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