Sunday, June 21, 2009

But I'm not the only one...

.בחלומי, והנה-גפן לפני
I'm at tish. It is quiet - this is what they mean when they say “dead quiet”. You can hear the knife cutting into the big challah that the Rebbe just blessed. It is being cut in many pieces then distributed to the congregants standing on the bleachers all around. Everyone gets to eat a little piece, a leftover, shereim, from the Rebbe. Sitting at the head of the table the Rebbe starts to sing a slow Chasidic song. The words escape meaning but the tune is full of lust and want – nothing earthly - spiritual, inexplicable, at least by me. I sway along with the crowd. It is hot, sweaty, and not very comfortable leaning on the guy in front of me while the guy in the back leans on me. But who cares. My eyes are closed. I love this part.
The Rebbe gets up, claps his hand together with his head cocked sideways and upwards a motion usually retained for the depressed. He may very well be depressed, but no one cares. I certainly don't care. The religious high, the ecstasy, is real.
The dance stops abruptly – the Rebbe sat down. It is time to bentch. With bated breath the whole congregation waits to see who the Rebbe will give the silver goblet to make the required blessing. Will it be the old semi-rival Rebbe that came to show his respect to the younger but more influential counterpart or will he give it to the brother in-law that has finally broken to come pay his dues. Although these games nauseate me, when I think rationally, now I am one of them. Now I care.
.בחלומי, והנה שלשה סלי חרי
His hair is coming down for the first time in his life. We are all excited, the older sisters, the little aunts and uncles, my wife and I. Everyone but the three year old whose hair we are cutting today. He is happy with his new tiny tzitzis we got him, he adores the alef beis puzzle set that the married uncles got him as a gift and he is quite enamored with the attention bestowed upon him. He is ambivalent about the felt kapel that has to remain on his head now, forever.
Avrumi was excited when we first bought the kapel with his name written on the side, he begged to wear it every now and then, but today he threw it off. “Maybe the clip’s bothering him” the grandmother helpfully suggested, referring to the clip that keeps the kapel from sliding down the long combed set of hair.
But as much as the kapel bothered him the shaver petrified him. And that was even before the machine was switched on and the noise started. The neighbor from upstairs who is the designated barber in our building, puts little Avrumi on the table and forms his peyos to be out of his hair. The child hates it, while he doesn’t cry, yet. The tears are already forming, and the frown is heart wrenching. But, it is for his own good. It’s the pain of growing. He is getting closer to adulthood. Now, since he turned three he gets to wear the distinct Jewish symbolic look.
For a moment I think that the first celebrations in the life of a boy is cutting, genitalia first, then the hair. The boy doth protest but the parents celebrate. Such is life. I had to go through this, so did my father, his father, and so on. I can't complain too much, it is, after all, nachas.
.בחלומי, הנני עומד על
Check out was at 11am. The suitcase I entrusted with the receptionist and was left with 13 hours to kill until the flight. There was one place I hadn’t visited this time in Jerusalem, underhandedly I was trying to avoid it all along, not even wanting to think about it.
There’s no point in going there, I rationalized, it’s not that I’m going to pray by the Wall, and there isn’t much else to do there. On the other hand, the previous time I had been there, back when I was in Yeshiva, this place symbolized everything that I believed in. while some in my family seem this place as the antithesis to consecration of God’s name I knew that this place talked to me – this is where I felt God’s presence. I really did. But now, things have changed. As I walked in the huge plaza after passing the relatively newly installed security station I felt naked. I wasn’t used to walking these holy stones without the full regalia on. The lack of a hat and long overcoat made me consciously aware of my change. I walked slowly, taking it in. nothing has changed.
It was still the same wall, the same people, the same prayers books and the same mendicants hunting for the next big meal. I stood a few hundred feet away from the kosel, the great white wall adorned with green shrub lazily imitating the body movement of the people below and decorated with cracks filled with paper in all colors and sizes, and searched for my inner Jewish soul.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
“You can’t discard feelings” the rebbe told me last night. “What you call feelings, or instinct, is in other words your ‘soul’!”
That place still kept pulling me to itself. The power of dead myths. It may have died in my brain but I wanted to see it dead. Or Not.
“Your brain”, the rebbe explained, “is constantly looking to compartmentalize any new information it gets to make it fit what it already knows. That is why so many times you process information you get wrongly to make it fit your weltanschauung”.
“Maybe. Maybe your brain is the culprit here.” I didn't say it.
Around me a group of fevering young man dancing in circle, asserting their allegiance to the king of kings. A group of Breslovers paired with young hippies, probably Americans, dancing. I looked on, numb. What I felt, I now realize, was the same thing other people feel just a few hundred feet away in the Al Aqsa mosque, or thousands of miles away in churches, museums, burial sites and stadiums across the globe.
.ויוסיפו עוד שנוא אותו, על-חלומותיו
And I have a dream too. In this dream all of the above is gone.
Without the above and much more I am not me and I'm not entirely sure that I would like the alternative me, but it would not bother me in the least bit if all of it is gone. Gone by choice, not by force. If people, my people, start realizing that they are immersing themselves in silliness first class, utter rubbish and shit loads of nothing. If only. Then those that do get the revelation if they would only be a little more daring, dare tell others how they feel, think and act. Dare make a change. Dare to start with their own families, their own kids.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us.
I dream of walking the great Shul where the Rebbe had his headquarters and bemoaning its emptiness. I want to feel a tinge of regret at the loss of the little good and hope it gave to the congregants and then rejoice in the loss, in the gain of normalcy, education, happiness, morality and livelihood. The gain of truth, the sad, stark TRUTH.
.ונראה, מה-יהיו חלומותיו


  1. Allein Allein, But not the only one...

  2. They're sharing a drink they called loneliness, but it's better than drinking alone.

  3. Excellent piece! Evocative and well-done. Keep up the good work.


  4. When I lived in Israel, I went to the Wall with such emunah. Today, 20 years later, I am an atheist but there is a small part of me that wishes it was all real, wishes I could still believe.

  5. Beautiful piece!

    The only thing i don't get is, how in the world can you enjoy a Tish when you know it is all rubbish? I would feel like i am participating in the worship of a rebbe, that inhereted his followers, not at his own merit. while the meaning of the song i detest, along with any message the rebbe may want to deliver. I could never stop myself from thinking these thoughts, and just enjoy the moment.

  6. A few weeks ago I came across your blog I skimmed through and it was sometimes entertaining and sometimes, funny but most of times it was riveting, I must give praise on your writing ability and your ability to discern facts from fiction. Myself as product of the Satmer Chasidic upbringing you reminded me off my adolescence years, when I used to go to the Tish on Bedford Ave, but you know it is nothing different then a born again Christen who speaks in tong, they feel Gods present as much as the Chasidim, and every other religion has similar experiences the science behind the experience is well documented. as for yourself do you ever consider yourself as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and how do want it to end, do you want your tombstone to read “here is entombed Dr. Jekyll who always know Mr. Hyde is within his grasp but decided to stay as a flag bearer for Dr. Jekyll” isn’t your inaction a copout to your fear of the outside world.

  7. Jay,

    I can only speak for myself, but u make it sound that it should be an easy decision to leave a wife and kids. Ur assertions that "your inaction a copout to your fear of the outside world" is totally ridiculous.

  8. CK
    Far from it, I know how hard it is to take the step, I did it, was it easy? No, but it is rewarding when I look at my grown children and I know they are free to think and use their own intellect. In reality I am flabbergasted by the raw intellect Shtreimel, exhibits I couldn’t read 5th grade level when I left the community, and remember there was no internet, so I had to go to the library to do research on any topic, but perseverance is part of the natural selection. And I am only trying to ignite his desires to be completely free mind and “body”, as to his family, I am confident with Shtreimels’ intelligence he will find the best solution for his family, but there needs to be a solution, living a lie your whole life is worst then being locked up in 4X4 cell, it is more like being in a casket and storing your other family members in the same mausoleum.

  9. Jay,

    If that was your intention, then i apologies for the harsh language i used. I totally agree with your perception of how living a life of lies feels.

    I just wonder did u have a wife and kids when u left?

  10. CK
    No I was single, when I left the community it was not common at all, I, met my wife eight years after I left, she did not have a religious up bringing, and for ten years I did not have any contact with any NY Jew, and that is why I understand that for him it would be a herculean effort to pull it off, but each year he waits it would be harder on himself and his family.

  11. Jay, more than once I sat down and looked deep inside myself for the real reason why I remain. I have yet to formulate a comprehensive thesis. Experience has taught me that writing helps me gather my thoughts but in this case try as I may I haven't gotten it complete.

    The pros and cons aren't so simple. But, what I did come upon after so many trying hours, is that people only leave when they feel they can't go on any longer. I keep on pushing, and I've gotten so used to it that I cannot imagine living any other way.

    Let me just say this though, had you been married with kids you may have ended up like me, or worse, persuaded yourself that Orthodoxy is the way - cognitive dissonance is a wonderful drug, it works.

    Thanks for sticking it up for me...

  12. Shtreimel
    I took a few hours to digest and evaluate my own reasons what pushed me to take the step and leave the community, your conjecture is in all probability accurate, myself I had a life changing event, and I came to the conclusion, that no matter what I will do in the community from that day forward I will not be equal as any other Satmer Williamsburg inhabitant. Therefore, I left and I presume that ninety nine percent of people who leave had some life-changing event and it made sense for them to cross the line, and not look back. To be honest I did reflect if I would have been married with children if I would had been strong enough to make the break with or without the family, the answer is probably no, but here is were my contention starts yes I was not educated I did not have a 5th grade level, reading, writing, math, or science, I am not joking when I took a pre GED test that was my score therefore, I would had this fear of not succeeding but you are way ahead then the normal kid who decides that my life is miserable and I will leave you are an intellect with abilities to succeed way beyond your current self imposed limits.

    As to the cognitive dissonance pill, I agree that you could claim that I am dissonance after I left I was trying to justify the lack of observance with all type arguments.

  13. Jay,
    Just one comment: not leaving when one has a family is not necessarily a lack of strength. Think of the responsibilities towards them and the guilt of leaving. I would rephrase it is all.

  14. "The gain of truth, the sad, stark TRUTH."

    You mean be a heroin addict like John Lennon? That TRUTH?


  16. On many of the "doubter's blogs" (for lack of a better term), I'm sometimes struck by a pretty big irony: so many of the folks who've 'crossed over,' whether they've only recently begun to doubt, or are in the late stages of advanced skepticism, or have completely left frum life/thought behind---are surprisingly rigid, cavalier or contemptuous of anyone who hasn't [yet] arrived at their own exact degree of 'rational thought'... which is in the end, just like so many BT's or born-again Christians---"why do you stubbornly resist the obvious One Truth that I've just accepted?"!

    Some people have discovered or arrived at the 'truth' of not blindly believing that which is, they feel, rationally unsupportable or sometimes just plain silly. Fine---trust me, I get that concept---but that same cool rationalism ought to also take into account human nature, individual needs and the differing complexities of different people's lives.
    Anyone who would just leave their family because they have to be 'true' to themselves or their beliefs---and this on matters largely abstract; your young kids are innocently unconcerned with whether, deep down, you believe in kosher or hashgacha pratis or kabbalah, they just need you to tickle them & kiss them goodnight & admire their drawings---such a person's actions are arguably the opposite of honest, noble, truth-seeking. Free, unfettered, ethical thought--untainted by superstition, political correctness or ancient bias---ought to take all this other stuff--other people's feelings, committments, social entanglements---into account, no?

  17. If someone who is married and comes from a chassidishe family (or a very yeshivash one) and becomes a skeptic. What should he/she do ? He/She should immmediately use BIRTH CONTROL !!!!

    Weather you have 1 or 7 children, the main thing is not to have anymore !!!!

    This is a symptom of still believing in the religion !!!

    If your spouse complains that he/she wants more kids just tell him/her that you cannot handle more children.

    If he/she shleps you to the ruv and complains, just tell him to daven for you that you should have the Emunah to have 15 plus children.

    It seems that Skeptics (see GH) love children.

    It's one thing to live a lie. It's another thing to perpetuate it.

  18. JRS

    If your post is directed towards my post, then I have an obligation to execrate your assumptions about me, actually in forty years I never debated anybody as to the validity of the Jewish religious, or any other beliefs nor encouraged cutting the umbilical cord. As thirty five years ago a life changing event occurred which let me down to this road, but six months ago another life changing event occurred which made me follow some specific news back in the Satmer community, as a curiosity I found this and other blogs, but here is were you are mistaken me, I never was “rigid, cavalier or contemptuous of anyone who hasn't [yet] arrived at their own exact degree of 'rational thought” in fact only after reading most of Shtreimels’ writings I concluded that he already passed the speed bump the die is already hardened and his beliefs are set in stone. The reason why I inquired [not demanded] of, is very simple, in my humble option Shtreimel is not just an other blogger who espouses a particular view he actually has extraordinary abilities to discern between different views and come to a view in a extraordinary way. In my view, Shtreimel has the ability to be another Moshe Mendelson, or Buruch Spinoza, so please do not assail me, I could not care less what ever other people do.

  19. "Shtreimel has the ability to be another Moshe Mendelson"

    And four of six children baptised.

  20. JP
    Stop twisting my words you know better.

  21. And I know where all this skeptical baloney leads.

  22. Funny how you wrote about the opsherin. We didn't do them in our family because it wasn't our minhag (though I hear the current generation of haredi sephardim are now going wild over these type of customs) but my nephews all had them because there mother is of hungarian stock.

    It never occured to me that it could be traumatic for a kid, it's just hair and it doesn't hurt like a bris, I never actually saw my nephews hair getting cut so don't know how to react to that.

    Anyway I'm sure they've since had other overriding traumas

  23. The funny thing is, that the traditional hassidic literature that I have been exposed to is extremely allegorical personalized and symbolic... I always hated it, because it wasn't straightforward and honest, but one need not be a fundamentalist to find value in it. There's also a lot of richness in ritual that doesn't one to believe that god is "a single parent who writes books" (forgot source of quote). It's starting out as a fundamentalist that can ruin the taste.

    Jay wrote:
    "but you know it is nothing different then a born again Christen who speaks in tong, they feel Gods present as much as the Chasidim, and every other religion has similar experiences the science behind the experience is well documented" Perhaps Jay perceives this as a condemnation of Judaism but to me it is a statement as supportive as you can get.

    Is this the vision you have for the Rebbe's shul?

  24. It is interesting. I actually became "BT" knowing more or less the whole time that it is baloney. I have since gotten married and had kids, but I think that this 'baloney' is very healthy even if it is probably not true at all. I think it is good for me and good for my kids. When they are older, if they decide it is garbage, they can throw it out. If they decide it is a gem, they can keep it. Something in the middle: they can keep what they like and throw out the rest. -Eyes Wide Open

  25. How on earth did you get commenters in the double digits???


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