Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Too many" Celebrations


Hello everybody. I hope that you are all having enjoya great Sukkot holidays.

These days, I am very busy in Jerusalem because there are plenty of celebrations.

I already prepared some articles about the Simchat Beit HaShoeva parties going on here, and I will publish everything within the next few days.

The day before yesterday, for instance, we went to a highly controversial Chabad concert taking place at Rehov Channah, right next to Bar Ilan Street. Chabad had a great Simchat Beit HaShoeva concert. They had set up a huge stage in front of one of their Yeshivot (next to the synagogue of Chassidut Karlin).

The Edah HaCharedit as well as the Agudat Israel and further litvishe rabbis claimed that the concert would be immodest and put a ban on the event.
Despite the ban, we went to see it and I will write further details soon. We also went to the demonstration against the whole Chabad show where two Haredim got arrested. The majority of the participants in the demonstration were Vishnitz, Satmar and litvishe Haredim.

Afterwards we moved on to Mea Shearim and participated in the Toldot Aharon and Toldot Avraham Yitzchak parties. They were packed with people and both groups definitely know how to throw a party.

Meanwhile, certain streets in Mea Shearim have a Mechitzah and are divided into men and womens' sections. I do not really understand the reason, as everything is a little mixed up anyway and the whole area is too small for a division.
However, I got used to it and thousand other people did the same.

So far, Moadim Le'Simcha and I will let you know all the details about the Holy City.

By the way, tomorrow morning after Shacharit, the Birkat HaCohanim is taking place at the Kotel.

Tomorrow night at 8pm:
Chabad is having another Simchat Beit HaShoeva concert at the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter. I do not know if there is a ban on it as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

חג שמח


To all readers:

Chag Sameach, חג שמח, and have a great Sukkot holiday.
Sukkot in Jerusalem is always very special and in the course of the holiday, I will write more. Especially Jews in the Diaspora should know, how we Jerusalemites are going to celebrate this special holiday.

Tonight I am planning to go with a friend to a synagogue service in Mea Shearim. Probably Karlin or Toldot Avraham Yitzchak.

Sukkot in Mea Shearim

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Kosher Sukkah in Auschwitz


Every Sukkot, Rabbi Mordechai Machlis keeps on telling the same story about a kosher Sukkah in Auschwitz. He does it for his family and his many many guests.

This story is about his friend and teacher Rabbi Yitzchak Traube. Rabbi Machlis always concludes with the words that he does not know whether anything similar ever happened or whether this story has ever been published before. Listeners are always shocked.

I want to share the story with others in remembrance of Rabbi Yitzchak Traube.

Rabbi Yitzchak Traube was imprisoned in the Auschwitz death camp for quite a while. Every morning, he and other prisoners were forced to walk along a certain road within the camp in order to get to work.

The festival of Sukkot was approaching, and as Rabbi Traube walked along the road, he saw little branches laying there. He looked aside and saw a building which looked more like a ruin. Only the walls were left but without a roof.

From now on, every day he pushed with his feet more and more branches to the side of the road. He had to be very careful because the guards might suspect something.

On Erev Sukkot, he left his barrack and ran to the place where he had pushed the branches. One cannot imagine in what danger he was. Leaving the barrack at night and being caught meant instant death. However, the rabbi was lucky. He put the branches over the walls, and this way he built a kosher Sukkah. Additionally, he had saved up some bread which he ate.

In the middle of Auschwitz, he fulfilled the Mitzwa of making a blessing on food and sitting in a kosher Sukkah.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No Entrance for Women


This year's holiday of Sukkot is going to start this Wednesday night. In Israel we only celebrate eight days whereas Jews in the Galut celebrate nine days. According to some opinions, the people in Galut need more time receiving any spirituality and therefore need an additional day. For us in Israel it is more like a local phone call to G - d and the Shechinah is much stronger.

On Sukkot, we don't only need a Sukkah but also a Lulav. The Lulav is a Mitzwa MiDeoraita and consists of a palm branch as well as of some myrtle and willow branches. The Etrog is also part of the Lulav but kept separately and not bound together with the branches.

Every day during Sukkot we shake the Lulav except on Shabbat when it turns into Mukzeh. We shake it into all six directions (down, up, north, east, south, west) and thus claim G – d's presence everywhere. The Mefarshim tell us different reasons for the Lulav, however, for Kabbalists, the Lulav is extremely important.

It is a well – known tradition to start building the Sukkah right after the end of Yom Kippur. It is always a special event going into different Sukkot every year, as each Sukkah has its own style. Some people like it more traditional and hang up posters of famous rabbis or pictures of Jerusalem. Other decorate it according to a more modern style. Expensive or moderate decoration, you will find anything.

Especially in religious neighbourhoods your can hear hammering and see people rushing around building Sukkot. A Sukkah has to be kosher (see Talmud Masechet Sukkah) which means that it has to be of a certain height and it must have a certain amount of walls. Poeple without balcony build their Sukkah in the garden in front of the house or in backyards. Especially in Mea Shearim the Chassidim are very busy these days. Building Sukkot everywhere, in any backyard and at any place. Sukkah next to Sukkah which would be too much for me, as all the neighbours participate in your private Sukkah conversations.

At the moment, you can find Lulav markets at almost each corner in religious areas in Jerusalem. Even in yards of private houses, as I saw in Malchei Israel Street last night. Some Belzer Chassidim just opened a stand and sell the four Minim.
I always love watching the Chassidim buying their Arba Minim. With total concentration they check every leaf of the branches. Of course, a Lulav has to be kosher as well and the leaves should no be damaged. Besides all the small stands there are huge Lulav markets in haredi areas. The biggest are at Supnik next to Kikar Shabbat and the one next to Bar Ilan Street opposite Sanhedria.

I cannot say that I understand the reason, but women are not allowed to enter the big chassidic markets. There are even signs outside: "Women are forbidden to enter".
I always ask myself why women are not allowed to enter. To be a little sarcastic: Are men too afraid that there full attention is turning to the women ? Are women in haredi Lulav markets are seen as a threat or men think that women simply don't understand what is going on ? Is it too much up to a man buying the Lulav ?
If so, why are female and male allowed to enter the same shops or supermarkets ? I don't see a difference between a Lulav market and a supermarket.

According to Halacha, a woman is allowed to shake the Lulav which I personally do almost every day during the Festival, and I know certain religious families where the woman even buys the Lulav sets for the males in the family.

As there is nothing I can do, I stand outside and watch the men hustling around and inspecting the leaves because the Mitzwa of the Lulav is only valid with a kosher Lulav. The most important part of the Lulav is the Etrog which sometimes cost a few hundred Shekels or even Dollar.
Last night I passed Supnik Square in the haredi Ge'ulah neighbourhood and was very much looking forward watching the Chassidim buying the Lulav. When I arrived I was quite disappointed, as "someone had this great idea" of covering the whole market with a huge plastic roof. Women were not even allowed to look inside and this must be a very new idea.

Already now we see men walking around in the streets with strange plastic covers. The Lulav is inside the cover and the Etrog is being put in a special box. Nothing should be damaged. If a man seems to be too busy, a women is allowed to hold the plastic cover. Even in Chassidic circles. That's already something.

Whoever doesn't have her or his own Lulav can go to Chabad and shake it there. During Sukkot, Chabad will have a stand at the Cardo in the Old City and at Zion Square. All Jews can participate in the Mitzwa and shake the Lulav.

The Lulav

Jerusalem and the Lulav

The Etrog

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why do bad things happen to good people ?


Yom Kippur in Israel is always something special and there is no other country in the world which can compete with the atmosphere in the Holy City. No Boro Park and no Golders Green.

One can feel the atmosphere already at noon. People are busy running to the Machane Yehudah Market and buying fruit for the Se'udat Mafseket. At 2 pm, shops close and buses stop running. The streets are empty and most people are at home getting prepared for the 25 hours fast. Others are rushing to the Kotel (Western Wall) where they intend to stay overnight. I saw many religious Jews carrying blankets under their arms down to the Kotel. People just slept everywhere, even next to the shops in the Jewish Quarter.

As usual, I participated in the Aish HaTorah Program run by the Yeshiva, the Heritage House and Jeff Seidel's Jewish Student Information Center. The participants were mostly young Americans from all backgrounds and Rabbi Yaakov Marcus was explaining the Yom Kippur service and, additionally, gave Shiurim (classes).

Although Mincha is a very important prayer on Yom Kippur, I decided to skip it and go with a few friends down to the City of King David instead. This was a mistake, as it was quite hot and when we came back for the next Shiur, we were completely exhausted. Nevertheless, we made it but were glad getting something to drink at the break fast.

At the Shiurim, veryone was free to ask questions and there were some great questions. One of the most interesting one I would like to share with you. It is a subject everybody is interested in and here is the Jewish approach to the issue:

Why do bad things happen to good people ?

If G - d is good, then He wouldn’t want bad things happen to good people, and if G - d is omnipotent, He could prevent bad things from happening to good people. Therefore, when bad things do happen to good people, we wonder if G - d is really good or omnipotent, or whether He exits at all.

Ten Explanations

1. We can predict that more intelligent beings will often to things that less intelligent beings won't understand.

2. The suffering might not be caused by actual evil, but a perfectly fine circumstance which this person is responding to irrationally.

3. The circumstances might not be a punishment but rather an opportunity to grow (a test).

4. The difficulties might be just a means to push someone towards a wonderful circumstance.

5. In many cases, what seems like evil at the hand of G - d might be evil at the hand of man.

6. We might not appreciate the value of a kindness or the seriousness of cruelty.

7. Since the only fair reward is based on effort, not on objective accomplishment, then a good G - d might send obstacles to maximize our effort and consequent reward.

8. A person might be given to stimulate them to rethink their plans or past behaviour -- as sort of wake - up call.

9. There are times when progress towards history 's - successful - conclusion necessitates supernaturally limiting the success of the righteous. When they are supernaturally handicapped, that allows forces of evil to become more manifest. People then realize more clearly what it means to live with evil, and choose good -- not out of fear of punishment, but out of clarity about the difference between good and evil. In the end days, in order to accelerate us the final outcome (of man choosing good), G - d thus accentuates the choice.

10. Reincarnation (Gilgul)

(Text from Yeshivat Aish HaTorah)

Friday, September 21, 2007

גמר וחתימה טובה


To all my readers:

Have an easy Fast and Gmar veChatimah to all of you. May you be inscribed and sealed into the Book of Life for the New Year 5768.

שבת שלום, שנה טובה, צום קל וגמר וחתימה טובה לכל עם ישראל

Selichot at the Kotel (Western Wall)

Empty streets on Yom Kippur

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jews do not march with Christians


The Israeli chief rabbinate (Rabbanut) made a new decree that no Jews should participate in the Christian parade during Sukkot.

Every year, thousands of Christians come to Jerusalem during the festival of Sukkot. This is nothing new, as already in Temple times many Gentiles used to come to the Temple and bring a Korban. There is nothing wrong with that halachically but I should mention that non - Jews had only limited access inside the Temple. In the past as well as in the future Temple. Nevertheless, they are invited to come and bring a Korban.

The Jerusalemites are used to marches and love them. Thousands of us especially participate in the March of the Flags on Yom Yerushalaim. I myself have been there for the past years.
However, the March of the Christians during Sukkot is always something foreign to us because we cannot exactly figure out what these people want from us. There are definitely great people participating, whose true intention is to show their support for Israel.

The negative side of this march is that countless Christian missionaries use it for their own vicious purposes. Handing out pamphlets to Jews is forbidden according to Israeli law but this doesn't keep missionaries away handing them out anyway. Everything is for the L - O - R - D that is how they think and don't even realize their own stupidity.

A few years ago, I was watching the march where some participants started to dance as if they were obsessed. Smiling around and running up to Jews in order to embrace them. So far, I had hardly seen anything more ridiculous. One lady came up to me and gave me a pamphlet showing a huge cross right in the middle. I was glad standing not too far away from a trash can, as I had no use whatsoever for propaganda material.
Last year I saw a, let's call her mentally unstable, woman carrying a huge sign with the words: "J. loves you as well".
What does it mean "as well" ? Is it like a person loving his pet ?

The march is organized by the so - called Christian embassy in Jerusalem which is very famous for missionizing Jews. The "embassy" also supports missionaries financially and wants to see results. No more Jews and only Christians. Well, this would be a terrible world.

Finally the Rabbanut in Israel took a necessary step forward and forbade all Jews participating in the march due to Christian missionary activities. It is a great decision and I couldn't agree more.

Of course, there are other opinions which actually come from an unexpected source: From Benny Elon who is a Knesset member of the National Religious Party. According to Benny Elon all Christians have the right to come to Jerusalem as it is written by the Prophet Zechariah.

No one denies this but does it depend on how someone is coming to Jerusalem. The prophet surely didn't intend inviting all the missionaries. Unfortunately, many Knesset members are just looking at the money Christian groups invest in Israel. It seems that money is more important than Jewish pride.
Everyone not participating in the march during Sukkot doesn’t miss too much anyway. Well, maybe yes, in case someone needs fire material for the upcoming winter and the missionary pamphlets probably burn very well.

As Rabbi Soloveitchik used to emphasize: What we need today is a little more Jewish pride.

It is high time to follow his advice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kol Nidre and its Misinterpretation


Kol Nidre is one of THE most Jewish prayers of the Yom Kippur service. The word "prayer" is a slightly out of place, as Kol Nidre is not really a prayer. People rather call it a chant or saying. However, Kol Nidre is an ancient text sung in an ancient heartbreaking melody. Usually it is said before sundown and Maariv.

With Kol Nidre we begin the very long Yom Kippur prayer service. The Aron (Ark) is opened and three Torah scrolls are being removed and put onto the Bimah. The Shaliach Zibur takes one of the scrolls into his arm and the other two are taken by two respected community members. There is the Minhag that the men wear at Tallit at this point. In most cases the Shaliach Zibur is a rabbi whose task is to sing the Kol Nidre three times.

The history of the Kol Nidre goes back to the "Responsa of the Geonim" (approx. 800 – 1000 CE). The purpose of the Kol Nidre is to annul all our vows which we might do during the new year until Rosh HaShana. The famous Jerusalem Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, writes in his book "A Guide to Jewish Prayer" that this ceremony is an emotional release for all participants (Kehilah). The Kol Nidre has a deep emotional meaning; our soul rises to higher levels and, thus, gaining inner peace for Yom Kippur.

As I was doing some research on this subject I found out that already in the Middle Ages the church was spreading rumours and hatred, as they misinterpreted the meaning Kol Nidre. Not, that this kind of causing hatred and anti – Semitism is anything new, however, until today these misinterpretations seem to be quite popular among Christian websites. Nothing has changed, so to say.
Certain websites still keep the old claim alive that Christians are better business partners than Jews, as one can rely on a Christian promise. Jews never keep anything because they have their Kol Nidre which annuls all promises. Welcome back to the Middle Ages.

Why do we say Kol Nidre ?
Many people especially like to make a vow when they are angry. "If you do not such and such, I will never speak to you again" – is one of the most popular and common vows. As soon as we overcome our anger we forget about our vows but G – d does not and could later accuse us of not keeping anything. The Kol Nidre annuls such kind of vows in advance and it has nothing to do with being a good or bad business partner.

However, the Jews of the Middle Ages did use the Kol Nidre for something else. Many of them were forced by the church to convert to Christianity and many did so. The new "Christians" went to church and said whatever Christian things in public but as soon as they came home, they prayed Shacharit. The show was over. Let's get back to our real life.

Whatever church forced them to vow, the Jews did but always keeping the Kol Nidre in mind which annuls everything right away. This was probably the reason why the church of the Middle Ages got fed up and invented some ground for mare hatred.

Avraham Fried sings KOL NIDRE.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hollywood Romance is out of Place


On Rosh HaShana I participated in a religious program run by litvishe haredim. One of the rabbis performing the service explained the most important parts of the service before we got started. I forgot how he started the whole subject but he spoke about a certain topic in orthodox Judaism I totally disagree with.

The whole issue of Shidduchim and especially the haredi approach to love, if they call it by this name, is not my cup of tea. By the way, the word "love" is mostly replaced by the word "relationship". Anyway, the rabbi said that in Judaism we don't run after Hollywood romance but rather look for a partner in life. When we say that we are in love with someone it automatically seems to mean that this relationship won't last for too long. A few days, weeks or maybe a couple of years. Whereas the orthodox approach to finding a partner and raising a family is completely different. Only this would bring you a true happy family life.

There are definitely cases where this kind of opinion is totally right and I don't deny it. However, I think that in a true relationship should be also love involved. I am speaking about a relationship and not a business contract or business relationship, as it sometimes seems to be the case in the ultra – orthodox world.

Those ones of you who have ever been to a Shidduch meeting probably know what I am talking about. First you don't really know what to say and the common rules are that you basically talk about your future goals. Of course, the finance matter is another important issue.

Even if you meet a person a hundred times, how well do you really know the person ? Others might claim that there isn't such a big difference in the secular world. One can live with someone for many years and doesn’t know him or her at all. But just the idea of meeting someone and dealing with him as a business partner is terrible. And I am rather not mentioning the wedding night where both sides fulfill their contracts, so to speak.

Hollywood Romance or love, however you call it, is not always bad. Dreams, love and desires are very human and in many cases it is better having a loving relationship rather than only respecting each other. I can also respect my neighbours, my friends or strangers, but it doesn't mean I have to marry them.

An Isolated Society ?


Someone sent me a comment where he claims that many haredim separate themselves too much from ordinary Jewish society.

My answer is that it very much depends on the haredi himself as well as on other important factors. Generally I don't think that the haredi life is so much different from that of regular Jews. Each of us is only human and has his strenght and weaknesses, and each of us has to make a living, have a family, raise children, etc. Sometimes non - haredi Jews make the mistake to look only onto the outside of the haredi world. What they see is a dark suit, a white shirt, a black hat and women with wigs and long dresses. Furthermore, many haredim seem to live in their own neighbourhoods. Especially in Israel where there are whole haredi settlements such as Beitar Illit or Kiryat Sefer.

Just forget about all the clothes, the streimels and black hats for a while. If you ever had a question, it doesn't matter what kind of question, have haredim ever refused to give you an answer ? Let's say that someone is really interested in the haredi world or has a religious question, would a haredi just walk away or yell at him ?
Many times it is much easier to get into touch with haredim as you might think. I admit that it depends on your approach and it goes without saying that most times a man should talk to a man and a woman to a woman (I am talking about the general case and I know that there are many exceptions).

On the other hand, I read countless comments on the Internet about Jews going into haredi neighbourhoods (in most cases Mea Shearim was mentioned) and the local population starts yelling at them. Let me tell you that I have been to Mea Shearim at least a thousand times but no one ever yelled at me. Even when I was walking through Mea Shearim Street in jeans. I don’t know what those people writing these comments said or did, but it never ever happened to me.
This doesn't mean that I am denying that there are chassidim shouting at outsiders. Unfortunately there are such cases.

One who is not too familiar with haredim at all might get the idea that there are either especially holy or rather strange. However, don't make the mistake and judge a person only from the outside. There are holy and unholy people in this world and every society has its good and bad points. Not everyone wearing a streimel is the most holiest person in the world.

Haredim can be very open but, of course, there is another side as well. In their opinion, there has to be a certain separation from non - haredi Jews. Even from the national religious.
First of all, haredim have their own life style which includes certain society rules. If someone is haredi it is very natural that he wants his children to play with other haredi children. And where is it easy to find other haredi friends ? Right, in a haredi neighbourhood. Being haredi means mostly society pressure. All your neighbours are watching you even if they don't intend to do so. It doesn't matter if it is in the Kollel, in the street or at your doorstep. Your are a black hat and everyone knows everything or thinks that he knows everything. At least in Israel where I live. Israel is a tiny country anyway and gossip is spreading fast.

Being haredi means also that one is prepared to overcome a materialistic lifestyle or they would call it a destructive secular lifestyle. It is much better living in a haredi neighbourhood where the inhabitants are not confronted with cinemas, advertising posters with half naked women, pop music coming out of a shop, etc. From a haredi point of view it is much easier to overcome a yetzer in a religious neighbourhood, as there aren't too many temptations. But not every haredi is prepared to live in such a hood at all. As I said before, it very much depends on how religious someone is, how far he wants to go and what influences him in a negative or positive way.

Once dealing with haredim you will learn how to respond and you will just get used to them. I don't have a perfect solution for solving society problems between the haredi (litvish and chassidic), the national religious, the traditional or secular world. The best is always getting to know and to respect each other. Now you might say that this is exactly the point. He or she does not respect my way of life whatever this may be.

But none of us should forget that Yom Kippur is coming up and that the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple was Sinat Chiman - baseless hatred. No one should be so sure about himself that she or he is the most perfect religious person. My group is not better than your group etc.

But getting more Achdut into our Jewish society doesn’t only depend on the haredi world. It depends on all of us and even the most secular Jews should try to show some respect to the religious and not only look for their faults.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shabbat Teshuva in Mea Shearim


Rosh HaShana is over and Yom Kippur is ahead. I hope that all of you had a great holiday so far.

As mentioned before, I participated in a holiday program in the Old City of Jerusalem. American - litvishe Jews were leading the service and most participants were, of course, Americans. Tourists and new immigrants. It was nice and I met some great people. Old and new friends.

However, on the first day of the Chag, I had problems seeing the Chag as Chag. Sometimes you prepare yourself too much and as soon as the situation has arrived, you are lost and don't feel anything. At the Erev Rosh HaShana prayer service I wasn't in any mood at all. On the second day, I was a kind of fed up and spoke to a friend about it. I said to her that it seems that this Rosh HaShana ist just a whole personal mess.
I was surprised when she responded that other people had already told her the same. I wasn't the only one. Her response gave me the feeling that I am not completely lost. Never give up hope.

Nevertheless, I got some spirituality on the second day. It just came out of the blue and Shabbat Teshuva was just great. On Erev Shabbat, I went with friends to the meal at Rabbi Mordechai Machlises's house in the neighbourhood of Maalot Dafna. It is not his fault but we had Christian fundamentalists sitting at our table which disturbed our Shabbat atmosphere. Three of the four Christians made among each other stupid remarks about Jews, and we ignored their smiles at us. One of the fundamentalists said to the other one: "Mission impossible tonight".
Thanks for letting us know the true reason why they came to the Shabbat dinner.

Later on we were regretting not going to the Tish of the Karliner Chassidim. At least we would have avoided those fundamentalists. However, when we came to Karlin in Mea Shearim, their Tish was over already. Never mind, as it was Shabbat Teshuva and many many Rebbes are in Jerusalem over the high holidays.
There was a huge variety of Tishes and we made our way to Toldot Avraham Yitzchak in the Mea Shearim market. Their building complex is still a construction site. For many weeks they have been renewing the women's side but still haven't finished. Together with the chassidic women we climbed upstairs. The new staircase hardly exists and water is dripping down from somewhere.

At least a hundred women were watching the Tish taking place downstairs. Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn was in a great mood and conducted his Chassidim. The atmosphere was incredible but, unfortunately, it was too crowded and we didn't succeed in pushing ourselves through to the Mechitza. After a short while we decided to go somewhere else first and ended up with the Slonim just a few meters far away.

Apparently the water was following us. Drops from the ceiling at Avraham Yitzchak and a flooded staircase at the Slonim. Usually the women's side at the Slonim is almost empty but when we arrived, everything was packed. We looked inside and escaped.

Our next stop were Toldot Aharon. The first thing we saw were Israelis walking out of the building. I asked if anything had happened and say that: "You will see".
This was exactly the point, as we saw nothing. Unfortunately, Toldot Aharon have changed their Mechitza into something one can hardly look through. We always loved their huge windows where you could see everything going on. But now they put those metal things in front of the windows destroying our whole Simchat Beit HaShoeva we are planning to spend with them.
When we left the building, we met some really nice Toldot Aharon women outside who explained us that this new Mechitza has just been installed temporarily. As all the lights are on at the women's side, men are able to look through the glass Mechitza and this is the reason for the ugly metal things. After Sukkot the metal is going to disappear again.

Mea Shearim is a small neighbourhood and everybody seems to know everyone and everything. Even if they are not from the same chassidic group. And many many times we heard from other Chassidim that officially Toldot Aharon and their split off Avraham Yitzchak are not the friends they pretend to be.
Last Friday night, I had a rather interesting conversation with some Toldot Aharon members and they told me just the opposite. There are even married couples belonging to two different groups. After the split, the husband joined Toldot Avraham Yitzchak and his wife stayed with Toldot Aharon or vice versa.
It is not my task to judge but, nevertheless, it is important hearing the two sides of the story.

After Toldot Aharon we went to the Shomrei Emunim. Although it is already September, last Friday night was warm and not too chilly. Hundreds of people were in the streets of Mea Shearim and all the Tishes were just packed.

Small alleyways in Mea Shearim

The women's entrance to the Shomrei Emunim synagogue is a little hard to find and we climbed over shaky stairs to the second floor. Unfortunately, the Tish was finished.
What was left ? Yes, of course, Kretchnif.
The Kretchnifer Rebbe was in his best mood. Although he had almost finished his Tish, he couldn't stop conducting his Chassidim. Great songs and a great Rebbe.

But back to Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, our favourites together with Toldot Aharon. Again the water was dripping on us but never mind. Now there was more space at the window Mechitza and we had a great view. The men's side was packed and the Chassidim had hardly any space to stand on. Rebbe Kahn was in his spiritual mood and shook his arms around.

It was a great night which we enjoyed very much.

Yesterday at Shabbat lunch in Rabbi Machlises's home, someone asked us why we are going to all these Tishes. The reason is not only that I am writing about Chassidim. The main reason is that I really enjoy going there and, believe it or not, it does influence me in a very positive way. Praying with the Chassidim or even going to a Tish can get you much closer to G - d.

If anyone is interested in joining Toldot Aharon on Yom Kippur:
The Yom Kippur service is not for the public and their members had to order tickets in advance.
On Sukkot, the synagogue will be again open to the public, but don't expect too much, as it will be packed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

חג שמח ושנה טובה


To all readers of this blog:

Have a great, happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 5768 and may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

שנה טובה, חג שמח וחתימה טובה לכולכם. שהשנה הבאה תיהי השנה של הגאולה והמשיח

Have a great, happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 5768, and may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Chidush for the Neshama


According to the Sefat Emet we are getting a Chidush for our Neshamot on every Rosh HaShana.
After all our Vidui - prayers we somehow feel released and, thus, strengthen ourselves for the coming year.

Once someone asked the rabbi leading the Rosh HaShana service how one can know that G - d forgave him and inscribed him into the Book of Life. The rabbi didn't expect such a question and simply answered that we can just feel it. He said that each of us just knows deep inside.
One may agree or not, but I think that his answer to the unexpected question is right. There really is such a feeling inside of us.

Every year on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, I am joining the same program and every year I am asking myself why I am doing this. The program is for beginners or in other words for Jews who don't know much about their Jewish heritage. The program is run by the Yeshiva Aish HaTorah together with Jeff Seidel's Jewish Student Information Center (I once used to work for Jeff) and the Heritage House (a free Jewish hostel in Jerusalem). For more than ten years I have been participating in the program which also includes the synagogue service.

The main participants are Americans from all kinds of backgrounds: reform, conservative, orthodox, you name it. The goal is not to turn everyone into a perfect religious person, the so - called "Super Jew". Those Jews joining this program should get a taste of orthodox Judaism and learn about their heritage and identity. Even the synagogue service is being explained and Artscroll Machzorim are being handed out.

What do I have to do with a beginner service and their Shiurim ?

I simply enjoy it. Well, people ask me if it doesn't bother me going to a service where one of the rabbis jumps around and constantly announced on which page we are. He jumps and screams "page 120", in order not to loose the attention of the Kahal.

The answer is: No, it doesn't bother me but think that it is rather funny. In between (during the Repetition of the Amidah), we are going upstairs where Shiurim are being given. I have to admit that the quality of those Shiurim really depends on the participants. Last year, we had a great time with great questions but the years before were awful.

However, the program does have a hidden message besides the Chagim. A hidden message for each Neshama.

You might not consider becoming religious but there is something in your head which reminds you of your identity. Today, Jewish communities all over the world are facing one of the most destructive problems ever: Intermarriage.
As soon as Jews learn just a little more about their Jewish heritage and become curious, intermarriage is out of question. This is extremely important as the US Jewry has an intermarriage rate of 48 %.

For the New Year 5768 I wish everyone a great Chidush of her or his Neshama.

Chag Sameach, Gid Yom Tov, Shana Tova and Chatima Tova.

May all of you be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Russian immigrants strike Back


Not every Russian immigrant is halachically not Jewish let alone a Neonazi. On the contrary, as Russian immigrants see themselves as victims of their people.

This Russian - Israeli site describes today's situation of Russian immigrants facing anti - Semitism themselves.

Are we having a peaceful Rosh HaShana ?


Nobody knows what is going to happen. Not, that anyone of us humans knows what the future will bring us. But at the moment, things don't look to secure.

Since Israeli fighter jets flew over Syrian territory last Wednesday night, Syria keeps on threatening Israel with an attack. In Israel, we only knew about the incident from Syrian news reports, as our government kept quite until yesterday when Olmert eventually decided to have a press conference. A conference where the press wasn't allowed to ask any questions and Olmert himself went on and on and on by rather talking to himself.
It is well known that he is not the brightest person but what he said yesterday, one cannot even call stupidity anymore. He is just ignorant, only cares about himself and his career and the people don't matter to him at all.

Inhabitants of the Northern town of Kiryat Shemonah already announced that they don't want another war, as they are still fed up from last year. Kiryat Shemonah was severely attacked during the second Lebanon War.

The press claims that the Israelis jets flew over Syria because they wanted to spy out Syrian army bases where missiles against fighter jets are installed. Those missiles could reach any military aircraft flying over Syrian territory and destroy them within seconds. However, no one knows any details and I think that Olmerts doesn’t have a clue either.

Now, Rosh HaShana is coming up and army representatives as well as politicians suggest that the army should hand out gas mask to the population. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is against it and only considers the idea as causing an unnecessary panic.

Rosh HaShana with gas masks ? I think that Meschiach is really overdue.

The Rebbes are in Jerusalem


For the past few weeks, I have been complaining about many Rebbes being on their summer vacation and how hard it was, finding a Tish in Mea Shearim. Well, this wasn't the case last Friday night.

The great holiday of Rosh HaShana is coming up and, Baruch HaShem, Jerusalem is packed with chassidic Rebbes. Spending the high holidays in the Holy City is always something special and I don't envy you at all living abroad. I know too well how it is spending any Jewish holiday in Chutz La'Aretz. An acquaintance of mine always likes to call it "Shmutz La' Aretz".
It might be different in Brooklyn, London or Antwerp but if a religious Jew lives in Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Cape Town or anywhere else, as soon as he leaves the synagogue he is in a different goishe world. Traffic, stores, church bells, etc. Business as usual and no holiday atmosphere.

Anyway, last Erev Shabbat we first went to the Tish of Toldot Aharon. As usual. But also in their synagogue, one can already feel the coming up holiday. The Tish was packed with Chassidim and I suppose that all the Toldot Aharon members who live in Beit Shemesh are moving to Jerusalem over the Chagim.
The women's side upstairs wasn't too busy and most Toldot Aharon women had stayed at home. The usual benches were taken away and will be replaced by regular benches before Erev Rosh HaShana.
One of the female members told me that Toldot Aharon don't have any particular customs on Rosh HaShana. The prayer service is according to chassidic custom a little different but that's about it.

After an hour we went on to the Shomrei Emunim synagogue in Mea Shearim Street. As I already mentioned before, we had been to their synagogue but at that time, there wasn't a Tish. Rebbe Avraham Chaim Roth lives in Bnei Brak and he is 84 years old. He doesn’t come to Jerusalem too many times in order to give a Tish. So, last Friday night we were lucky and the Rebbe was there.

The women's entrance to the small Shomrei Emunim synagogue is a little hard to find and if you ask anyone in the street, no one really knows anything about the group. The Shomrei Emunim are a small chassidic group since they split away from Toldot Aharon in 1947.

We climbed upstairs over shaky dark stairs in the synagogue's backyard. As soon as we opened the door, a women anxiously made us a sign to keep quiet. Not that we ran in making noise or anything. However, it seems that whenever their Rebbe speaks, sings or does anything, the group members keep quiet and listen.
At Todot Aharon or Avraham Yitzchak the women talk and sometimes it rather seems like a social event, but the women of Shomrei Emunim only whisper.

It was a very nice Tish but more for the men than for the women. We were squeezed in behind a terrible Mechitzah and could hardly see the Rebbe. If you don't catch a place in the front row behind the Mechitzah, you are lost. No chance of seeing the Rebbe singing or making Kiddush. We just took a glimpse. Of course, you can stand at a different place but from there you only see the Tish and the other Chassidim.

The women don't seem to be used to visitors and we were being watched for some minutes. Nevertheless, as soon as the Rebbe started singing, the whole attention went over to him. Despite his age he has a great loud voice and we liked their songs. What we didn’t like was the tight Mechitzah.

The Shomrei Emunim Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Roth

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Swastikas in Petach Tikwa


Neonazism in Israel is nothing new. Already two years ago, a whole nazi gang was arrested in the Tel Aviv area and anti - Semitism has been taking place in the Israeli Army Zahal for quite a while.

How can this happen, you may ask yourself. Israel is a Jewish State and such thing as anti - Semitism sounds completely out of place. A country built by many Holocaust survivors in order to ensure that future generations never again have to face a mass extermination.
Jews can be hated everywhere in the world but not in Israel. That's illogical. Who should do such a thing ?

Nothing is illogic any more, as today our daily papers are flooding us with pictures taken from self - made videos.
Who are those Neonazis in Israel ?
Non - Jewish new immigrants from Russia.
Years ago they came here with their parents in order to find a better future. Running away from Russian poverty, they thought about starting a new wealthy life in Israel. The Jewish Agency failed to check papers proofing the halachic Jewishness of a person. Furthermore, in Russia one can buy anything and it is not surprising that thousands of Russians saw their great chance of leaving the miserable country and going somewhere else.
As the US, Australia and Canada are not too easy to reach and Greencards are rare, the Russians looked for another solution and found Israel. Just take some faked papers or even nothing and claim your Jewishness. The Jewish Agency pays for the Aliyah ticket, the Israelis government provides financial help for new immigrants and that's it. It pays off going to Israel.

The result is that Israel is flooded with non - Jewish Russian immigrants. Russians are on the edge of Israeli society and being looked down on. When Israelis hear the word "Russian", they automatically think of Mafia and prostitution.
Now things are getting even worse, as the Neonazi scene is spreading.

The police in Petach Tikwa arrested eight members of a nazi gang and confiscated many videos in their homes. The gang, consisting of Russian teenagers from the age of 16 - 21, sprayed Swastikas on synagogues and terrorized the inhabitants of the town. The videos were made by the gang itself and in our dailys, we can see pictures where gang members lift up their right arms for the "Heil Hitler" greeting or beat up Yeshiva bachurim, Jewish homeless and foreign workers.

The Israelis public is shocked and people ask how this could happen at all. Don't we have a police and a famous secret service ? Why is everybody so helpless and doing nothing against a bunch of non - Jewish drunkards from Russia terrorizing Jewish neighbourhoods ?

Last week, the Jerusalem Holocaust - Museum Yad VaShem warned that Israel is one of the only countries in the world not having a law forbidding swastikas. Especially Israel which is demanding drastic laws against Neonazi activities from other countries such as Germany, Austria, England, France, etc.

The problem is well - know but Israeli politicians and even parts of the police are completely helpless. They simply don't know how to react, as we never expected such things to take place in a Jewish state. The population demands new laws against nazism in Israel and wants to get rid of those Russians. Just deport them and the problem is solved.

This might be the case but who let those Russians into the country in the first place ? Who needs non - Jewish Russians here whose only interest is receiving financial benefits from the government ? Why don't they go to Dubai where everyone is rich ?

Israel has to react and solve the problem as fast as possible. Unless we want another Hitler in our own Jewish state. This time, a Russian speaking Hitler.

(Photo from

Naomi Ragen is Back


The American - Israeli writer Naomi Ragen is well - known for her books about the haredi world. When I was still in Yeshiva, someone gave me Naomi's first book "The Sotah" to read. At that time, I already had a certain idea about life in Mea Shearim, as I was visiting a Satmar family quite frequently.

I couldn't stop reading "The Sotah" until the last page. The whole story was so real but I found the end rather disappointing. Cliche. Nothing exciting. Noami Ragen does sometimes have a problem with writing a good end.

Nevertheless, I fell in love with her first three books but later on, I lost a little interest in further books. She changed the subject and started writing about herself. Especially how she experienced the suicide bomb attack at the Netanya Park Hotel on Pessach 2002. Naomi Ragen stayed with her family on one of the top floors of the hotel but heard the bomb exploding downstairs in the restaurant where hundreds of people were about to start their Seder.

Now, Naomi Ragen published her new book and, this time, she doesn't write about the haredi world but about the national religious society (Kipot Serugot). As a born American religious Jew she made Aliyah to Israel more than 25 years ago and lives with her family in the Ramot neighbourhood in Jerusalem.

Her latest book "The Saturday Wife" tells us about the materialistic world of the national religious Jews. Especially in the US, the national religious worship money and thus celebrate Bar Mitzwas in huge halls or even invite guests for a cruise or other fancy shmanzy adventures. The more expensive, the better. The author claims that the majority of the national religious are as described as in her book.

Well, I don't really agree to this statement, as there are many national religious who are actually religious and don't go for materialism at all. I would recommend to Naomi visiting the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Kiryat Moshe, and not only look at the religious in the rich neighbourhoods of Talbiyeh, the German Colony, Katamon, let alone the US.

Noami Ragen expects the worst criticism from her own family and friends, as she took many friends as an example for her book. She herself belongs to the national religious movement and doubts if readers do understand her message properly.

In the United States her book was already published a few weeks ago and she has been receiving positive responses so far. The national religious wrote her that they know people like this but they themselves are not as she described the movement in her book. Or in other words: "I am not like that but my neighbours are".

Now she expects plenty of criticism from Israeli national religious rabbis, as she further claims that the women are only electric supplies in the eyes of a man. You just turn it on when you need it.
One rabbi of the Israeli national religious movement has already reacted and said that Naomi is simply after the money she makes with her books. Everything is just gossip and anything she does is for her own interest and fame.

Such kind of reactions won't stop the book from becoming another bestseller in Israel. One can say positive or negative things about Naomi Ragen, however, she is an extremely important writer with a tremendous important message. Although she sometimes might be contradictory, as she lists positive as well as negative haredi society problems, she does give an important message.
Through her, non - religious Jews and even Gentiles learned about the haredi world and many of those readers don't consider this society anymore as an ancient world following ancient traditions. Her books make many people think and understanding such society problems. One of the first authors ever achieving this was Chaim Potok, the author of "The Chosen".

Not enough that Naomi Ragen has to face another wave of criticism; at the moment she is also getting sued by two Israeli female writers who claim that she (Naomi) stole their ideas and used them in her books. Mrs Ragen denies his claim.

However, I am looking forward reading Naomi Ragen's new book and I will write more after I finished it.

Naomi Ragen

Friday, September 7, 2007

Stop the Rent Cheat !


Every year many Jewish visitors face the same problem. As soon as the high holidays are coming up and religious Jews decide to spend some time in Jerusalem, prices are climbing up. Especially chassidim want to spend the holiday near their Rebbe but a husband cannot just dump his family in order to be with the Rebbe. Instead a family has to make certain arrangements including looking for a place to stay.

Many houses are being offered for rent. But in case that you are religious, especially chassidic, and you are looking for a real good location such as Mea Shearim, Ge'ulah, Bucharin, Makor Baruch or Beit Israel, you might be broke after the holidays. Various apartments and houses are offered from landlords who just want to squeeze as many Dollars out of you as they can. It is also the fault of the people renting such places because they are willing to pay anything and thus increase the landlord's greed.

This year, Rosh HaShana and Shabbat go together. Three days stand for even more rent and the landlord demands at least 1000 Dollar or more. People are just sick of paying so much and getting cheated anywhere. That is why different chassidic groups founded a committee. And it was this committee asking two rabbis of the Edah HaCharedit (Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer and Rabbi Ullman) to interfere. Stop the exaggerated rent demands !

The Edah reacted and made the decree that landlord's in the above mentioned areas, including the Belz area, cannot ask for more than 450 Dollar for those three days. Posters (Fakshivilim) with the decree were hung up in all chassidic neighbourhoods.

Unfortunately, many Israeli landlords, it doesn't matter if religious or not, think that all tourists are wealthy. They simply don't want to realize that the whole trip might ruin a family's budget because they only think about one thing: about themselves.

If anyone is still keeps on trying to cheat you, just remind him of the latest decree of the Edah HaCharedit. In case this doesn’t help and greedy landlord is asking you for a fortune, say NO. It is better for your wallet and for us locals, as you guys from abroad also hurt us. After you leave, landlords might demand the same amount from Israelis, and the average Israeli is never able to pay more than a 1000 Dollar rent.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Be Aware of Products from TNUVA and STRAUSS


As long as I can remember, the biggest Israeli manufacturer of dairy products, TNUVA, has had its Kashrut problems. Is Tnuva kosher or not ? And is the Rabbanut Hechsher "Kasher LeMehadrin" enough to guarantee a high Kashrut standard ?

Some years ago, a Chabad rabbi invited me and some friends for a dinner in a well - known Jerusalem restaurant. But first, the rabbi called up the management in order to inquire about the Hechsher. He was told that the restaurant had a Hechsher from the Rabbanut (Kasher LeMahadrin) and that Tnuva milk was used for the pizza and lasagna. The rabbi wasn't too exited, as already at that time (1997) Tnuva was known for having Kashrut problems. Especially with Terumot and Maasrot.
However, he was assured that the ingredients of the restaurant were checked in a very special way, and he decided that we could go.

At that time, I used to live in a haredi neigbourhood and there, the haredim announced that it is advisable not to use Tnuva products during the Aseret Yamei Teshuva (10 Days of Repentance). There always used to be rumours and doubts about Tnuva but now everything came to light. Tnuva has even more severe Kashrut problems than expected.

For many years, the company used to add Chalav Nochri into some of their products. Especially the YOPLAIT yogurt contains Chalav Nochri. Chalav Nochri is milk which was milked by a Gentile. It is not forbidden to use such milk, however, Chalav Nochri doesn't meet the standards of the Hechsher Kasher LeMehadrin. Such milk doesn't get any Hechsher and it is customary to put a label on such a product saying "Chalav Nochri".

Without informing the Mashgiach, Tnuva added Chalav Nochri to kosher milk and, this way, misled the Rabbanut and the customers. The company has been selling products not meeting the standards of the Hechsher Kasher LeMehadrin. A new court decision states that with the beginning of the year 2008, Tnuva can only sell kosher milk products meeting the Hechsher standards. If not, Tnuva has to label the products containing Chalav Nochri.

Eventually I can understand the decision of haredi supermarkets not to sell any Tnuva products and I will follow suit. No more Tnuva products.
People who want real kosher dairy products, can switch to TARA which has a Hechsher from the Agudat Israel.

But not only Tnuva is facing Kashrut problems; also its competitor STRAUSS has enough problems keeping kosher. The famous chocolate pudding MILKY is supposed to contain Chalav Nochri as well.

Generally speaking, one cannot trust the LeMehadrin - Hechsher from the Rabbanut. I was confronted with quite a few situations where I saw Gentiles turning on stoves in Jewish restaurants or cafes. The Rabbanut Mashgichim neglect too many simple Kashrut Halachot and the cleanliness of a place is not being checked at all.

If you want to make sure to buy real kosher food in Israel, then buy the products with a Badatz - Hechsher, as the chassidim have extremely high Kashrut standards.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Quarrel about the No. 15 Bus


The local non - haredi Jerusalem population doesn't seem to know about the latest haredi demonstrations taking place. In Jerusalem we are used to all kinds of demonstrations and nothing really surprises us too much any more.

About two weeks ago, I saw a tiny article in an Israeli daily but didn't think that the message would be so important. I simply forgot about it after a few seconds, and it only came back into my mind when I heard about a haredi demonstration.

The haredi population wants to force the state - owned bus company EGGED to turn the local bus no. 15 into a so - called "kosher" bus. Men and women should have separate seating just as bus no. 1 in Bnei Brak, no. 402 from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak or other "modest" buses in Brooklyn / NY. Especially haredi men don't want to be bothered by immodest women wearing sleeveless shirts or let alone mini skirts.

So far, the no. 15 bus is for everybody and each of us can sit wherever we want. The haredim claim that particularly this bus is only passing through haredi areas and, therefore, the rest of the population wouldn't feel a difference anyway, as the bus is mostly used by haredim themselves.

The bus passes the neighbourhoods: Jaffa Road, Strauss Street, Ge'ulah, Binyanei HaUmah, Givat Shaul, Kanfei Nesharim Street and the final stop is Har Nof.

However, the haredim just forgot one important point which is that especially Kanfei Nesharim Street is full of government offices and many ordinary people use the bus daily to go to work. I myself use the bus quite frequently and I can say that there are many non - religious passengers as well.

Now, the bus company EGGED is facing new demonstrations and it won't be easy to make a decision. First of all, the haredim are still good customers and EGGED cannot afford loosing or boycotting the bus company. On the other hand, the haredim cannot start ruling over the local buses. If the no. 15 bus is becoming a modest bus with a Mechitza, the local population won't be too pleased. Not even the national religious.

Although religious and non - religious Jerusalemites live together on good terms, sometimes the situation can be tense. The best example is Satmar where one of the two Rebbes, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, just layed the foundation stone to the new Kirat Yoel near Jaffa Road. Once the Satmarer chassidim are going to move into the 10 - floor - building complex, they will face a surprise.
Only approx. 100 Meters far away is a gay disco and especially on Erev Shabbat, there are wild parties taking place in that disco. I assume that Satmar won't be too pleased about it.

Despite all kinds of demonstrations, Jerusalem belongs to all the inhabitants and, so far, we always managed to get along. Of course, the non - religious population sees a threat in the spreading of the haredim. Neighbourhoods which years ago used to belong to the non - religious are now taken over by the haredim. The best examples are Kiryat Mattersdorf and Maalot Dafna. The two neighbourhoods Givat Mordechai and Ramat Eshkol are on their way of becoming more and more haredi.

If the no. 15 bus is really becoming modest, it might increase tensions. Personally, I am against such buses. You don't have to agree with me but I am dressed modestly (more or less) and if any religious men cannot overcome his Yetzer HaRah, it is not my problem. Why should I sit in the back of a bus when someone has dirty thoughts ? A psychologist should be of more use for him than a modest bus.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that there are certain advantages of having modest buses. Actually on the same bus I have seen a young haredi guy approaching a married haredi woman and standing so close to her that she complained. She told him to keep distance and everyone on the bus heard it. However, the guy didn’t think about keeping distance and the woman had to complain twice.

The issue definitely has its pro and cons but in general, I don't consider it as a good idea to introduce separate seating on buses. Jerusalem is for everybody and who doesn’t agree can take a taxi or simply walk.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Queen of the Night


It was Erev Shabbat and time for the famous Shabbat meal at the house of Rabbi Mordechai Machlis in the Maalot Dafna neighbourhood. It is not uncommon that there is a huge line – up in front of his door and when the door opens, the Rabbi usually stands in the doorway to greet everyone who is entering.
Inside in the living room, people try to occupy a table as fast as they can and it takes at least half an hour until the crowd is seated. And another ten minutes until everybody is quiet. Then, finally, it is time for Kiddush.

The Kiddush in the Machlis house only consist of grape juice, as people sometimes like to celebrate too much, as the Rabbi likes to put it. A few years ago, a full tray of Kugel was thrown into the fan at the ceiling. An incident which caused the Machlises to replace the wine through grape juice.

It was so crowded and my friend and I didn't really have a chance in sitting with another friend and instead we sat down at the Rabbi's table. Next to us sat a couple and on the other side was a kind of freaky guy who immediately complained that he doesn’t want to sit with women at the same table. As he didn't look haredi at all we responded that he could sit somewhere else. Well, I have to emphasize that if he had looked haredi or made a serious religious statement, we would have reacted differently. However, the guy just made the impression that he wants to be important. A thought which was proven right later on that night.

As if this wasn't already enough. A few minutes later a French Christian sat right next to me and pulled out his New Testament. Nothing doesn't surprise me any more at the Machlis home and that's why the NT didn't make me fall off my chair. The Machlises are strictly orthodox but sometimes have too much patience.
But also this wasn't enough. Between the chicken soup and the Kugel, another obviously confused Christian woman got up and made a speech about her visions. Afterwards the Rabbi made a comment and the woman became very quiet. Shabbat Shalom.

My friend and I left the Machlis home a little earlier in order to walk to the Tish of Toldot Aharon. Also there, people have difficulties finding a good seat. Rebbe David Kahn always starts his Tish at 11.30 pm and when we arrived before that time, we still found plenty of empty seats in the women's section.
This time we chose a different section where we could sit because last time, we were sitting right in the middle of Toldot Aharon women who were extremely nice but somehow we were a kind of emotionally overwhelmed. Now we chose a place a little further away, right in the middle of very young Toldot Aharon women.

It was anything but quiet in the women's section. The group members were chatting about their kids and the latest recipies. Maybe I should ask them for a good recipe and put it into this blog afterwards.

As I have a good knowledge of understanding Yiddish, I can understand their conversations. The group members actually don't expect outsiders to understand Yiddish and I am not sure if I should tell them in advance. Maybe it is not fair but let's say I had a normal conversation with them in Hebrew, I would tell them. I wouldn't keep it as a secret and so far, there was just no opportunity to tell them. However, knowing Yiddish when you go to a chassidishe Tish is definitely an advantage. This way, I found out why many of the women were so excited about a certain girl.

The girl wore a black – white and grey costume and looked extremely happy. She couldn't have been older than 18 years and had just got married a few days before. Everyone came up to her to say "MAZAL TOV". It was nice seeing such a happy newly married girl, as we have also seen the opposite. At different Tishes we saw depressed looking young women. Of course, we don't know the reasons and can only speculate.

Going to Shidduchim and then getting married can sometimes end in a disaster. Actually every marriage (religious or not) could end in divorce, as you never know what you get. It doesn't matter if you know each other before for a long time or just a few weeks.
In chassidic circles it is even more complicated. Extreme group members such as Toldot Aharon only have their Shidduch meetings in a living room in the house of one of the parents. A guy and a girl who had never really spoken to the opposite sex are suddenly confronted with a rather strange situation. How can they decide who is the right Shidduch if they don't really know anything about relationships ? This must be very hard. And especially for the women from Toldot Aharon, as they still keep the Chassidic – Hungarian custom of shaving off their hair one or two days after the wedding.

One might claim that this just doesn’t come as a surprise and while growing up, they know exactly what will happen to them after they got married. But I still imagine that it must be very hard and can be a shock.

Nevertheless, the young woman wearing that costume was anything but depressed. She was so enthusiastic or in other words, she was the queen of the night. Everybody spoke and cared about her. She was the center of attention.

What really surprised me was how all those still unmarried women went up to her and asked her about how it is to be married and if the bald head doesn't itch under her hair cover (Yasameh). I couldn't believe that they were asking this and had expected more privacy. However, I was wrong and the young women talked about the subject very openly. At least among each other. The young bride was ready to answer all kinds of questions and the other girls listened curiously.

One thing was very obvious to us: There was no sign of the famous feminism in our world in the Toldot Aharon synagogue that night. The young girls looked anxiously forward to get married and having children. It was a great atmosphere and we were flabbergasted by the whole situation. Young girls who don't think about having a career but only about family.

Of course, not everybody is as lucky and as happy as the young bride from Friday night. I would like to find out what happens to those couples who don’t get along. As I am very interested in haredi society and social life, last Friday night I learned a lot. Sociologist always do research about why haredi and especially chassidic women don't leave their societies. Even if they are unhappy they just stay where they are.

Last Friday night we got an idea why. There are actually many happy people in Chassidic society and they simply don't feel like revolting.

Again a MAZAL TOV to the young bride from the Toldot Aharon Tish last Friday night !!!

No Shabbat in Mamilla Mall ?


Just recently, the new Mamilla shopping mall outside Jaffa Gate opened its gates to the public. Not, that we really need this new ugly concrete mall right across the Tower of King David. However, approx. in the year 2009, a tram is going to connect the most important places in Jerusalem with each other. Then local buses won't go through the city center any more because we Jerusalemites are sick of any further pollution.

In order to make Jerusalem more attractive, the main roads such as Jaffa Road, are going to be closed for the traffic, as soon as we have the tram. Then Jaffa Road is going to turn into a nice shopping mall without traffic but with many trees and plants. No more noise and smelly air.

One of the last stops of the tram will be at Jaffa Gate, and in order to make the whole area more attractive, the new mall was built. But honestly, who needs a mall at Jaffa Gate, if not the tourists ? Jerusalemites have enough shopping centers which are, by the way, much cheaper. The new Mamilla Mall is expensive and only tourists who have no idea about Israeli prices, are prepared to buy anything. We inhabitants know our cheap places where we get the same quality for less money.

The new mall was opened a few months ago and hasn't seen too many customers since. Restaurants, shops and cafes are mostly empty and people prefer going to the nearby Jaffa Road. The owners of the mall want to make profits and are desperate. Now the latest rumour says that the owners decided to keep the mall open on Shabbat. Especially the inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City are upset. An open mall on Shabbat would mean many people walking around with their shopping bags through the Jewish Quarter and disturbing the locals keeping Shabbat. Additionally, loud music will be heard near Jaffa Gate and disturbing the religious population passing by on their way to the Kotel, and more Jewish workers would be forced to break Shabbat in order to keep their jobs.

The Haredim are planning to establish a committee and send representatives talking to the owners in order to change their minds. But the greatest fear of all is that other malls might follow suit and open up on Shabbat.

The ugly mall before the opening. Anyway, today it doesn't look much different.