference to those chattering in the kitchen, it might calm down the boiling anger in those who find themselves trapped within. Listening on in justified horror but not daring to make a sound. Those who might already be anticipating letting the fat [...]