THE NEW R&B

For the last several decades, we Jews have been privy to or heard about situations where Jewish youngsters raised in good Reform and Conservative homes, or those who were disenfranchised from our religion and heritage altogether, eschewed their upbringing and went “whole hog,” ending up in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Chabad, Breslov, or “no-name” long-beard and peyos (side locks) Judaism.

It was with a great deal of interest, therefore, that I read about how one young man from the “radical” Satmar sect of Chassidim – the grandson of the  Satmar Rebbe no less – abandoned Satmar, his family, his wife, and his infant daughter to become a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. How ironic! Satmar, a sect that totally rejects Israel, in that it believes that a Jewish State can only come into being with the arrival of the Messiah, has a descendant of its leading family prepared to give his life for the safety and well-being of that very same country.

Chaim Meisels grew up totally proficient in Yiddish, severely limited in English, and with Hebrew that revolved around  prayers such as “Ashrei,” “Barchu,” and the language and parlance of religious texts – all in perfectly intoned Eastern European Hebrew. In addition to the challenge of having to travel through time in order to update himself to accommodate present day Israeli culture, Chaim now had the task of learning to speak contemporary Hebrew. Nor is Chaim the only one ever to desert his past. There are hundreds if not more “Chaims” here in this country as well as elsewhere who have rejected and bolted. What does this tell us?

First and foremost, we can deduce that Satmar and other insular groups are not without their own internal problems. Children do not come into this world with warranties or guarantees that that, for better or worse, they will follow the footsteps of their families as well as the communities of their formative years, where they were raised and educated. Just as open communities have been known to produce children who totally reject the values of their parents, so too do secluded communities raise children, albeit in seemingly smaller numbers, who totally reject the values of their parents.

As much as some of us would like to believe otherwise, we can’t live our children’s lives for them. Yes, children lack experience, and therefore have been known to have judgement that is questionable at best. And yes, children make mistakes that can and sometimes will affect them for the rest of their lives. But as tragic as this may be, there might not always be an alternative. When Chaim Meisels displayed signs of rejection and bolting – he opened up to his rebbe and came clean, confessing that he had not observed Shabbat for years and that he no longer felt part of Satmar – the rebbe had a “brilliant” solution; all of Chaim’s problems could be solved through a wife. And so, at the age of 17, there was Chaim standing under the chuppah with a woman he had met with for 50 minutes (no need to worry, her parents questioned Chaim thoroughly – in the realm of Talmud). The only problem was that instead of bolting and rejecting parents, siblings and a community, Chaim bolted from and rejected a young wife and infant daughter as well.

Rejecting and bolting is far from a Jewish phenomenon. The Amish, along with similar sects (l’havdil or perish the comparison), face similar problems where children reject and bolt. Restraint, a basic human need, has to be implemented by parents and society with caution. Restraint is very individualistic, especially when it comes to religion. For some, the ability to restrain is synonymous with the ability to maintain. It is welcome, for it provides a framework for everyday life. Contrary to what many of us would like to believe, a healthy life is a life with a set of rules. The only questions are how many rules, and how pervasive are those rules. For others, restrain is synonymous with disdain. And that is exactly what happened with Chaim Meisels. Other than perhaps some “niggunim” (Satmar melodies) and perhaps some foods emblematic of his past, Satmar, along with its values, is quite possibly viewed with contempt and revulsion by Chaim as well as others who rejected and bolted.

For many of us, the Chaim Meisels story holds great interest; for others, particularly family and community, the Chaim Meisels story is a source of embarrassment and shame.

 

 

  • Typically, R&B is understood to mean Rhythm and Blues.
    For this article, R&B means rejecting and bolting

JUST BEYOND THE BORDER

I very much doubt that any of you reading this article will be surprised to learn that an Israeli grassroots initiative is underway to raise 600,000 Israeli Shekel or $150,000 dollars  in order to purchase emergency aid including food, medication and supplies for refugee Syrian children. Within the first forty- eight hours after launching the campaign, over a quarter of a million shekel or over $60,000 dollars was raised from over 1,600 donors.
As much as digging deep into our pockets whenever disaster strikes seems to be part of our Jewish DNA, perhaps some introspection is in order to find out why we behave the way we do:
Without even realizing it, Jews proudly espouse the adage that life is not fair – in the very best sense. Whereas most others resort to this adage in order to lament, Jews subconsciously celebrate the fact that life is not fair. Jews instinctively realize that had the tables been turned and Israel found itself with thousands of refugee children as a result of civil war, our Arab neighbors would be dancing in the streets and firing rifles in the air to celebrate. Jewish reaction to the suffering of children and other human beings – including enemy children and other human beings is to figure out how much aid is needed and what is the best way to provide that aid. When disaster strikes an enemy, Arabs celebrate; Jews calibrate. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a fabulous phrase in the Torah that most Jews are completely unaware of. Yet, for us Jews, it is second nature. Hagar and Ishmael are driven way by Abraham. Ishmael is about to expire from thirst. There are those who question Divine intervention at that point, in that there is no question in their mind that today’s world would be so much simpler had Ishmael been left to die in the wilderness. But rather than simply tell us that HaShem heard Ishmael’s cries, the Torah reports that HaShem heard Ishmael’s cries where he (Ishmael) was at the time. Ishmael was saved irrespective of the type of person he would grow into as an adult; Ishmael was saved because he was a child on the brink of death. Money is being raised for victims of Syria’s civil war irrespective of the fact that quite possibly some of the recipients of this emergency aid may one day become terrorists or at the very “least” enemies of Israel; money is being raised for victims of Syria’s civil was because they are children who are suffering.
It is the Book of Proverbs (Sefer Mishlei) that teaches us not to rejoice at the downfall of one’s enemy. Most see this as a most obvious teaching. Perhaps the Book of Proverbs falls short. Perhaps the Book of Proverbs should have also taught us not to cry at the downfall of one’s enemy. Sympathy or even empathy is totally useless when others are in need, especially when they are in harm’s way and are crying out for help. As beautiful as shedding a tear may be and as heartwarming as an embrace may be, hold back the tear and save the hug until after medical aid is administered, those in harm’s way are given nourishment, wounds are tended to, bathing takes place, clean clothes are provided and the victims are safe and secure from harm including the scorching heat of summer and the dreadful cold of winter. What so many seem to fail to understand is that in a crises situation, motion trumps emotion.
My yarmulke goes off to those responsible for this initiative. At present, they refer to their campaign as JUST BEYOND THE BORDER. My fervent hope and prayer is not that more Israelis and Jews throughout the world come on board and participate and donate – of that I haven’t the slightest doubt. My hope and prayer is that Syrian communities throughout the United States, Canada and Europe go just beyond the border and begin to help their own people as well.