People write about pet peeves all the time but I couldn’t call this issue a pet peeve. Firstly, the very word “pet” connotes something beloved, cherished and possibly furry. When I think of this matter, that if I wouldn’t care about my blood pressure, would have me exploding all over the place, the only furry thing I see is Bigfoot – the most apt description I can think of when trying to describe the crude, humorless, uneducated, unkempt, “chossid”.
For the record, I am not a self-hating Jew – ‘The woman doth protest too much’ aside. I am actually a proud Jewess, except for the fact that MY Judaism doesn’t sync with what seems to have been accepted as “the world’s” Judaism. I consider myself fortunate to have received an exemplary Bais Yaakov education which was generously supplemented by the ideals and virtues of being raised by authentic middle-of-the-road orthodox Jewish parents who introduced me to no “shtick” whatsoever.
My father does not wear a shtreimel, even though his father and grandfather did wear one as do one of his sons, his son in law and most of his grandchildren. Yet, my father taught me by example how to honor and live by our code of ethics; from the most basic neighborly greeting even (or especially) if your neighbor is a non-Jew (gasp!) or a Jew unlike you (double gasp!) to the absolutely no negotiable ten commandments, like honoring G-d with all your actions, honoring one’s parents, honoring the Shabbos, no theft, false witness and jealousy, to name a few.
My father always had a very strict moral code which did not affect his sense of humor, his sense of fun, his ability to express love to his family – his wife and children and his determination to rise each morning before dawn to daven Shachris with a minyan, put in a full day’s work to return home for a quick supper and homework (when applicable) with his children and then to an evening Shiur before Ma’ariv. When he fell into bed at night exhausted, he could sleep – knowing he hadn’t taken anything that wasn’t his or that wasn’t coming to him legally and halachically – be it from the government or his fellow man.
Naturally, this meant that we had “less than” others but only in a very technical way. As a child it isn’t easy to accept that you are not getting everything all your peers receive but there must have been something there to replace the materialism because all of us, one by one, grew to be the kind of people who make do, live within our means and fully appreciate that which we have. In this way, we are richer than most wealthy people. We had all the basics and then some, by the grace of G-d and hard-working, earnestly money saving, parents.
We grew up in a small circle of close knit family with our beloved grandfather as patriarch. For him we could never do enough. He was so lovable and sweet and so not judgmental. It’s simply shocking how FAR some of his grandchildren – but mostly great grandchildren and next generation have come from his way of being, from his way of thinking, from his way of serving our Creator.
Our grandfather was the quintessential shtetl chossid. He was a bona fide good Jew, who meant well and did well. He suffered unbelievable sadness, hardship and difficulty in his lifetime yet he rose to each challenge with such dignity, grace and fortitude. He would daven with such concentration and feeling. Whether he sang Shabbos zemiros or Yom Tov shticklach, he sang with his full heart and voice, literally using his full voice, which he could do, having been a chazzan-for-hire in his younger years. He was a dedicated Mikvah Yid for years, doing much of the menial work himself, considering it an honor to share the personal space of the Rebbes and holy men of his generation. His reward was a chock full of warm and funny, serious and sometimes sad stories which he would regale us with forever and now we do our best to impart those to our children, these legendary tales of miracles and incredible piety our grandfather witnessed first-hand.
Yet, for all this, he was a chassidishe Yid. A chassidishe Yid who greeted women, nodded, smiled and even inquired about the family. His humanity did not frighten him as it seems to all today’s young men.
G-d forbid they look at their mothers. G-d forbid they look at their sisters. G-d forbid the under-5 year old girls wear short or no socks! G-d forbid the boys wear tee shirts. Somehow everything became flirtatious! Everything is provocative and every darn thing is seen as potentially evil. It’s like they see the world through negative lenses where even if things have a 50/50 chance of going either way, it is assumed that no one can control themselves and we need to nix everything. Like the popular slogan in the war against drugs? “Just say no”. The more Chasidic one is, the more inclined he or she (yep! Ugh.) will be to “say no”. Not short clothes, not long clothes, not loose clothes, not tight clothes, not, not, and more not, in every possible area, ranging from education, extracurricular activities and sports, cleanliness, and basic manners.
These men need serious help. I don’t know how or why they have come to such conclusions but their minds are terribly warped and in this all-out effort to be “good” they have literally become insane, dragging their innocent wives and children with them into the abyss known as holier-than-thou.
I believe that Hell has a special placed reserved for these men (just follow the signs … Hotter than Thou …)
We all know how Chasidism began and why. When so many good Jews were feeling disconnected because they could not spend their entire lives devoted to learning the holy Torah and were happy to go out and work to support their families – if only the work they did COULD support their families – whether by carpentry or apprenticeship, grocers, traveling salesman and other professions and felt removed from G-d and from holiness, the Ba’al Shem Tov began a movement of serving G-d through joy.
So what if you couldn’t read – which meant you couldn’t pray! It was okay if you didn’t or couldn’t learn all day and chose to work instead! All you needed to feel connected and feel spiritually alive was happiness! Happiness that could be achieved through all the traditional methods of song, dance and spirited living.
That was where Chasidism began and would have remained, if not for the people – the people who RUIN EVERYTHING GOOD!! The ones who USE every and any available opportunity to run a scam, make a buck, turn a small group into a billion dollar money making Chassidus with private jets, entourages and more real estate than Forbe’s Richest Tycoons ever listed. (All in the Rebetzin’s name, of course)
The cliché’s are plentiful and we’ve heard them all…”Frum is krum”, etc. Yet watching it happen and decimate the family you have always loved and respected, observe as it falls to such levels of hypocrisy and falsehood, you go from tolerating to loathing, is a very heartbreaking experience.
I have had the misfortune of crossing paths with such distorted and fallacious Chasidism. Men, (or shall I just refer to them as males?) who as little boys were raised in the same manner – more or less – as I, who were good, obedient children who were a source of nachas to their parents, who, by way of Yeshiva as older boys or marriage into pseudo-frum families have adapted to their surroundings and quickly become money-hungry, support-me-and-my-ten-kids-for-life-or-else and disdainfully thumb their noses at their own siblings, their cousins, aunts, uncles and even YES, even, their Holocaust surviving grandparents who sacrificed everything for them, never dreaming they would someday be their grandchildren’s scorn.
Some of the horrific acts I’ve seen perpetuated by the alleged elite of our generation and that which follows is a misconstrued Judaism where the end does not justify the means. Some basic examples include being religious on “yenem’s cheshbon” – forcing others (or trying to) to abide by their corrupt version of Yiddishkeit. Doing a good thing (focusing solely on that aspect) while harming another human being(s) with action or speech.
Saddest of all, is the state of Chasidic leadership; almost to the point where can we blame the masses for their boorish behavior! If the leaders are fighting, shaming one another and engaging in any sort of questionable activity, how can we expect the “little man” to know better? Which brings me to this conclusion, as painful as it may be to say or hear, that the absence of a Rebbe in my life (one who would rule on every little decision made in my life) is what saved me from becoming a Chossid shoyteh. It IS possible to have Da’as Torah in one’s life without turning it all over to a Basar Vadom who simply “inherited” a rabistiva from a deceased father or uncle, or perhaps one who “just took it”, no questions asked and became a charismatic YET EMPTY VESSEL leader, driving thousands upon thousands of would-be good Jews to insanity.
As a human being, I love the fact that I can easily laugh at myself and my mistakes. I try not to take myself so seriously. As a Jewish woman, the ability to laugh at oneself is the pivotal first step to reconciling differences; with family too but also with Jews of all types.
There are Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Litvaks and Americans, Russian unaffiliated Jews and all sorts of returnees. There are Geyrim and FFB’s and Zionists and the Yemenites. And for every single faction there is another which is ANTI that particular group. And each one strives to serve G-d in the way they had been taught by their forebears. Still, IMHO, it is by and large the ersatz Chasidim who have left massive amounts of embarrassment and shame, Chillul Hashem and destruction in their wake as a result of pig-headedness and naiveté.
This is what an uneducated, spoiled, selfish, group of people look like, who in practicing their Judaism, “serve” up human sacrifices to G-d as they pat themselves on the back and shout that THEIR REBBE is greater than all other Rebbes.
Woefully, the same concept where scores of Jews felt alienated from G-d because they could not learn is now in full practice once again! With all that Chasidism was meant to be, all its beauty and potential (and there IS tremendous beauty and potential in it), we are back to where we were before it all began. To make matters worse, we have hundreds more reasons to fight each other, all in the name of frumkeit, the image of the Rebbe, the honor of the Chassidus, etc.
Many, if not most of today’s Chasidim are anything but happy. No matter what financial status one may be in, there is a continuous contest of living up to the Jones’s or, as the case may be, the Greenstein’s. The one-upmanship can be described as kindergartener’s trying to outdo each other with yachts and jets. Peoples’ energy levels are at an all-time low while their anxiety levels are at an all-time high and out of control, with too many requiring to be medicated.
There are, however, a handful of people who consider themselves to be Chasidic, whom one might describe as poor men with rich souls.
Few and far between, they live their lives and mind their own business. They are toiling in Avodas Hashem every day and all day and have no extra needs or wants. They shun the spotlight and avoid attention. They truly run from kavod and those who know them, know that they are the real thing. These are the people we should seek out when we need guidance or blessing. The ones who run from the horse and pony act we call being “Rebbish” and don’t keep looking over their shoulders to see if anyone “sees” their righteousness and follows.
If nothing changes, I’m inclined to say, “Keep the faith, lose the Chassidus.”
Definitely Not A Rebbetzin