MEGXIT

There is a corollary to the Yiddish proverb “Little children don’t let you sleep; grown children don’t let you live”. I would suggest that it read: “little children run their parents’ lives; grown children run their own lives”. As a parent, who adjusted to this corollary decades ago, I was served a poignant reminder of it last week. Like so many others, I read about the decision of Harry and Meghan to leave the “family business” and strike it out on their own. Unlike so many others, I am neither supportive nor opposed to their choice. As I rabbi, I cannot help but see their choice in terms of Judaism and its leaders.

Some 70 years ago, as those who somehow managed to survive Hitler’s “hell on earth” were rebuilding their lives, an American Jew paid a visit to the Satmar Rebbe who had recently arrived in New York. The visitor to the Satmar Rebbe was beside himself. His son had strayed from the path of Torah Judaism. Rather than rising early to go to synagogue to satiate himself with the spiritual, he was now staying up late to go to the tavern to satiate himself with spirits. Whereas once, his reputation was such, that any number of rabbis knew him by name, now his reputation was such, that any number of women knew him by name. The Poker Table had replaced the Shabbos Table. In short, he was a bum. The father wanted to disown his wayward son, and he was seeking the advice of the Satmar Rebbe on how to go about doing so. “Heaven forfend” exclaimed the Satmar Rebbe to the disconsolate father. A child, you don’t disown! A child is a gift from HaShem. How can you despise a gift from HaShem? Children do not come with guarantees.

Down the street from where we lived in New Jersey, there was a nice, quiet Jewish couple. If they did attend synagogue services, it must have been at another congregation, because never in the 20 years I served as rabbi at that pulpit, did I ever see them at services. Once and only once, did they turn to me for help. There had been a death in the family, and they asked if I would officiate at the funeral. I was there for them and did what I could to help them through their loss. In gathering information, I asked my neighbor what his father did for a living. Without blinking an eye, he told me that his father was a Lieutenant for Abner (Longy) Zwillman, a Jewish Mafioso of renown. Thinking back to this neighbor, serves as a reminder of a different nature, that children do not come with a guarantee. There are good, decent law-abiding citizens who were brought into this world by parents of ill repute. On a totally different level, we are constantly reminded by the Jewish world of today, “this is not your father’s Judaism”.  There is a growth of congregations and kosher restaurants opening in newly established observant communities, where two generations ago, neither Shabbat nor a kosher kitchen played a role in their families. Nowhere is it etched in stone, nor should we assume that children retain the values and beliefs of their parents.
  
There is a fable found in the writing of Gluckel of Hameln. It tells of a mother bird and her three little fledglings. There was a river to cross which was simply beyond the flying capability of the young birds. The only solution was for the mother bird to take one of her offspring in her claws and carry it across the river and safely deposit it in dry land and then circle back to transport the next offspring. As the mother bird was halfway across with the fledgling in her claws, she remarked to her child, “look how I am struggling and risking my life on your behalf.  When you are grown up, will you do as much for me and provide for me in my old age?”  The fledgling replied, “Only bring me to safety, and when you are old, I shall do everything you ask of me.”
Immediately, the mother bird dropped the fledgling, leaving it to fall to its death. Swooping back, the mother bird transported her second child. Again, she asked “will you do for me and provide for me in my old age?  The second child gave the same answer only to meet the same fate. Carrying the third child in its claws, the mother posed the very same question. “Mother,” answered the third fledgling. “The best I can tell you is that just as you have been there for me, so too will I be there for my children”. And with that, the mother bird carried her third child to safety.

The latest news out of Britain should serve as a reminder, that contrary to Jewish teaching and tradition, it is not always true that “Ma’asei Avot Siman L’Vanim”  or the actions of the parents impact upon the children. Children do not make the dreams parents have for them come true, nor do they necessarily meet their parent’s expectations. There are honorable parents who have children who are embarrassments to society and there are honorable children who have parents who are embarrassments to society. Above all, the obligation of parents is toward their children; the obligation of children is toward their children.                                              

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.