Thursday, January 31, 2008

Snowmen in Jerusalem


The snow started two nights ago and it almost looked like doomsday yesterday. Israelis are not used to snow and as soon as it does snow, they don't go to work and just stay at home.

In Europe, Canada or the US, we are used to plenty of snow. In this country, people panic. Shops, municipality, government buildings, everything is closed. People stay inside and don't even bother to leave the house.

Now, the snow has stopped but half of the shops in Jerusalem are still closed. Buses don't go regularly because more snow was predicted. Whoever wants to see the Jerusalemites today has to go to Sacher - Park where they are all building snowmen with their kids.

I still cannot understand this kind of mentality. Not moving at all because of snow ?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Yad Le'Achim's latest warnings


The Israeli anti - missionary organization Yad Le' Achim about its latest cases:

The Jewish Agency and its Evangelist on the board

On Muslim missionaries

Thanks to the Rabbi


Some years ago, when I was a little younger, I went on a short trip to Safed (Northern Israel) where I met two Yeshiva girls at the Chabad hostel Ascent.

Just a brief clarification in between: In Israel usually womens' Torah study institutions are not called Yeshiva but Michlalah. However, I am using the expression Yeshiva here.

It turned out that the girls I met became religious later in their lives and besides work, participated in evening classes in a haredi Yeshiva in the Kiryat Mattersdorf haredi neighbourhood. At that time, I wanted some changes in my life but didn't know exactly what and where to start. So far, I had been in a national religious study institution and also went to evening haredi Shiurim (classes). I have never felt particularly connected to the national religious movement although I like studying Rabbi Kook. However, the national religious mentality is somehow not for me.
Then I met the girls in Safed and they invited me to have a look at their haredi institution. First, they invited me for Shabbat and a some time later, I went to check out the evening classes.

Kiryat Mattersdorf is an entirely haredi neighbourhood. You can find anything, from chassidic to litvish. Nearby is Kiryat Belz with its huge synagogue and the other haredi neighbourhood of Sanhedria and the whole Bar Ilan Street area.

In order to get to the Yeshiva, I had to pass a certain backyard and climb down some stairs in order to get into the Yeshiva facilities. One of the girls, Y., was already anxiously waiting for me. She was of sephardi origin and very warm hearted. Proudly she showed me around and introduced me to some of the other girls / women. The Yeshiva is somehow the Hebrew sister school of Ohr Sameach and all classes are in Hebrew. The girls had become religious later in their lives whereas their parents were still secular.

Already in the staircase we met a rather strange woman. She had this flair of the Hippie - Flower - Power movement and her thoughts were anywhere but not in this world. She must have been in her fifties or so. Before Y. introduced me to her she whispered to me: "This is Alona"

I said: "Oh, okay".

Again Y. whispered very meaningful: "This is Alona".

I said: "Yeah, I got you. This is Alona"

Y. continued her whispers about Alona and finally asked: "Don't you know the story ?"

Well, as someone not born in Israel, I indeed didn't know the story.

It turned out that Alona was the former wife of the famous Israeli pop singer Arik Einstein. Arik Einstein' s best friend, Uri Zohar, became religious over more than twenty years ago. Uri Zohar was an actor who mostly acted in trivial beach movies. Suddenly he decided to leave his great career, study in a Yeshiva and become a rabbi. This was a big thing in Israel and a scandal as well. His fans didn't understand how the popular Uri Zohar could do such a crazy thing. Giving up a career and becoming one of those Haredim who study all the time, dress funny and don't work. This is more or less the stereotype opinion of the average secular Israeli.

Arik Einstein couldn't face a religious friend and for some reason the friendship fell apart. Furthermore, Arik Einstein's wife Alona decided to become religious as well. Together with the kids. In the end, Arik lost his friend Uri and part of his family. Until today, Arik Einstein and Alona are in touch because of the kids, but both have a completely different life. When Arik lost his friend Uri Zohar, he even wrote a famous song about the whole story.

This is the famous story Y. told me about Alona and here I was. Standing in front of Alona Einstein who was somewhere else with her thoughts. We briefly said "HI" and this was it.

The classroom, if I may it call so, was packed with at least twenty girls. I cannot remember the subject being taught but before the Shiur, the rabbi asked the girls how they spent the Shabbat. At the beginning, I didn’t get that this was supposed to be an ironic question because all of their parents were secular. Of course, the parents had watched TV etc. and not really kept Shabbat yet. It bothered me a lot that the girls and the rabbi were making fun of this. So, you became religious and the parents not. This is not a reason to make fun of your parents.

During the Shiur, the girls were knitting Kipot or whatever. I could just see their eyes shining with a Shidduch (match) in mind. To me it looked like a housewife club although Y. was a little different. She insisted on me speaking to the head of the Yeshiva in order to get accepted. She really dragged me into his office.
He was American and spoke Hebrew with a heavy American accent. I felt sorry for him that he was suffering through and offered to speak in English. He looked at me angrily and wasn't too friendly anyway.

What I was planning to learn ? When I mentioned Talmud he looked at me as if I had said something seriously wrong. He said that then I am obviously in the wrong place. I felt that he never wanted me anyway. Maybe I looked too much like a troublemaker or having my own thoughts instead of knitting Kipot and walking around with shiny eyes.

At first, I was angry at the rabbi but more than a year later when I was back in Germany, I seriously thought about sending him a postcard with a "Thank You - greeting". Being accepted at the Yeshiva would have turned out as a great disaster.

I am not a pressure or shiny eye person and I cannot even knit. A few weeks later, I found a great Yeshiva where we studied Gemara and I was happy.

Sometimes when something goes wrong we turn to be upset, as I was a little about this rabbi. However, later on in life we find out that the refusal was actually the best what could ever happen to you.

After I participated for three days, I left the Yeshiva and never went back. I heard that Y. is happily married and I suppose that Alona is still there. Arik Einstein still sings very successfully and Uri Zohar is a haredi rabbi gossiping about ashkenazim although he is ashkenazi himself. But he supports the sephardi Shass - party. He gives Shiurim on a religious radio channel.
The Yeshiva is probably still there and I am still glad that I wasn't accepted. I still don't have shiny eyes and I still don't know how to knit.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How do you say "Thank You" in Yiddish ?


Erev Shabbat and also today were the greatest Shabbat meals I have had for a long time. I am still very excited about the wonderful atmosphere and the interesting people I met.

Two of the traditional three Shabbat meals I spent with a chassidic family in the middle of Mea Shearim. I know the family for quite a while but hadn't seen them for some time. As soon as I walked in, old memories came up right away. On both sides.

The family knows that I write on the Internet and although I don't concentrate on all the negative stuff and gossip about the haredi world, they still asked me not to mention any details about them as well as about the other guests. I deeply respect their request and I am just going briefly into the subject and mention a few topics we talked about.

As I said before, I really enjoyed the whole atmosphere. Due to modesty reasons, men and women sat in two separate rooms and, therefore, I only spoke to the females. This was even more interesting because our host had about 20 women including a haredi family from Kiryat Sefer. First I was worried that the living room would be too small for all those people but miraculously everyone fit in. Many of the other guests were frum American seminary girls. Our host was mostly busy with serving the food, as she sees it as a great Mitzwah. Eventually we persuaded her to sit down for a while and two of her grandchildren took over the serving job.

Our host insisted on sitting next to me. I speak several languages, I know her for some time and I can communicate with her very well. She prefers Hebrew of Yiddish. My Hebrew is fluent but our conversations were mostly in Yiddish. My Yiddish is limited, as I don't really speak and only understand. This time, however, I made an effort to speak and I really liked it. One woman said to me that my Yiddish is great and I responded that I wasn't speaking Yiddish but German.

To my surprise, I had some deep conversations with a young European girl, an English speaking woman who at the moment is switching from one chassidic group to another and, of course, with our host. We four sat together and couldn't stop talking anymore. I learned a lot from this conversation.

When we finally left, we were all invited back for the next day for lunch. Most of us showed up again.

The English speaking woman switching from one group to another and I decided to keep in touch. I am going to call her this week and we will meet again. We got along very well and I am glad that I met her. She might even have someone in Mea Shearim teaching me Yiddish. At least how to speak better. Our host's daughters already taught me some new expressions.

It goes without saying that if you speak to the Mea Shearim inhabitants, you are being informed about what is going on in the hood. Already after three minutes I knew about all the chassidic Tishes taking place. And after the great ashkenazi meal (Gefilte Fish, chicken soup and self - made Challah), I went to the Tish of the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn had been abroad for a few weeks and is back now. I don't know if the Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, is back but there was no Tish at the Toldot Aharon on Erev Shabbat.

I went to Avraham Yitzchak and had a great time. I only stayed for a little more than an hour because I was tired, andnd lunch was announced to take place at 12pm. I couldn't even convince some of the meal participants to join the Tish. Everyone just went to bed.

However, the Avraham Yitzchak Tish was packed and I witnessed a great conversation taking place between a group member and two American frum girls. The group member explained the clothes of the male members. White sox for the married men and black sox for the unmarried men. It was funny to see how the three communicated. The girls knew some Yiddish and the woman spoke a little English. If you know Yiddish and something about Chassidut, it makes it much easier to approach the Chassidim. Especially when they know the same people in Boro Park or Antwerp as you do.

During our meal someone mentioned Chabad and our host including further guests agreed that Chabad does a lot in order to bring Jews back to their roots. Our host emphasized that Chabad is good for beginners but nothing further. After Jews gained some more knowledge they should decide which way to continue. Litvish, chassidic or whatever.

The English speaking woman made a funny but also very sad point. She said that in the States she saw posters where the Lubavitcher Rebbe was called G - d. Well, you can imagine that our host almost fainted. Too much is too much.

Furthermore we had a great conversation about converting to Judaism through the anti - Zionist umbrella organization Edah HaCharedit. When you convert this way, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior does not recognize your conversion and therefore refuses giving you Aliyah. This was a surprise to some of the guests from the Mea Shearim neighbourhood. They didn't know that. One of the guests mentioned that she knows a few girls who converted this way and one of them, who went to the Ministry afterwards, got arrested. The girl had to repeat her conversion with the Chief Rabbinate (Rabbanut). In my eyes this is completely exaggerated.

However, I was invited again and I will definitely stay in touch with the English speaking woman.

By the way, "Thank You" in Yiddish means "Yesher Koach" or "A Dank".

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dushinsky Rebbe going to the States


The Rebbe of Chassidut Dushinsky from Jerusalem, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky, will be traveling to the States tomorrow (27 January 2008).

Rebbe Yosef Zvi Dushinksy

Friday, January 25, 2008

Channah Nachenberg


Every Shabbat anew, people come to join the Machlis - Family for very different reasons.

Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, his wife Henny and his 14 kids are the greatest Shabbat experience you could ever have. They accept everybody and have been doing so for more than 20 years. Mordechai and Henny are originally from Brooklyn and both are children of rabbis. Almost 30 years ago, they made Aliyah and have been living in the Maalot Dafna neighbourhood in Jerusalem since. You could call Rabbi Machlis national religious or Chardalnik (Haredi Leumi). His children, however, are mostly married to Haredim and the two oldest sons are students at the MIR Yeshiva.

The Machlises are famous for their Shabbat food. In other words, for the amount of food. Anyone can come without calling and take as much as he likes. And this is one of the main reasons why people come. Food.
Me and my friends see the Machlis home more as a social meeting. Throughout the week, each of us is busy, so on Shabbat we meet at the Machlises.

In May 2001, I showed up at the Machlis home and met an old friend of mine, David Nachenberg. Some time ago, he had got married and he introduced me to his wife Channah. They also had a two - year - old daughter, Sarah. A happy family with a home in Modi'in. They made jokes about their income but most Israelis have an overdraft. Channah told me that she wants to find a job in order to make things going smoother.

On 9th August 2001, I was on a bus when I heard the news. A suicide bomber had blown himself up at the Sbarro Pizzeria. Corner King George - Jaffa Road. It was at about 2pm when a guy with a guitar entered the Sbarro and exploded himself. Inside the bomb were also nails and screws to injure or kill more people. The streets and the Sbarro were crowded and the suicide bomber had waited for the traffic light turning green. Thus, people were crossing the junction and he could kill even more.
Many people were killed inside the Sbarro. A whole family was wiped out. The Shijveshurder family who had emigrated from Holland. Five family members almost died on the spot.

A few months later, I read the "Jerusalem Post" and suddenly saw a picture of Channah and David Nachenberg. I only got to know then that Channah had been badly injured in the blast. She had gone with her daughter Sarah and a relative to eat pizza. The relative was only slightly injured. Daughter Sarah showed no sign of injury at all.

After the blast, her relative got up and saw that Channah had been falling over the table. She was taken to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital and the doctors found out that she had a nail in her heart. However, they succeeded in operating her but Channah never woke up again. Until today, she is still unconscious and the doctors don't know why. Laying in the Re'ut rehabilitation center with open eyes but not responding to anything. Her husband David visits her as much as he can. Sarah keeps on drawing pictures for her mother although she grew up. They play music to her.

The Nachenberg Family

However, they also had further horrible experiences when Christian visitors popped in. They started praying to J. and claimed that if the family converted to Christianity, Channah would wake up.
How horrible and ignorant can people be ? Since the incident occurred, David allows only Jewish visitors in.

After the blast, no more traffic ran through downtown Jerusalem. Only ambulances.
The bus driver opened the doors and we got off the bus. It was in the Ge'ulah haredi neighbourhood and we walked avoiding the nearby scene. I had just walked a few meters when a teenager girl walking not too far away received a phone call. She spoke a few words and then started screaming and crying. She was national religious and just sat down in the middle of the sidewalk and cried. A haredi Mea Shearim woman came up to her and everybody else around just knew why the teenager was crying. Something terrible had happened to a friend or relative. The haredi woman embraced her and said a few encouraging words to the girl.

It was one of the most incredible scenes I have ever witnessed.
All the time we hear about people from Mea Shearim. They hate everybody else and keep themselves separate. And here was, a woman from Mea Shearim, embracing a teenager from the outside world. Unfortunately, the secular press wasn't around to take a picture.

I don't know what exactly happened to the teenager and don't know where she is today. Unfortunately, Channah Nachenberg, the last victim of the Sbarro bombing, seems to be almost forgotten.

Short Stories


Some people suggested that I should write a book about chassidic groups and my experiences. I thought about the idea and came to the conclusion that maybe I should.

I will start putting some former writings together and also add many more new writings and details. It won't be an academic publication but rather short stories. And I hope to find someone who can go through everything and correct my grammar mistakes.:-)

Chassidut Gur Update


As I just heard from a few Gerer Chassidim, Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter is not coming to Jerusalem this Shabbat. This means that there won't be a Tish and the prayer service is going to take place at the Beit Midrash (Malchei Israel Street / Ge'ulah).

Chassidut Gur proudly announces the building of a new hospital in Ashdod.
More information about the hospital and the Gur connection can be found here:

The present Rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Creeping Around


Walking around in the haredi world as an outsider is anything but easy.

It may be easier building up connections to the litvishe world. But also there it very much depends on individual haredi backgrounds. A Brisker probably wouldn't be in such close contact to someone from the outside world.

Building up connections to the chassidic world is even more complicated. At this point, I am leaving out Breslov and Chabad because it is different with these two groups.

What really fascinated me was what the writer Daniel Meijers mentions in his book "Ascetic Hasidim in Jerusalem" (1992).

The author describes a very significant point and I thought about it for many hours. Actually I still haven't been able to find an explanation, and also Daniel Meijers leaves out a solution.

When I tell people about the chassidic world and when I write about Tishes, Rebbes, whatever, there is a certain group of people who gets really fascinated by it. That's fine and there is nothing wrong with it.

However, there are people who cannot forget the stories and want to experience the same. I cannot explain it, as I said before, but some people really seem to think that they go to a chassidic Tish and get accepted by the group members. You speak to the members for two minutes, maybe ask something, and all this turns you automatically into a kind of an accepted person.

Others even go a little further; they come and never seem to leave anymore. They just stick to the group but don't want to join. It is only a matter of fascination. Fascinated seeing a different world and being part of it.

What bothers me is that the majority of those people are neither interested in the chassidic concept of the group nor know anything about Chassidut at all. All they see is a fascination; different clothes, different lifestyle.

Maybe I should study sociology or psychology in order to understand this kind of visitors. Attraction and fascination has nothing to do with chassidic reality.

Whatever you do and whenever you get in touch with the chassidic world, even at a Tish, never forget, that you are an outsider and you are being treated as such. When Chassidim talk to you for a few minutes, it doesn't mean you are being accepted. In fact, they don't. This reality one should never forget.

In your (the outside) world, you can start showing off that you have been to this group and that group; but to the chassidic groups themselves you are nothing more or less than a visitor. If you think otherwise, you live in a dream world.

This Monday, I called an acquaintance from Satmar. We spoke on the phone for quite a while, as we haven't seen each other for a few years. The first thing I had to do was putting myself back into her memory, as, at first, she didn't really remember me. However, after a few sentences she did. Immediately she invited me for Shabbat. Surprisingly for all the three meals.

Some years ago, she used to have many guests for Shabbat. When I first met her, I was wondering why she even accepted guests from the outside world. She and her family live in the middle of Mea Shearim and the locals usually don't invite outsiders into their homes. She once told me that her neighbours criticize her for accepting almost anybody.

When I spoke to her on Monday, I asked her if she still does have many guests. She denied and said that she accepts frum seminary girls only. I realized that she sounded quite disappointed when she told me. Many people just showed up, were not even halachically Jewish or just wanted to show off that they had been to Mea Shearim.

For my acquaintance however, Shabbat hospitality is a Mitzwah and she prefers talking to Jews being familiar with a religious environment.

She told me the time for Kiddush but I should be at her house earlier, as she wants to talk to me.

So, this Shabbat, and hopefully further times, I will spend with Satmar.

As an outsider.

"לא מתאים"


"לא מתאים - not suitable", how many times have I heard this sentence ?

Heard from Haredim who rejected my ideas about Talmudic studies or any higher Jewish studies. Not only Jewish studies but also University studies in a secular environment. From a Satmar member I was told that the university is a dirty place anyway. Men and women sit and study together. How can that be ?

When especially chassidic women tell me "לא מתאים", they want to express that their society is totally different. A different value systems. You grow up, have a Shidduch, the family and kids. This is basically it. If you are lucky and have time, you go for the Parashat HaShavua. The easy way with Rashi commentary.

I am not saying that Rashi is always easy but this is mostly it for the women. Unless you are Breslov or Chabad.

"Not suitable" for the haredi or chassidic society as a whole.
During many years of dealing with Haredim, I never really met a woman who would be interested. People were busy throughout day and when I looked at them as a little ignorant, they, on the other hand, thought that I am strange.

However, in the end, the majority asked me detailed questions about what I learn. About different Midrashim or the Talmud. Some were really hungry for certain teachings and the more I came, the more I was asked.

Being with Chabad


In my religious German blog I wrote a huge article on Sue Fishkoff's book about the Chabad Shlichim.

Especially in Germany, Chabad has to face plenty of challenges, as local litvishe rabbis see them as a great competitor, and my goal was, to explain further details to the Germans. Not every Chabadnik is a Meshichist and there are many good people among Chabadnikkim.

When you see the title of Sue Fishkoff's book "The Rebbe's Army", one might think that the author is going to tell us all the Chabad secrets. But in the end, she does not but rather admits that she was impressed visiting all the different US - Shlichim. Why not ?

For secular Jews, Chabad definitely has something to offer. Especially when you are traveling and cannot find kosher food or a Shabbat meal. Chabad is just everywhere. Katmandu, Zaire or Brussels.

Almost eight years ago, I didn't get a place in my German Jewish community for the Pessach Seder. "Members only" and I wasn't an offical member because I never signed up. No membership, no Pessach Seder and no Mazzot. In the end, the Mazzot I bought in Frankfurt and the Seder I spent with Chabad in Brussels. It was great and I met nice people.

The first time I came in touch with Chabad was in August 1996. I was invited at Chabad in the Old City and somehow got stuck with their Shiurim (classes). Actually I had no idea what they were talking about. Tanya, Neshamot, Sparks, the Breaking of the Vessels, the ARI, etc. The classes started somewhere in the middle as other participants were already more advanced. Only after a while, I got an idea, as I was also studying at home.

In Israel, I spent another few Pessach Seders with Chabad. In Jerusalem as well as in Safed. For anyone interested: No, I wasn't brainwashed and only asked if I want to become a member. I said: "NO".

The problem started when I announced that I am also looking into other chassidic groups. Then the rabbi was upset and offended. Chabad is the only group having something to offer. Something intellectual.

Very true, as already the founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, stressed intellect. And when you look at other chassidic groups, intellect is not the most important issue but emotions.
"Why is Satmar such a closed group ?" I was asked by Chabad. Because they have nothing to offer and are afraid that the members are running away. I didn't really agree to this idea.
Then I bought the "Likutei Moharan" as well as "Rabbi Nachman's Stories", and the rabbi was totally offended. I would buy the wrong books.

After a while I quit going to the Shiurim. Not because I didn't like it anymore but simply because I wanted to go on in life. I had a great time with Chabad but after a while it was time to move on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Women and the Rebbe


For some time I have been writing about the extreme chassidic group Toldot Aharon as well as about their split off, the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. I spoke to some of the women, especially to teenage girls, and got many impressions. But I don't only speak to the members, I also study the literature of their Rebbe's and the history.

Hardly anything has been written about these two groups and if so, the literature is rather old and the split in 1996 (Avraham Yitzchak) hadn't even taken place yet. The only updated literature is a Ph.D. work of the former sociology student Sima Zalcberg. I read her 450 - page manuscript last week, and also contacted her by e - mail in order to ask a few further questions. She gave me her phone number and I will call her soon.

However, she mentioned an interesting point which I also realized.
Especially the women of Toldot Aharon idealize their own Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn. The male group members do see the Rebbe as a Zaddik but also see in him a human being. They can do that because they meet him all the time, speak to him and deal with him in different matters. The women, on the other hand, are not in touch with the Rebbe at all, as Toldot Aharon keeps the opposite sexes totally separate. If the women have questions for the Rebbe, they either send their husbands or ask the Rebbitzen. Personal contact between the women and the Rebbe doesn’t take place at all.

Sima Salcberg claims that for this reason, the women tend to idealize the Rebbe. A claim I can completely confirm.

As soon as the Rebbe walks in, the Toldot Aharon as well as the Avraham Yitzchak women are fascinated. Actually I saw it even more at the Avraham Yitzchak women. What I cannot confirm is that the women are so fascinated that they sit quietly through the Rebbe's Tish. Both female group members love to chat all the time and many never stop. Sometimes the Ezrat Nashim sounds like a chicken coop.

The women like to tell many stories about the Rebbe. It could be a psychological point that those women need an idol. If you see a person all the time but you are not able to approach him personally, of course, you have different ideas about him. That he is perfect and the greatest Zaddik. How many teenage girls run after pop stars ?

The less you know the more you look for idealization, and he becomes the great idol.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Cherem on Moshe Hirsch


No, I am not on any Neturei Karta or anti - Zionist trip today.

However, I think that it is important to point out that there are different groups within the NK. The NK - synagogue I am planning to go to is considered to be more moderate.

Not everybody is like Friedman & Co. who travel to Iran and deny the Holocaust. Just the opposite, the Neturei Karta placed a Cherem (ban) on the fanatic Moshe Hirsch group. It says on the poster below that the NK does not cooperate with Arabs, that they don't get involved in politics, and that they condemn those who stole the name "Neturei Karta" doing such things as going to Iran.

Neturei Karta in Mea Shearim


The Neturei Karta Synagogue in Mea Shearim

Satmar and Others


Many times I have mentioned it already.

I am not at all prefering any particular chassidic group but write about all of them and I am also interested in all of them.

It doesn't matter if I agree to their policies or not. I do agree to Chassidut as a whole and this is what is important.

When I write about Satmar, Bobov, Vishnitz, Karlin and others, I do not prefer any kind of group. For instance, if I write about one of the Satmarer Rebben, Rabbi Aharon, Teiltelbaum, it shouldn't give you the idea that I am with Rebbe Aharon and not with his brother, Rebbe Zalman Leib. If I write about Rebbe Unger (Bobov) doesn' t mean that I am against Rebbe Halberstam. I am flexible and as I don't belong to any group, I write about them the way I see and experience it.

When I go to the Satmarer synagogues, I will definitely go to both; the one of Rebbe Zalman Leib and the one of Rebbe Aharon.

I am making this point very clear, as I just got an invitation from Satmar for this coming Shabbat. So, this Shabbat, and hopefully more Shabbatot, will be different from my usual routine. However, I like seeing different groups, people and listen do different ideas.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

שבת חתן בקרלין - סטולין


The followers of the Vilna Gaon as well as others fighting chassidic ideas and the new Baal Shem Tov - movement claimed that Chassidim pray as if they were drunk. They are shaking to all sides and scream their prayers out loud. In other words: madmen.

The false claim of the opponents of the chassidic movement unfortunately still do exist sometimes. Last Shabbat, I witnessed the ecstatic prayers and screams but didn't get the impression that the Chassidim were necessarily drunk. Just the opposite, they prayed to G - d in a manner, many Litvaks can learn from. Their prayer is not standing around and thinking too much but instead the chassidic prayer comes from the heart.

My original plan was joining the Maariv prayer of a certain chassidic group in order to find out when one of their most important rabbis has his meeting hours. He receives men and women alike and I am planning to go there and ask him a halachic question.

As soon as I got to their synagogue in Mea Shearim, I found out that no women prayer's are taking place that day. I walked through the Mea Shearim market and stood in front of the Neturei Karta synagogue. However, I felt like something really joyful and decided to go to Karlin - Stolin. The Karlin synagogue is not too far away and one can hear from a far distance the enthusiastic singing of the Chassidim.

When I entered the Ezrat Nashim, I was the only woman. Downstairs were about 200 men including children praying with the greatest enthusiasm I have ever faced. Shaking and screaming, as the Litvaks would say. Actually there were some Litvaks but they stood silently and watched the "chassidic show".

By the way, I decided to go alone to the synagogue and I am continuing going by myself to all Tishes and synagogues.

After a short while, a young woman from Karlin walked in and we said "Shabbes" to each other.

Do you know the feeling when you meet a stranger and you immediately feel connected ? You know that this is the person to talk to and have a great conversion with. As soon as I saw the woman, this was the case.

Karlin - Stolin has the custom (as well as other groups too) to hand out little present to the children after the service. The boys gathered in front of the Aron HaKodesh and were given plastic bags with a toy inside.

I was about to leave when the woman came up to me. We started a great discussion and she told me that she was born into Karlin and is originally from New York. Karlin - Stolin has no special customs for Tu Be'Shevat. Only the usual fruit Seder.

The Rebbe lives in an outskirt called Givat Zeev and only comes to Jerusalem from time to time. "We only know the week before that a Tish is taking place in Jerusalem", the young woman said. It is hard to tell exact times, as sometimes he comes once a month and sometimes only every second month.

Grand Rabbi Baruch Yaakov Meir Shochet of Karlin-Stolin

I told her that I am writing about chassidic groups and customs on the Internet and she asked me for the site address.

When I told her that I am planning to go to Satmar, she invited me back to Karlin for the following morning.
Actually I did go back on the following day. The service on the night before had really impressed me and I wanted to see it again. So I went back and found a great place behind the glass Mechitzah. The Ezrat Nashim was totally crowded in the morning and I have to say that the people were very friendly.

I was also lucky as they had a Shabbat Chatan. The Chatan (future groom) got a special "Aufruf" to the Torah while all the boys gathered around the Bimah. Then it happened. The women opened a window and threw countless sweets down to the boys. They on the other hand, anxiously picked up all the sweets.

But also the girls upstairs got their little sweets' package and a little girl standing next to me just bit into the plastic bag. Without knowing that she had to open the bag first.

The service was over and I said "Gutt Shabbes" to a few women. An elderly lady who seemed to have a high position or at least had something to say, came up to me and invited me to the special Shabbat Chatan Kiddush. It turned out that I was the only outsider participating in this Kiddush. I even met the American woman from the night before.

The women made Kiddush by themselves and then I got a plate with a huge piece of Kugel (noodle pastry) and two slices of pickles. There was a huge variety of different cakes and I really had to behave myself not to finish everything.

Karlin - Stolin has no Kiddush every Shabbat and this time, it only took place due to Shabbat Chatan.

I have to say that I had a great prayer service and met very friendly and warm people.

Tu Be' Shevat at Kever Rachel


On Tuesday, a big Tu Be' Shevat Seder is going to take place at Kever Rachel (outside Bethlehem).

There are special buses leaving Jerusalem for Kever Rachel:

Tuesday 22nd January: 12.30pm from Rehov Strauss in Ge'ulah

Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal changed his mind


Many chassidic groups have an anti - Zionist agenda and still stick to their point of views. The great Hungarian chassidic Rabbi, Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, however, changed his mind in the middle of the Holocaust. Especially the Israeli national religious movement takes this rabbi as an example that there are people who are able to change their minds.

Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal was born in Hungary in 1885. His father was a great Rabbi in the Chassidut Zanz.

Rabbi Yissachar was a Talmid Chacham and took rabbi positions in different places. When the Mukatcher Rebbe at this time published a thesis against Zionism, Rabbi Yissachar Teichtal joined and also wrote a view pages. He was against the re - settling of Israel before the time of Meshiach.

When the Holocaust started and Rabbi Yissachar faced all the suffering of the Jewish population, he changed his mind. In 1943, he wrote his famous book "Ein HaBanim Smeicha", where he admitted to have erred. He apologized for his former anti - Zionist opinions and supported a resettlement of the Holy Land. All the reasons for anti - Zionism are not valid anymore due to the Holocaust.

In these days, we celebrate the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal. He died on 10 Shevat 1945 on a train transporting prisoners from Auschwitz to Mauthausen.

Tu Be' Shevat Photos from Israel


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nothing is Impossible


Almost everyone told me that it is impossible meeting a rabbi from the anti - Zionist umbrella organization Edah HaCharedit. Impossible as a WOMAN.

Now I just found out the opposite. It is possible, as one of the high - ranking Edah rabbis does receive men and women in order to advise them in halachic matters. Anyone can come and it doesn't have to be necessarily someone from a certain chassidic Edah group. However, the person should be Jewish and orthodox.

For tomorrow night, I am planning to go to a certain synagogue belonging to the Chassidut of this rabbi and I will find out when the hours of reception take place. The location I already know.

For many different reasons I decided not to mention the name of the rabbi and the exact location. As soon as I talk to private people in Mea Shearim, I am going to avoid mentioning names or places. I will either mention nothing or change names and locations. I greatly respect the privacy of the Chassidim and additionally I don't want outsiders to use exact information in a negative way.

As I already wrote, I have been planning to go to the Shabbat service at the Neturei Karta synagogue. But due to unexpected private matters, I might delay the visit and instead be going to the Satmar synagogue. So far, I am not sure.

I am excited to meet the Edah rabbi and I am prepared to stand in a long waiting line with all the chassidic Mea Shearim women. Actually I don't mind at all.

The rabbi answers halachic matters only and I am going to ask him a very personal question concerning my life which has been bothering me for many years. I can imagine what he is going to answer but maybe I am totally wrong and someone is finally able to give me a great piece of advice.

However, I am looking forward to that experience.

Is Fanaticism the way to Integration ?


This is not the only and probably not the last time for me writing about the issue. The fanatism of people converting to Judaism.

Of course, you are free to argue that also the Jewish born newly religious, the so - called Baalei Teshuva, are not free from fanaticism. However, the two kinds are very different from each other.

The convert strives for two main goals:

Being accepted within the orthodox society and leaving his non - Jewish past behind him.

There are plenty of different ways attaining these goals. One important thing is with whom you converted to Judaism and where exactly you see your place in society. People usually converting with the chief rabbinate of Jerusalem (the Rabbanut) are more moderate and don't go for extreme fanaticism. The worst is when they tell born Jews what to do and how. They have been hardly Jewish for a few weeks and seem to know everything. This way, they will not be accepted by anyone but just continue going on the born Jewish nerves.

The typical convert who wants to be very frum is screaming out loud his Beracha over the food. As soon as I face such a situation I know the person has just converted to Judaism. Others keep on asking what time it is and emphasize that they just ate meat have have to wait for a few more hours in order to be able of eating dairy again.

Who cares ?

I don't have to know this. It goes on my nerves.

But there is the second and more extreme type of convert.
The ones who either convert in a normal haredi way (but not with the Rabbanut) or the ones converting with the Edah HaCharedit. Of course, someone converting with the Edah is expected to be totally absorbed in Mea Shearim or another chassidic area. Usually I cannot talk to them anyway due to modesty reasons. At least not to the male candidates.

Especially the ones converting with the Edah HaCharedit are going to join certain chassidic groups afterwards. The converts are prepared to give up their former lives and friends. No connection anymore whatsoever. This is also understandable because you are entering a new stage in your life where you simply don't want an environment which is not according to your latest standards. Your former life could bother you with the goals in your new one. Once you are a member of a chassidic group, you will find a new environment and new friends. A couple might even a kind of adopt you. And even if you met your former friends or maybe your parents, what would be the topic of your talks ?

Is there a topic left at all ?
You are in your world with completely new experiences and the outsiders might bombard you with questions bothering you. The topics just don't apply to you anymore. What do they know about your new life and friends ?

The converts ambition is to get accepted by the other members of the chassidic group. Although many new members joined different groups after the Holocaust, today there is a totally different reality. A Chassid Gur told me lately that most Gerer Chassidim today joined after only the Holocaust. The same I heard from a Belzer Chassid. The same, by the way, happened Satmar.
When Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum came to New York and built his community in Williamsburgh, most people joining him were newcomers and not his old students from Satmar.

Obviously they were more accepted from the very beginning. Today, however, it happens quite often that as a convert you are being looked down on. Some might even tell you something negative or just be rude to you. Another thing are the Shidduchim where a convert only gets partners who also converted. This, by the way, is not only a chassidic matter but also takes place in the national religious and litvishe world.

But the questions remains:
How far can a Ger Zedek (a righteous convert) really get in a chassidic group like, let's say, Vishnitz, Satmar or Toldot Aharon ?

The convert himself takes over the mentality that he would be accepted if he was totally perfect. Perfect in any imaginable way. Just show the others your own perfection and then they will be so impressed. Wow, what a conclusion.

Once I had a flatmate like this. She did anything one can imagine; she helped out here and there, ran to the synagogues, took over customs, just anything. Did it help anything ? NO.

So, why bother ? Just be who you are and if the others don't accept you, it is their problem.

Many converts are also looking for a frame, an approach.
As I wrote in a former article:
People from outside Judaism look for a home as well. They have no customs, no Jewish family, no nothing, and then they find their personal home in a chassidic group. Why not ? This is nothing bad.

The only negative thing is when the convert cannot accept his former non - Jewish life and struggles a for lifetime to impress the other members. Sometimes it is much more positive being yourself and not fighting for recognition. The surprising result might be that the group members accept you much more than being bothered by someone going onto their nerves by constantly showing his perfection.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Chassidic World in Detail


I am anything but a person only relying on books or Wikipedia. Especially when the subject is called: "The Chassidic World".

Okay, I can read the Yiddish forums of the Chassidic society. Just yesterday, a Vishnitzer Chassid proudly showed me all the Vishnitz and Seret - Vishnitz Sites. Including nice pictures of the Rebbes.

And by the way, just in case you didn't know, the Vishnitzer Rebbe from the States is coming to Jerusalem after Pessach.

Besides reading professional literature, I very much enjoy talking to Chassidim, going to synagogues and the Tishes. As I totally agree to chassidic ideas, I consider writing about the issue as a part of me. It is not just a mood or finding out gossip. It means much more to me and every day, it is also getting more significant in my private life.

Yesterday was a quite successful day for me. First of all, I finally find out the exact location of the Neturei Karta synagogue in Mea Shearim. Hopefully they will let us in to their service on Shabbat. I promise to behave very well and not showing up with Zionist flags.

Another thing is that, at the moment, I am reading two books at once. One about Satmar and the other about the women of Toldot Aharon. The author of the Satmar book, Israel Rubin, has a special connection to Satmar and got the personel permission of the great Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, to write about the group. The outcome was a great informative book in an even religious way. Not that I am relying on books, as I said before, I also talk to people and, fortunately, I do know Satmarer women to talk to. Some Israeli ones from Mea Shearim. But maybe I shouldn't say "Israeli".

The other book is actually a manuscript of a former Bar Ilan University student. She studied sociology and wrote her Ph.D. about the women of Toldot Aharon. However, there are great differences in the two pieces of literature. Whereas Israel Rubin writes more or less also from a religious point of view, the Bar Ilan student has a totally academic approach. I hope that I can find out her e - mail or phone number, as I would like to talk to her personally.

She does give many facts but many things we have experienced differently when we went to Toldot Aharon. Anyway, I still haven't finished reading the two books but as soon as I do, I will give further details. Especially about Toldot Aharon. I am going to write about the student's experiences and what we have faced when we went to Toldot Aharon and spoke to the women.

Generally I think that someone writing about chassidic groups should be part of the chassidic or at least religious Jewish life. I hate it when people show up at the groups in order to investigate. As soon as they get their information, they publish everything and just disappear. With me it is different, as I somehow consider myself a part of Chassidut. Not belonging to a certain group but completely being absorbed by Chassidut itself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn and the Knesset


Actually I wrote this article last night but got some more detailed information later on, so that I deleted the first article.
To all my subscribers who probably received the first article automatically: This is the updated article !!!


What does the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn, have to do with the Knesset ?

The Toldot Avraham Yitzchak are part of the anti - Zionist umbrella organization Edah HaCharedit and usually have no connections to the "Zionist State" whatsoever.

A little more than two years ago, Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn participated in a Simcha celebrated by the Knesset member (Yahadut HaTorah - United Torah Movement) Rabbi Israel Eichler.

Then, Satmar, the biggest and most influential group of the Edah, got really wild:

אין סאטמאר איז דאס אויפגענומען געווארן מיט שטארק צער

It was the year 2005, and the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, was still the head of Satmar. And it is well - known that especially Satmar together with the Neturei Karta considers anybody haredi or religious cooperating with the present secular Zionist State of Israel as an enemy and traitor.

A special Satmar - Forum discussed the "Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov (Yankele) - case" and someone claimed that the Avraham Yitzchak Rebbe should be ashamed of himself meeting a Zionist haredi.

Why do I mention the story two years later ?

Unfortunately, I just found out by accident and I am curious if the Rebbe had to face any consequences.

Furthermore, I personally have the feeling that the Avraham Yitzchak group seems to be more open in its ideas. At least I got the impression when I visited the Tishes and spoke to some of the members. I might be mistaken but I do see some differences to Toldot Aharon.

Rebbe Shmuel Yaakov Kahn (in the middle). To the far right: Rabbi Israel Eichler (with Streimel and glasses).

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and his Vanity


One of the former Israeli sephardi chief rabbis, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, is back in the headlines. Usually this is the case when he does something negative. The Israeli press just jumps on everything the rabbi has to say about politicians (Shimon Peres is a donkey), Holocaust survivors (they were just gilgulim) or women (stupid).

Now Rabbi Ovadiah is back once again because his vanity never seems to leave him. He himself is the spiritual leader of the sephardi SHASS - party and its head Eli Yishai is the rabbi's puppet in the Knesset. Rabbi Ovadiah loves two things: influence and money. His latest act is to arrange that his son, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, should be appointed as the chief rabbi of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Ovadiah

Why ?
Is his son such a great Torah scholar to deserve such a position ?

No, this is not the reason at all.

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef is the head of the Kashrut Hechsher "Beit Yosef" (named after the author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Karo). Beit Yosef is the highest Hechsher in the Israeli sephardi world but is not recognized by the chief rabbinate of Jerusalem (the Rabbanut). If the Rabbi succeeded in making his son chief rabbi of Jerusalem, the Beit Yosef - Hechsher might be recognized with the result that more money comes into Rabbi Ovadiah's pocket.

It is out of question that Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef is a great scholar and knows a lot but why then doesn't he use his knowledge for a better religious life instead of following his personal "Yetzer HaRah" for more power ?

If he was ashkenzai, I would definitely escape to the Neturei Karta. But I am glad that he is not.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I am Satmar


It was last Simchat Torah when I was on my way home from Rabbi Mordechai Machlise's house. I walked through the Shivtei Israel Street and as everyone knows, this street leads into Mea Shearim as well. Right at the crossing of Mea Shearim Street and Shivtei Israel, you can find the Toldot Aharon synagogue together with the backyards where the members of the group live.

When I passed the synagogue, I heard the beautiful niggunim outside and spontaneously decided to go to the Tish. First I tried the Ezrat Nashim right at the street where two Satmarer ladies already shook the door. Locked !!!

I asked the ladies if it was locked and if so, there is another Ezrat Nashim at the backside of the building. The two Satmarer ladies were Americans and answered me rather unfriendly in English with a heavy Yiddish accent. Especially the American Satmarer very much emphasize on not using Lashon HaKoidesh (Hebrew) in their daily lives but only during prayer. This will only change when the Meshiach arrives.

The Satmarer ladies and I went around the synagogue and got to a crowded little place right before the stairs leading into the synagogue. The place looked like a parking lot for baby carriages. At least 30 parking places were occupied. The Toldot Aharon women themselves had lined up on the stairs. On top stood a rather heavy woman and I saw from far away that she must be some kind of a bouncer.

The Satmarers were upset because they had to line up as everyone else. They probably thought that if they support Toldot Aharon financially, they might have certain rights. But nothing. Just the same as me.

Finally we were standing in front of the bouncer woman. First she looked at the Satmarer and investigated in Yiddish. It really looked like the Satmarer wouldn't make it inside and they, on the other hand, got really wild. First waiting and then being refused. The older of the two ladies got fed up and shouted:
"I am Satmar".

The bouncer was shocked and moved backwards.

"Oh", she said and opened the door.

The Satmarer disappeared inside and it was my turn.
The bouncer looked at me and investigated who I am. I thought that saying "I am Satmar" must be some kind of a secret password and I intended using it. But then I behaved myself and didn't. The bouncer was very friendly and tried to explain that today's Tish is for Toldot Aharon members only. I can come back any time and shouldn't be offended. Then suddenly she lifted up her two arms and started praying. Soon the Meshiach is going to come and we (all the Jews) will be united. I looked at her and didn't know what to say. Actually I thought that this must be a dream. A little shocked I only nodded: "Be' Ezrat HaShem – With the help of G – d". The bouncer stopped and wished me "Chag Sameach – Gid Yom Tov".
The Toldot Aharon women standing behind me on the stairs couldn't stop starring at the bouncer. Maybe Mrs. Bouncer got too overwhelmed and now she had to face some surprised looks. I already thought that the Toldot Aharon women might burst out with laughter.

I climbed down the stairs and was angry about myself because I hadn't used the password "I am Satmar".
Now, I first have to wait for the Meshiach to come until I can go to Toldot Aharon Tish on Simchat Torah.

About "Dark Lights" and "Black Holes"


Actually I wasn't the first one noticing the website of the KVETCHER. A friend of mine discovered the site first and highly recommended it to me. The Kvetcher obviously likes to write about certain Jerusalem Yeshivot. Basically he calls the students of the Ohr Sameach Yeshiva "Dark Lights" and the Yeshiva itself "Black Hole".

One is free to think whatever he wants but it really makes more sense when you personally know the places. When you know the students of Ohr Sameach, its sister school Neve Yerushalaim or another Yeshiva located in the Old City, the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva.

For more than a decade, I've been meeting Aish, Ohr Sameach or Neve Yerushalaim students everywhere. Especially at the Shabbatot at Rabbi Mordechai Machlise's house who lives right behind Ohr Sameach.

When I started to become religious and decided to learn more about Judaism, I was also sent to Neve Yerushalaim. I was on the famous Yeshiva shopping trip anyway and actually I was looking for something Israeli. I didn't want to be among Americans all the time. As I lived in Israel and planned on making Aliyah, I wanted to get adjusted to Israel and not to the US.

I have met many different characters going to the men's Yeshivot Aish and Ohr Sameach. Both Yeshivot mostly offer beginner programs but it is possible to continue for some years in more advanced classes. Both Yeshivot have an age limit and prefer younger students from all over the world. You shouldn't be over thirty.

Every year, many young Jews come to Jerusalem and either look for a Yeshiva on their own or already signed up for a programs at home. Aish and Ohr Sameach are popular among the young guys. Mostly American rabbis teach American, British, Australian or South African students. Sorry, I forgot mentioning the Canadians.
Teaching newcomers is a dangerous and a highly responsible task. Many times, the newly religious are getting carried away by the enthusiasm a Baal Teshuva sometimes has. Suddenly everything and everyone has to be religious and behave in a certain way. Once you are inside the Yeshiva, you easily forget about the outside world. The worst is when a student comes back to the States and suddenly has to face his reform or conservative parents. Thus, many conflicts have been coming up and upset parents called the Yeshiva afterwards complaining about what they had done to their kids.
The problem is that the Yeshiva student is too young and has no experience of how to deal with the secular outside world.

Rabbi Machlis once gave a great example:
Once a student went back to the States and started to tell his rabbi at home what to do. He said that according to the Shulchan Aruch it is so and so. The rabbi replied that the community doesn't go according to the Shulchan Aruch but rather according to the Aruch HaShulchan. The student was embarrassed.

I have faced this many times. Young Jews start Yeshiva without knowing a thing and after a week or two, they start telling you what to do. Avoiding such problems is a great task for a rabbi and sometimes it seems that neither Aish nor Ohr Sameach are very successful in this. The same with the women's Yeshiva Neve Yerushalaim.

The Kvetcher claims that Neve doesn't want the girls to become too educated. This, I can confirm although I have a friend claiming the opposite. It is well known that Neve Yerushalaim has not such a great intellectual standard and even other women's Yeshivot in the Har Nof neighbourhood make fun of Neve. Example: Shearim where young women study Gemara.

Neve sees its goal in turning secular female Jews into religious observant Jews. If possible, Shidduchim should be made between Neve girls and Ohr Sameach guys. In my eyes, everybody is free to decide and there are actually Neve girls who studied at Harvard before. Not everyone is coming brainless. If someone doesn't like the program, she is free to leave and look for something else, as I did. But what I do criticize is that many young people get rushed into religion too fast. For instance, Neve expects the girls to take over a religious life style after six weeks in the Mechinah (preparation course). This also includes adopting a frum clothing style: long skirts and long sleeves only.

I heard about a famous case where a girl was rushed into religion and only after a few months got married to a haredi guy. They went back to the States, had a child and after only two years, the woman escaped and returned to her former life style. The guy married someone else haredi.

Becoming religious takes time and it doesn’t just come after six weeks or so. It takes years and lots of patience, as it is a life process. Neve, Aish and Ohr Sameach many times forget about this and rather act too speedily. Just as if they are afraid that the student might just run away.

Cold but never Boring


The weather in Jerusalem is freezing these days. Temperature is below minus and everybody is looking for a warm place or at least a hot bowl of soup. We even wear gloves. However, Shabbat is Shabbat and there has to be some spirituality as well.

My first spirituality portion I already got on the way to the Shabbat dinner at Rabbi Mordechai Machlise's house. I met a Vishnitzer Chassid who I know from the university library. I didn't recognize him right away, as he wore his Streimel. He immediately told me about the Vishnitzer Rebbes and claimed that most chassidic groups actually depend on Vishnitz. Many wives of different Rebbes are actually from Vishnitz, such as the wife of one of the Admorim of Satmar, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, or the wife of the present Belzer Rebbe. "And by the way, he said, the Jerusalem Slonim are also related to Vishnitz.

This happens to me all the time. Vishnitz claims that they are the most important group, Belz does the same, let alone Gur. The Chassidim always want me to write about their own particular group.

"Who cares about Toldot Aharon ?" one Belzer Chassid asked me. "Write about Belz".

"Belz ? They are only interested in their money", told me someone from Gur.

The list is long and I try to write about everybody, as I am not someone's private public relation office.

After the usual Machlis meal and their great food, my friend and I went to Chassidut Dushinsky.
"You never give up on Dushinsky", my friend keeps saying.
The problem is that most of the times when we went there, the Tish was closed for women or no Tish took place at all. However, Last night we were lucky. The door to the Ezrat Nashim was open and a Tish took place. We were even very lucky to find a great place behind the Mechitzah and could see everything. The men's side was completely packed with Chassidim and the Dushinsky Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky, was in a great mood. He is rather serious but seems to have a great personal relationship to his Chassidim.

The present Dushinsky Rebbe: Rabbi Yosef Zvi Dushinsky

The Dushinsky Tish only lasts for two hours and we participated in the last hour. Unfortunately, the Rebbe's Yiddish is very hard to understand for me, and thus I didn't understand too much from his Derasha. Only that he was talking about Chametz and fighting and overcoming the Yetzer.

Towards the end, the Rebbe dances with some of his Chassidim (I think only the married ones) around the huge Tish. They do so three times and then he says to each one "Gid Shabbas". I am a real fan of such personal attention of the Rebbes. Most of them great their Chassidim during the Tish and nod with their heads (such as Belz or Toldot Avraham Yitzchak).

After the Dushinsky - Tish we climbed up the hill in Yoel Street. Spontaneously, we decided to go to the Chassidut Kretchnif. It was late and I am suffering from another cold but we couldn' t really do without Kretchnif.

It was already midnight when we climbed up the three floors to the Ezrat Nashim. Only the Kretchnifer Rebbitzen with a few relatives was present. Just the opposite took place downstairs. The Kretchnifer Tish was packed and we even spotted out many guys who had been to Dushinsky before. Including the son of the Kretchnifer Rebbe.

Two things I like about the Kretchnifer Rebbe besides that he is very communicative and personal. I love it when he dances alone and I love it when he dances with his Chassidim. He has a certain elegance in his way to dance which is quite unique. The funny thing is that before, the Chassidim dance unemotionally and as soon as the Rebbe participates, the dance turns into something else. He grabs the hands of the Chassidim, starts running and pulls everybody after him.

When we wanted to leave, the Rebbitzen came up to me and we talked for some time. She is an elderly woman with a great sense of humour. It was the first time ever that a Rebbitzen came up to us and if we have any questions about Chassidut Kretchnif Jerusalem, we can always refer to her.

After we left Kretchnif, we turned in to Mea Shearim Street and walked through the local market. The market is a total Neturei Karta place and we were actually looking for their synagogue. Of course, we didn't expect a building with a huge sign "Welcome to the Neturei Karta". The graffiti on the walls around the market place are always interesting and you can see the signs of the Neturei Karta. "Zionists out" or "Free Palestine".

At 2.00am in the morning, we weren't too successful in finding the synagogue but, instead, found some other interesting ones. When we passed the Toldot Avraham Yitzchak synagogue, an ambulance came around the corner. Well, the Neturei Karta would say: "A Zionist ambulance". Right away two young Avraham Yitzchak Chassidim ran out of their synagogue in order to see what is going on. Maybe throwing some stones or so. However, when there is an ambulance at sight, no one does anything due to Pikuach Nefesh. So, nothing happened.

We had a great time at the Tishes with many different experiences.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Freezing Shabbat


Weather in Jerusalem is freezing and tonight, temperature will fall below minus. However, this doesn't stop my friend and me from going to the chassidic Tishes. The choice is not so great, as the Admorim of Avraham Yitzchak and Toldot Aharon are still abroad (another week or so).

If we once up in a while went to a short Tish or wouldn't be tempted to stay until the end, we were finally ready to get up early the next morning and go to a synagogue. The synagogues I definitely want to visit are the Mishkenot HaRoim and the nearby Neturei Karta shul. Someone told me that the Neturei Karta has an Ezrat Nashim.

Since George Bush is gone, Jerusalem is much more quiet. The press ran after him to Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) and the security finally went home.

Saving Jerusalem from being divided:

Unfortunately, great rabbis didn't call up the masses for special prayers for Jerusalem. But do we need the rabbis for this ? It is up to all of us how important Jerusalem is in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom - Shabbes Koidesh - שבת שלום ומבורך לכל הקוריאם

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Chassidim and the Holocaust


Every year, January 27th, marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In Germany, January 27th, therefore, is the official Holocaust Remembrance Day. There are no sirens to be heard as in Israel. The only thing Germans do is going to memorial services where politicians or leaders of the Jewish communities give their speeches.

Thousands of books have been written on the Holocaust. However, not too many deal with the religious side of it. The big question mark is still behind the Chassidim. Why did so many Chassidim die during the Holocaust while the Rebbes escaped ? Wouldn't it have been better if the Rebbes had stayed and died with their Chassidim instead of a kind of leaving them alone ? What was the role of the Gerer (Gur) Rebbe when he left Poland ? At the time of the Second World War, the Gerer Rebbe was already a very well known figure and as a celebrity it is easier to flee. But not only Gur has to deal with such a question. What about the Belzer Rebbe ? Today, Chassidut Belz considers the escape of their former Rebbe as a miracle.

It isn't that easy to judge and many chassidic groups have to ask themselves if they reacted right or wrong. Unfortunately, this matter has been totally neglected after the war. There are many books about miraculous escapes of different Rebbes but hardly any book deals with the question of famous Rebbes who were able to escape and left the Chassidim behind.

In this article, I am only mentioning a few different points of view to the subject "Chassidim and the Holocaust". I base the facts on the book of Pesach Schindler who did some research on this issue (The Chassidic Response to the Holocaust). Of course, there are plenty of other books; especially those describing the escapes and survivals of certain Rebbes in detail. Such as the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Halberstam, or the survival of Chassidut Satmar or Bobov.

The fact which Germans until today do not like to hear or are not even being aware of is that thousands of Chassidim died in the Holocaust. They don't know that whole chassidic dynasties were almost wiped out and to tell the truth, not too many of them are interested anyway. Until today, Chassidim are something strange in German society. No wonder because only Chabad set up some branches in the former Nazi country.

Pesach Schindler in his book "The Chassidic Response to the Holocaust":

The majority of the Chassidim considered the Holocaust as a decree from G – d. No one has the right criticizing G – d's judgment and ask questions. All the answers for our questions we are going to receive from the Meshiach. Furthermore, times of suffering are supposed to be the forerunner of Meshiach (there are different interpretations about this statement).

The Grodzisker Rebbe, Rabbi Israel Shapira, said in Treblinka:
We should not question G – d's actions.

The opinion is based on a highly complicated chassidic concept:
Evil has its roots in good. According to the Zohar there is a spark of Kedusha (holiness) even in the "other side".
Meshiach is coming close when Torah and Mitzwot are being kept even in the most evil times. The whole diaspora (Galut) is a Jewish tragedy.

However, there were also different opinions.
Many Chassidim became resistance fighters and even built their own resistance groups. The Belzer Rebbe asked his Chassidim to leave Europe. The same did the Komaner Rebbe. Twenty Chassidim of the Ostrower Rebbe were prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to rescue the life of their Rebbe. In the end, the Nazis shot the Chassidim and the Rebbe.

If the circumstances allowed it, many Chassidim refused to change their chassidic clothing style or to have the beard shaved. Many chassidic Rebbes (Admorim) didn't leave their Chassidim alone and went with them into the gas chambers. Even in Auschwitz – Birkenau the Mitzwot were kept; there still existed prayer services and Mazzot were baked.

And there were also those chassidic Rabbis who did question G – d's actions. If G – d doesn't break His own commandments ?

Rabbi Aharon Rokeach (Belz) was asked if the Jews should not ask G – d for a divine intervention. The Rebbe's response: No, everything happening is already a G – dly decree.

Once someone told me that many Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz asked leading Rabbis in the camp if they couldn't curse the Germans and thus cause them do die. Rabbis even asked G – d for advice and a Bat Kol (according to Rashi it is an echo of a heavenly voice, see Talmud Yoma 9b and Eruvin 13b) responded: NO.
No curses should take place.

There are no answers to the Holocaust. Not even religious answers. It seems like we really have to wait for the Meshiach in order to find out why it happened. For the Chassidim, suffering has not ended. We all know about the war between Gog and Magog. The last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, however, said that already World War II was Gog and Magog and now everything is ready for the arrival of the Meshiach.

And how do the Chassidim refer to the Germans today ?
As you can surely imagine, Germans are not be seen as the greatest friends. I know a Gerer Chassid who was born in Poland and he lost his whole family in the concentration camps. His name is Rabbi Shalom Mark (Markovitch) and he published a small booklet describing his experiences as a child in different camps. He called the booklet: "Choose Life". In his booklet as well as in his speeches, Rabbi Shalom Mark highly criticizes the Germans. He calls them gangsters and murderers. Even if he does meet younger Germans from time to time, the Rabbi still cannot get rid of his mixed feelings about them.

And it is not only the Chassidim who don't want to forgive; also the Israeli national religious have their problems with the Germans. Have you ever seen the present German chancellor Angela Merkel being invited by the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, of by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ?
Fact is that 99% of the chassidic population avoid going to Germany. Chabad is there but many Chabadnikkim have mixed feelings. The problem already starts as soon as you see elderly Germans. Then you always ask yourself what they did during the war. Let alone the new Neonazis walking around today.

A sephardi Chassid told me that although Angela Merkel seems to be quite Israel friendly, this doesn't cause the Jews to forgive the Germans. Until today, many Israelis have difficulties hearing the German language. It always reminds you of something bad or evil. A national religious American born woman said to me that she doesn't ban German products as her mother did. However, she still thinks that there is something evil in the German character and culture. "Germans always want to be superior", she said.

In other words, it is not enough for the Germans running to Jewish memorial services on January 27th. There is more to it than being sorry once a year. Germany has to prove that it is a different country. A democracy fighting anti – Semitism.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Headcover of the Toldot Aharon Women


Eleven years ago, the former Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kahn, passed away. His death was followed by the event that the group members didn't choose the older brother, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kahn, as the new Rebbe, but instead they chose his younger brother, Rabbi David Kahn. The result was that Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov was upset and founded his own group called Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. Many members from Toldot Aharon joined him but, nevertheless, the Toldot Aharon remain the larger group of the two.

The Toldot Avraham Yitzchak still use the Toldot Aharon Sidur, the Kehilla u'Beracha although they later introduced their own Sidur. Furthermore, they even keep the clothing style and it is hard to tell, who is who when you meet them in the streets. Women and men of the two groups are hard to differentiate.

The traditional head cover, I am going to describe, does fit into the two groups and not only Toldot Aharon.

As I mentioned before, you can spot out different types of Toldot Aharon women from far away. The more "rebellious" or in better words, the more modern type with the traditional Yasameh not covering the woman's neck.

The "Yasameh" is a kind of a Shmattes worn on the head. During the week it has a black colour and on Shabbat and the holidays it has a white colour.
It is important to mention though, that there are different kinds of Yasamehs. Some seem to be more like a hat and other look like a small Shmattes. Somehow the headcover shows the identity of a Toldot Aharon woman. As I wrote before, the more modern woman with a headcover not covering her neck. The second type is a Yasameh which has an attached neckcover in the back. Both types are very common among the women.

The third type is a mostly black unusually long head cover reaching with its ends to the breasts. This kind of cover does cover the head and the breasts in one piece. You won't see this type of cover too often but in case you do, you will realize that the woman wearing it keeps the Toldot Aharon Takanot in a very strict way. It is the most conservative way to express one's tradition.

What I do not mention here is the "Spitz". However, it is very common to see them on Shabbat.

What my friend and I also realized was that those women (Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak) wear something under their Yasameh. First, we couldn't figure out what exactly it was and I don't feel like going up to one of the women and asking her what she wears under her headcover. However, eventually we found out and the reason for this is very peculiar to me.

Many of the women have the custom to put a piece of foam under their Yasameh. You can see this at the back of the head. They put it on the head (between the head and the Yasameh) and the foam makes the Yasameh standing up a little. The official reason I heard is that the women think that it is more attractive. I don't know if this is the real reason for it.

What I further noticed is that there are different kinds of foam. In other words, different shapes of foam. For example, there is a rather long piece of foam in the shape of a rectangle (about 3 - 4 cm long). The second kind I noticed was a piece of foam in the shape of a horseshoe (about 2.5 cm).

It goes without saying that most group members of the two groups still shave their hairs one or two days after the wedding. I don't really understand why so many outsiders are so curious about this fact. Once you grow up in such a group, you know exactly what to expect after your wedding. Of course, everybody reacts in a different way when she finally sees herself bald. And I am sure that many of these young girls are in shock. Others take it easy.

I cannot understand why people only asked about the first shaving after the wedding. As this is an ongoing lifelong process, what about the women's feelings after a few months or years ? I do believe that even after five years it has an effect. If good or bad, I cannot say, but it definitely has an effect.

As soon as I have the possibility of speaking to the women more openly, I will let you know more about the headcovers.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Der Rebbe hutt gesugt


Der Rebbe hutt gesugt – Yiddish: The Rebbe said

Our favourite Tishes, Toldot Aharon and Avraham Yitzchak, are only going to take place again in another three weeks or so. Both Rebbes are abroad.

My special subject, writing about one of the most extreme Chassidic groups, the Toldot Aharon, is delayed. On the one hand, this gives us enough opportunities to visit other Tishes and write about the smaller groups of Mea Shearim. Who, outside the chassidic world, knows about the Slonim, Karlin – Stolin or Kretchnif ?

But, on the other hand, my friend and I do miss going to the Toldot Aharon Tishes. There, we met the nicest women and I spoke with quite a few people. It is rather easy to approach them if you speak the haredi language. Not a particular language of course but people simply feel if you are in society or not. Haredi Yeshiva students shouldn't face any problems there.

Lots of haredi experience or not, it does take plenty of time to get closer and have a more private discussion. Especially if you don't live in the Mea Shearim / Ge'ulah neighbourhood. Another reason might be that I am shy and I admit that I think far too much. Instead of asking "Was machste – How are you", I start thinking about the most complicated questions and in the end there is nothing but silence. This once happened to me when a young Toldot Aharon girl approached me, sat down beside me and wanted to talk. But I started thinking and this was it.

Additionally I have to admit that I don't publish everything we are experiencing at the Tishes or in the streets. One reason is that I haven't sorted out all the details and stories, and the second reason is that I simply would never publish everything. In my opinion, the Chassidim have a right of privacy as well. Not everything has to be in the headlines.

As our favourites are gone, we had to look for other options last Friday night. As the whole Dushinsky building was silent and not shaking, we supposed that nothing special was going on and didn't even investigate any further. Instead we walked up Yoel Street and went to the rather small Chassiut Kretchnif. The Krechtnifer Rebbe of Jerusalem is not the only one of the group. Further Kretchnifer Rebbes are to be found in Rehovot, Haifa or Williamsburgh.

The Krechtnif women in Jerusalem keep a certain distance to all visitors from outside Mea Shearim. It takes some time to get in touch but it seems that we are on the way. Last Friday, we were offered cake from the Rebbe's Tish. That's something.

Women from other groups are more open. I have already mentioned the women of Toldot Aharon and should add the one's from Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. They are extremely nice. Of course, you have to go according to their rules and should speak Yiddish or Hebrew. And it goes without saying that someone has to be Jewish. Being Jewish when going to a Tish is an absolute MUST.

What those women do not expect is a total agreement to their Takanot. I once heard a Chabad girl talking to a Toldot Aharon woman and the later didn't criticize the girl. However, in her opinion, only Toldot Aharon and maybe some others like them, keep the Mitzwot "kmo she zarich – as it should be". I wasn't surprised at all to hear such an opinion.

We are not alone searching for Tishes and last Friday is was harder than usual. Only Belz, the Slonim and Kretchnif had Tishes going on. The women's side (Ezrat Nashim) of Kretchnif was busy. Even a Toldot Aharon woman walked in with her two young daughters. Downstairs were about 60 men; Slonim, Toldot Aharon, Satmar and Shomrei Emunim.

The Kretchnifer Rebbe was in a great mood and encouraged the Chassidim to sing with him. He very much emphasizes on participation and welcomes everybody. The Rebbe doesn't make a difference between his Chassidim or someone from Satmar or the Slonim. "Setzen, setzen – sit down, sit down" he always says.

The thing I like most at Kretchnif is the dance of the Rebbe. He usually does it twice and it is very emotional. Before and after, the Chassidim make a circle around the synagogue tables and dance while the Rebbe remains standing at his place at the Tish.
Towards the end, the Rebbe joins the circle and he dances with such a speed that the other Chassidim have problems to keep up with him. However, I really like when he dances by himself.

If you are looking for an enthusiastic Tish, you should definitely visit Kretchnif. Another advantage is that it is not packed with hundreds of Chassidim.

At about 2.00 am, the Tish was over and the Chassidim accompanied the Rebbe home. I guess he lives in the same building upstairs.

When we left the building, we faced a rather strange incident. Walking back a few Meters to Yoel Street, we saw a kind of police car standing there. It wasn't really a police car. I said on the car in Hebrew letters: "Shmira Ke'Halacha – Guide according to Halacha".

The Chassidim weren't too happy about a car driving around Mea Shearim on Shabbat and as soon as they started approaching it, the car moved a few meters further. I couldn't spot out the driver.
Apparently, the Chassidim couldn't understand what was going on with this strange car but nothing further happened.

If no Tish is taking place at Dushinsky next Erev Shabbat, we will definitely be back at Kretchnif.

The Kretchnifer Rebbe usually gives two Derashot (Torah teachings) in the middle of his Tish. His third speech is more personal and it mostly includes his experiences with other chassidic rabbis.

Last Friday, I was able to listen to his first Derasha. The problem is that he usually doesn’t speak loud enough but this time, he started with a weak voice but got louder and more enthusiastic.

His Derasha was about "Tefilah – prayer".
The Israelites were taken out of Egypt because they never gave up praying and always prayed with a high Kavanah (concentration). One cannot just look at the clock and say: "Oh, time for Mincha".
It is important to prepare oneself before prayer and pray from the heart. However, never give up praying.

The Kretchnifer Rebbe at his Tish last Purim

Saturday, January 5, 2008



The below mention Pollard demonstration does NOT take place tomorrow (Sunday) but on the day after tomorrow, MONDAY 7th January 2008.

Location: Paris Square in Jerusalem

Time: 2.30pm

Friday, January 4, 2008

Free Pollard


Next week, George Bush is coming for a visit to the Middle East. On Jan. 9, he will be in Israel for a few days. He is due to meet Prime Minister Olmert and the Palestinian Abu Mazen.

American Jewish religious organizations have already asked President Bush to cancel his visit to Israel. Among others, Chabad says that the Olmert government has no right to exist at all.

According to my experience, those people making such a statement are right, and the majority of Israelis doesn't want Olmert. However, until the next Knesset elections we cannot really get rid of him and another problem is that is there hardly anyone to replace him. Most Knesset members are crooks and just think about their money.

For us it is ridiculous that an American government is telling us what to do. What do Bush or Condoleeca Rice know about Israel and its citizens ?
And what do they know about Jerusalem ? Have they ever lived here ?
No one wants Olmert and George Bush is unwanted here next week. At least according to the Israelis citizens.

Just in time for his visit, the followers of Jonathan Pollard are planning a big event next Sunday. It is going to take place at the Jerusalem Paris Square. Pollard's wife Esther will be there as well and the plan is to rename Paris Square into "Jonathan Pollard Square".

Whoever is interested, the event is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 7, 2008 at 2.30pm.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Interview with a Toldot Aharon Girl


By surfing the Net, I found an interesting Blog article where Eva interviewed a girl from the chassidic group of Toldot Aharon. It is very worth reading:

From my own experience I know how hard it is to get in touch with their members and being able to ask such questions, but Eva was very lucky.

The last Nazi Murderers


The Simon Wiesenthal - Center has launched a new website in order to find the last Nazi - murderers and take them to court:

The case of Erich Steidtmann:

The head of the Wiesenthal - Centers, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, believes that the Nazi - murderer Aribert Heim (Dr. Death) is still alive:

The case of Aribert Heim:

The Nazi Aribert Heim in 1959