Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My unknown Future


Yesterday, someone asked me in an e - mail if I grew up chassidic and what do I personally gain from going to all the chassidic Tishes I write about. As I forgot to ask the person if I could mention his name, so I rather do not mention it here. First I thought about sending him a personal e - mail with all the answers. However, then I came to the conclusion that other people might be interested as well and I decided to publish my answer in my blog. Why not, it is not a secret.

I grew up non - religious and I do not remember that we even had a Tanach in the house. Somehow I believed that there is a G - d but never bothered to find out more. My life was too busy; high school, university, work. Just as everybody else's life. I never checked out Far East religions or anything, as I was not interested in religion.

When I was in my late twenties, I made the following agreement with myself: I know that there is ONE G - d but at the moment, I do not have the time to learn anything about it. First, I will work and have a normal life but later when I have time I will surely find out more. I think this is exactly what many people do. Well, not now but maybe later.

My perspective changed when I moved to Jerusalem. I was here as a tourist and had been in a Kibbutz Ulpan studying Hebrew. I was sick of Kibbutzim and, as I am a person who likes city life, I moved to Jerusalem. I had lived in Tel Aviv first but hated it.
So, I came to Jerusalem and did not really know where to go. I finally ended up in an Arab hostel in the Arab Quarter of the Old City. The place was dirty and full of non - Jewish tourists. There was even a young American couple where the guy was Jewish but the girl was not. I cannot describe it, but it bothered me a lot. Especially because I had been to the Western Wall (Kotel) on the same day. Not, that I had any great religious feelings at the Kotel but I did remember some kind of a Heritage. When I came back to the hostel and saw the mixed couple sitting there, I just blew up on them. I asked the Jewish guy if he is not ashamed walking around in Jerusalem with a Shickse. The guy was so surprised and did not say much but the "Shickse" was freaking out.
According to my later experience, it is mostly rather the non - Jewish part starting to yell at other Jews and call them a something than the Jewish part in the "relationship". I wonder why.:-)

The tourists in the hostel went on my nerves and I considered staying in Jerusalem and making Aliyah at a certain point. In the mornings I left and only came back in the evenings. During the day I was just walking through the city and getting to know it. Then someone told me that there are Shabbat placements for dinner at the Kotel. Every Friday night there is a guy giving the placements to Jewish tourists. I went and I cannot even remember if I wore a skirt or pants. I just went, found the guy who is a Jew from Chicago called Jeff Seidel. He send me to a Chabad rabbi. So, there I was. I was sitting in the middle of about 30 Jews and the rabbi and we were having Kiddush and dinner. Most of the people were just like me and not religious. Someone told me about a free hostel in the Old City called the Heritage House. Already on the next morning, I checked in. And then my religious life started.

The Heritage House also offers free evening classes and I became a complete addict going there. Additionally, they sent us to the Discovery - Program of the Yeshiva Aish HaTorah. I was amazed and soon the Heritage House classes were not enough any more. I went to the National Jewish Library and just studied as much as I could.
Then I went to Yeshiva. First with the national religious and later with the litvish.

However, one thing happened I had never thought of. I really wanted to have a haredi life - style but, for a reason I still so not understand, I could not do it then. I had a nervous breakdown and went back to Germany where I came from.
I think that the reason might have been that I did everything too fast instead of giving it time. Soon I felt squeezed into the haredi world and I missed my freedom. I felt like I could not fulfill all expectations. Especially not my own expectations. It was as if the body wanted but not the soul. Something kept me back.

I became just the opposite and started to hate all the religious. Seeing haredim on a bus and studying Talmud was a torture for me. They were sitting and studying and I simply could not do it and did not even know the reason.

When I look back it is as if I did not hate the religious but just myself for being unable of having a haredi life style.

I decided to take a break and lived in Germany for more than two years until I finally made Aliyah. There I started missing the religious life but also got adjusted to the European life again. Keeping kosher, finding Jewish friends and having a real Jewish life is almost impossible. Maybe it is different if one lives in Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich but still, this is not like Israel, New York or London. Germany cannot compete with any other place, and there everything felt like dead. German Jews are strange as well.

I was glad when I made Aliyah but did not really intend to go back to the religious. This time I wanted to be more careful and not just jump into something.

I went to Shiurim and to the synagogues but nothing further. Before I left and despite all my studies with the litvish, I was always attracted to chassidim. I got to know their life much better when I had a quite nice friendship with a Satmar family in Mea Shearim. Of course, Chabad tried to get me into their group and claimed that Satmar has nothing to offer. But the thing is that I love chassidut but could never make up my mind which group to join. I am not a group person anyway and prefer to go here and there. There are things I like about Gur or about Breslov, about Satmar or Toldot Aharon, but I cannot see myself becoming a member and following only one Rebbe.

Almost a year ago, I started my two religious blogs; one in German and one in English. As I had never stopped studying Judaism, I wanted to share some knowledge and thoughts. Especially in German where Jews hardly know anything and the reform movement rules everywhere. A little later, I decided to explain chassidic groups and I do not have a particular reason for this goal. After writing about Chabad, Breslov and Gur, I chose Vishnitz. Well, I do not know any Vishnitzer which started to bother me. Would it not be better going out and talking to chassidim in order to write about them ? One should not only quote from a book but actually speak to people. This is why I started going to the different Tishes.

The unexpected thing is that I got attached again. I do think a lot about becoming chassidic and I have been keeping certain customs for quite a while. The more I go, the more I think about it. However, I am still too afraid of jumping into something and getting another nervous breakdown. I have to admit that it is a crazy feeling: On Friday night I am sitting with the chassidim and on Mozzaei Shabbat I am back to my "normal" life. Living in two worlds so to speak.

Maybe someone has the same experience and could give an advice.


  1. Fascinating story. I definitely relate to wondering where you fit in... I hope you can find your place very soon.

    -Dixie Yid

  2. B"H

    Hi DixieYid,

    This is exactly my problem; I do not fit in anywhere. Actually I got used to it.:-)

  3. B"H

    The person asking me was: