Hi, Yankel

Just when I thought I was going to have to spend time taking issue with what others have written on these pages, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rav of Cong. Ahavas Israel in Passaic NJ captured the mood perfectly enough, that I no longer feel compelled to distance myself from the content. (This “Short Vort” appears today on his website, ahavasisrael.org )

Hey Yankel- how are you doing?

Thanks a lot for the pics you sent me. You and your son really look well fed and robust.

However, since you asked me how I am doing, I have no choice but to be honest.

Jake, oh sorry, I meant Yankel- I have known you all of my life; after all, you are my older brother.

I have always worshipped the ground you walked on and attempted to emulate all of your ways and movements.

After all, why not? While I went off to live in ‘treif America’ you settled in the land of our fathers’: Eretz Yisroel.

While I chose to use English as my spoken language, you kept to the ‘mama loshon’ and insisted on exclusively speaking Yiddish.

While I dressed in more ‘Western style dress’, you were obsessive in maintaining what you were emphatic was ‘authentic Jewish dress’.

I admired you for both of these traits.

And while me and many of my friends had no issue in using our ‘goyishe names’, you always insisted that we refer to you as Yankel and nothing else.

Although sometimes I kidded you for you obstinacy in the maintenance of these three cardinal traits of Jewish identity, in truth I envied you for what certainly seemed to me at the time as your authentic and ‘more Jewish’ lifestyle.

You are living in Meah Shearim; you have the freedom to teach your kids the way you want to; you are protected by the State; and for the most part no one- and I mean no one- interferes with your life at all.

When I came on my frequent visits to you- I was constantly amazed and happy by your financial stability and the growth of your neighborhoods.

You now have air conditioning and cell phones, beautiful Shabbos clothes and thank Hashem you purchased apartments for all of your children when they married.

In short, you were blessed by He whose blessings count and I was happy for you.

Even though you complained sometimes about all of the Americans who came through your neighborhood, privately you admitted to me that only because of those American dollars which pour through the shops and collectors of your streets were you able to make beautiful and wonderful weddings for your children.

I remember how at the last wedding of your daughter you had two video-people- one for the women and one for the men. It did make me wonder why you needed that – after all, I (the Modern American) had no video person at my son’s wedding while you had two! However, I let it pass and was happy for you.

When you came to visit I took you around and helped you raise money for your apartments with a smile and with a feeling that ‘at least there are still authentic Jews’ living an authentic Jewish life in Yerushalayim.

When the incidents occurred in Beit Shemesh, I believed what I read in the Chareidi media that this was not indicative of the feelings of most ‘authentic Jews’ and that this was the work of a ‘fringe group’. Perhaps I did not ‘really’ believe this, however, I so wanted to believe that this was true so I let it pass.

I decided not to contact you about those incidents; after all, you do not live in Beit Shemesh and after all you are a member of the Edah Chareidis an ‘official and respected’ organization.

All that was before Motzei Shabbos; on Motzei Shabbos I turned on the computer and there you were with your son- my nephew- Yossele!!!

My own brother Yankel in the middle of the melee!

Yankel, how could you do it? And how could you do it to our Yossele?

Look at your smile Yankel as you proudly set your eyes on your son that you have manipulated to raise his hands in a grotesque, sickening and revolting pose which imitates that which is truly holy and pure.

Yankel, I am sending you a copy of the ‘authentic’ (as I know you always want that which is authentic) original photograph of the scared and frightened little boy.

That boy is terrified; not knowing what life has in store for him.

Look at the other people in the photograph (I know most of them are women, however, let’s be honest Yankel, you must have studied this photo intently before you ‘offered your son’ on the alter of hate) – they are petrified and to be pitied.

Look now at you Yankel and at the other people in the picture. All of you are well fed, dressed in your Shabbos finery; having just eaten a big Shalosh Shiddush and a big Melave Malka. None of you in the picture appear truly frightened or scared.

Yankel, what did you say to little Yossele before you sullied him with the badge of hate?

What words of ‘chizuk’ did you offer to his pristine Neshama as you told him to pose in that position of mockery and as a caricature of contempt and as a parody of sarcasm.

Yankel, you know and I know it; you have benefited from the ‘Zionist State’ more than the majority of secular Israelis!

You have protection from the Arabs; dollars streaming in from tourists and students and you do not have to give back a dime.

However, after the events of Motzei Shabbos- and you have pointed this out to me- no one can claim that you are just a ‘few fringe people’.

Yankel, I must admit that you are correct, just as you have told me so many times before- you are not a fringe group.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and execution of this Motzei Shabbos ‘rally’.

You had women sewing the Concentration Camp uniforms.

You had technical assistance in surfing the web to get the best Holocaust pictures.

You had printers and translators printing and translating your signs into Hebrew and English.

You had choreographers and script writers planning and practicing this complicated cavort of callous insensitivity.

In short as you had told me time and time again, you are no fringe group and you are not a few individuals as others would have us believe.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and the execution of this demonstration!

And as you have pointed out to me many, many times; although we have seen rabbinic bans and protests against concerts and books; against women rabbis and against individual authors, there has never been a single signed pronouncement appearing with the names of any prominent Chareidi Rabbis who have protested or denounced your actions!

I guess Yankel you are correct. If ‘shtika K’Hodaa’ (if silence is akin to agreement) then I guess you are right, as sad as it may be.

However, Yankel, with that being said, the reason I am writing to you is really because you are my brother and I do love you dearly.

I love you with you all my heart and soul and I so cherish the good and wonderful and spiritual times we spent together singing and discussing Torah.

I remember fondly you telling me about how happy you were when you found solace and peace in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

How happy you were with his love of each and every Jew and how he accepted all Jews no matter who they were and what their standing was.

You told me how he started a movement wherein each and every precious Jew could be counted and loved, irrespective of how learned he was or how he dressed.

You told how the Baal Shem Tov himself dressed as a simple Jew as he went around sharing his love for each and every Jew irrespective of their level of observance.

You told me that Hashem looks into the heart of every precious Jew and forgives their lapses.

However, that was before you sent me the picture of you and Yossele.

That was before I saw my nephew forced to pose with his hands held upright in ridicule of that which is pure and pristine.

You told me about love and now I see hate.

You told about compassion and now I see cruelty.

You told about sanctity and now I see sacrilege.

Yankel, I know you are my brother; however, Yankel I must ask you:

Who are you?
Often I can no longer recognize you anymore.

With all my love,

Your brother who loves and misses you.

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20 comments to Hi, Yankel

  • YEA

    Rabbi Adlerstein, does “taking issue with what others have written on these pages” refer to what readers have written in the commemnts section or what other CC writers have written in their posts?

    [YA - It was the latter that I had in mind]

  • e-man

    Thank you Rabbi YA for this much needed post. I have been so disgusted with Cross Currents as of late, but you are a shining beacon of hope for this website. (I was especially disturbed that there was a guest post by someone who declared that homosexuals should commit suicide al pi halacha and was also involved in many other controversial issues) Anyway, Yasher Koach and may you continue to bring sanity to the world.

  • L. Oberstein

    I just got my copy of Mishpacha and learned something new. While the editor is horrified and personally hurt by the dressing up of children as Holocaust victims , he cannot hide his bellief that the ‘shameful rally” in beit Shemesh was brought about by a certain religious person using it to advance his political agenda. My rabbi, from the pulpit, praised this same un named by ddwell defined American Ben Torah as a hero. I think that there is almost an unbridgable cultural and perceptual gulf between American bnai Torah and Israeli chareidim. It really is a different mind set. We see dati leumi people as other Jews who davden with us in the same shul and whose simchas we share in.They see them as akin to the secular, not really our kind. I have read this sentiment in comments on Cross-Currents and seen it myself. When religious zionist rabbis come here to raise money, it is also clear that they have little contact with the yeshiva world of the non zionists. Parallel but not touching.
    I hate to think of Israel as a different world but maybe it was the same when German Jews thought of Polish Jews. It’s just in America, we get over it and there they still keep Sephardim out of their Bnos groups and don’t let them into their schools. What maks them act that way? It is painful to see.

  • L. Oberstein

    “And I can’t write about the well-known inciter, the man with a kippah on his head who had an interest in setting this city aflame, a city whose people just want to live quietly as good neighbors.” This is the quote I am referring to in the editor’s editorial. How can we see the incident so totally different?

  • Chaim

    Oy. This hurts.
    I have been a long time reader of cc, but never felt compelled to write until now. I am currently on my phone, so please excuse any typos.
    As a chassidishe yid, this “letter” really hurt, mostly because it’s true.
    The silver lining here is that we can now hope that this will be a catalyst for the unraveling of the status quo, and will weaken the grip that the so called leaders have had on the masses of temimus’dige ehrliche yiden for the past 40 years or so. Hopefully the sociological factors at play will result in the triumph of rational judaism, the darchei noam of torah, over the corrupt forces which are fueled by hate, greed, and a lust for control.

  • Avrohom

    Thank you. You restore my faith in Rabbonim.

  • Baruch Badian

    “There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and the execution of this demonstration!”

    1: How many people were there? Does anybody know? I’ve heard 1500. Definitely fringe. (Maybe I’m wrong about the numbers. If someone knows better please correct me). I wonder: Did R’ Eisenmann react the same way during the disengagement, when a similar demonstration took place using holocaust imagery? Was that also an example of “my nephew forced to pose with his hands held upright in ridicule of that which is pure and pristine”. I’m assuming he disagreed with it, but I doubt there were any blog posts. He was probably busy crying for them. Rabbi: These Jews in Meah Shearim also need your tears. They have lost their way. This blog post is not a help. This is not leadership. It is at most a reflection of a feeling, with the broad paintbrush that emotions use, to color our perceptions.

    “although we have seen rabbinic bans and protests against concerts and books; against women rabbis and against individual authors, there has never been a single signed pronouncement appearing with the names of any prominent Chareidi Rabbis who have protested or denounced your actions!
    I guess Yankel you are correct. If ‘shtika K’Hodaa’ (if silence is akin to agreement) then I guess you are right, as sad as it may be.”

    2: How many Chareidim do we know that agree versus disagree with the actions of the extremists. Based on what I know, it’s 99% to 1% (the 1% is charitable)
    Why is there an assumption that Chareidi Rabbis feel differently? I recently spoke to a friend who is part of the Israeli Dati Leumi community in Beer Sheva. I asked him “So what’s the deal with the Chareidi/secular tensions?” He laughs: “Come on, it’s just the media blowing things up.” I ask: “You mean you don’t think all Chareidim do that?” He tells me, “Baruch, We have our differences with Chareidim, but NOBODY I KNOW thinks that this is anything other than a few nuts”. Why is the American community in Israel unable to open their eyes. In a court of law the presumption of innocence would make ascribed motives as proof of guilt laughable. We don’t know, why there hasn’t been a Kol Korei against the violence. A difficult, burdensome question. But these are people who deserve to be viewed with an open mind. I would venture to say that most of those who are willing to assume the worst about the Gedolim, don’t agree with them about most of their positions anyway. They don’t look at these Gedolim as the greatest gift to our generation. They didn’t understand why certain books were banned. Why other positions were held, such as joining a coalition dedicated to disengagement, etc. They have lost faith in Chareidi leadership long before this. So it is not such a surprise that they don’t understand why the leadership hasn’t responded, and they are willing to assume the worst based on extremely tenuous supposition. How sad. (I myself don’t really understand why they haven’t responded, But I’m willing to leave it at that, my non- understanding)

  • Chaim

    Rabbi Adlerstein, you have courage. Your voice ( along with Rabbis Eisenman and Slifkin) is among the few Kiddushei Hashem emerging from this nonsense.

  • YEA

    Baruch Badian, you write that people have lost faith in Charedi leadership because, “They didn’t understand why certain books were banned.”

    Perhaps it is in fact because, having listened to Rav Nosson Kamenetsky’s lecture, “The Making of a Ban”, they did understand why (and how) these books were banned.

  • Baruch Gitlin

    Rabbi Adlerstein, I have nothing original to say – I just want to repeat what others have said in the comments: “Thank you Rabbi YA for this much needed post. I have been so disgusted with Cross Currents as of late, but you are a shining beacon of hope for this website.” And: “Thank you. You restore my faith in Rabbonim.”

  • yehudis

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    It seems like what is coming to the surface (finally) is American charedim figuring out the extent to which they really do not share the Israeli charedi worldview (when it comes to money, politics, the public sphere, among other things). And this is also true of the Anglos living in Israel, even the “black-hatters” who count themselves among charedim but actually carry with them a lot of their original American work ethic and perspective–something to which I also admit, and which our (Yerushalmi) children sometimes find puzzling. But I suspect that, once they are grown, the kind of perspective that we’ve raised them with will stick and hopefully they will also buck certain trends in our little world of Meah Shearim to which I object.

    I sense in Rabbi Eisenman’s words an admixture of genuine dismay over the state of affairs here and a slight undertone of little-brother triumphalism, though: “I knew you weren’t as good as they always made you out to be!” That’s a little asphyxiating, (I think that maybe I’m Yankel, in this case) but otherwise he certainly brings up the painful matter to where it can be gazed at and wondered over.
    Horrified as I am (not surprised, though) by the images of the Nazi-protest, most people living where I do, in Meah Shearim, are not living large by any means–quite the contrary. And they are making truly simple simchos. No one is living big on kollel stipends and havtachat hachnasah–it’s just not possible, even if your apartment was fully paid for by the two “tzad ha’echads”. They might be doing okay on shvartze gelt, but we all know that this is not a kano’im issue anymore at all, it’s an indictment of the Israeli-charedi modus operandi altogether. So Rabbi Eisenman, while making good points, actually walked right into the whole conflation of issues that have recently come to a head. How did we go from spitting at little girls to poking fun at the heavyset people caught on camera in mock-camp uniforms? I guess that they are supposed to be looking thin and wan if they are taking kollel checks? And what do kollel checks have to do with anything, when all “real” kano’im only learn in kollelim that don’t take government funds?
    (I actually had a student who is a child of survivors come to me in tears because it made her ill to see hale and hearty chassidishe yidden dressed up this way. There are no words to offer, truly repulsive.)

    I had a discussion with a relative recently, who asked me to give life-coaching type advice to another relative (an orphan who had a very difficult life, who basically lives on tzedakah), that it would be so good for him to get some job training since he is so bright and personable. This was suggested with a great deal of love and much concern (and patronizing, but we’ll leave that).
    My reaction? You are free to give him a nedavah if you like, and you can tell him to take a hike if you don’t, but advice is only welcome when it’s been asked for.
    To Rabbi Eisenman: If you don’t want to support Yankel, then don’t. If you want to give money to the Torah institutions that pay his stipend but don’t want to pay for a double videographer, then *don’t*. But these kinds of manipulations with money in families tend to bring out the worst in people, and what you really want is to bring out the best. So how do we do that?

    A friend/student now living in the States wrote to ask me for my take on this whole mess. I sent back a letter which she said was helpful explaining a bit about kana’us in general and what seems to me, from up close, to be going on. With many protestations that my opinion is just my own view, etc. She responded by thanking me for the clarification, and then asking for a whole explanation of how Israeli charedim expect to be respected by the rest of the country if they live on handouts, etc. I have my own view on this, not necessarily the standard charedi party line, which I will be sharing with her soon.
    But, really, what is the connection between spitting at little girls and how someone pays his rent? Well, apparently, it’s the same connection running through the mind of Rabbi Eisenman and a lot of other people! If I’m giving you money (so he asserts), then you ought to be behave better, at least!
    There is just too much conflation of issues going on here. I need a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone’s taanos.

  • joel rich

    I would focus on the 1st half of the letter, those are issues irrespective of the latest round of craziness. Interesting question is how representative of the mindset of Passaic is R’Eisenman? ( his history and that of his shul is interesting, is it representative?)
    KT

  • yehudis

    p.s. A useful sum-up by Chabad. I wish that all of the Israeli charedi world could speak with such a clear conscience. (And, no, we are not Chabadnikim.)

    Statement by Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, as found at chabad.org:

    Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters
    Jan 4, 2012 7:25 PM

    “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17)

    King Solomon, the wisest of all men, thus defined and described the ways of Torah. These words are as true today as they were in his day.

    Pleasantness and peace are not only fundamental to the observance of Torah-true Judaism, but are the only appropriate paths to maintaining and promoting authentic Jewish values.

    Violent behaviors of individuals or groups who abuse, intimidate and insult others are a flagrant offense to Torah and tzniut (modesty), in both letter and spirit, and deserve to be unequivocally condemned.

    Tzniut, intrinsic to Jewish family and social life, covers the gamut of human behavior and is intended to cultivate dignified comportment in the privacy of an individual’s life and especially in their interaction with others. When organically and wholesomely practiced, it is a key to a functional, healthy and respectful environment at home, in the workplace and society at large.

    With respect to tzniut, Chabad seeks the participation of all members of the Jewish community. Indeed, women are critical participants in the community, maintaining significant leadership positions, as is evident in Chabad communities worldwide.

    Ahavat Yisrael, the bedrock of Jewish life, has always been the inspiration motivating Chabad’s mission. Chabad will continue to reach out to all Jews with respect, acceptance and inclusion in the full spirit of Ahavat Yisrael.

  • dr. bill

    Rabbi Oberstein, not one who normally defends Charedim, let me give you my perspective. Going back to the old yishuv and hardly moderated by the CI, the brisker Rov and others, Israeli Chareidim had a particularly strident tone, albeit significantly more respectful than in recent decades. That said, the state of Israel has become a reality and the process of moderation is actually happening but from the bottom – up. The leadership is more set in its ways, but not so the masses. It would not pass moderation, but listen to what is said privately by main-line chareidim in Israel about what is happening and you will be somewhat more encouraged. I realize that change from the bottom takes time, especially when the media and political parties are controlled from the top. The leadership and the political parties need to be pressured in every way. The Eidah, Brisk, Toldos Aharon, etc. may never change, but they are hardly that large. the chassidic community, the next generation of sephardi leadership, are much further along than the mainline lithuanian RY, who exert inordinate influence and receive the bulk of the attention.

    what makes the situation so complex, is the very leaders who cling to the past and issue the edicts about secular studies and the like are great talmudic scholars. As has been observed by many, their preemption of control in the name of daas torah, compounds the problem.

    on a personal note, i went to a sofer’s apartment with my grandson, a few weeks ago in Geulah. both of us do not look all that chareidi; we felt genuinely warmly treated even when my grandson, wanted to email a digital image of the klaf.

    it may take 2-3 generations and much self-inflicted misery, but BH, the times they are a-changing.

  • cvmay

    After reading some of the Torah weeklies I am distressed that the facts are overlooked and fiction has taken over. Thank you Rabbi Eisenman was being a trail blazer in your Passaic neighborhood with child abuse and other sensitive subjects and having the GUTS to say it like it is.
    These extremists, who we have subsequently found out are not a fringe group, have a vibrant kehillah of over 1000 plus people who gathered together in Kikar Shabbat last Sat night to show their support and disdain for the ‘secular school’ in BS. THEY are hijacking TORAS HASHEM and starting a vigilante, militant, oppressive new religion. The residents of Scheinfeld, Givat Savion, Nofei Aviv which are within the neighborhood of Rechov Herzog where the Orot Banos school is housed have shown multiple positive steps in trying to stop, reduce and alleviate this conflagration. Letters were sent to the Rabbanim of the area to meet, discuss and plan for peaceful coexistence, all for naught. After three and a half months of trying to calm this volatile situation of eggs throwing, spitting, garbage and dead fish deposited in classrooms, calling the Police, the media was contacted. Should they have waited for serious physical injuries and perhaps a fatality and then let the media in? The Orot Banos school is not a Modern Orthodox coed school, it is a gan through sixth grade of committed Torah families looking to educate their daughters according to Toras Hashem (as we used to know it). Lies and inaccurate statements have been filling all the weekly Jewish papers accusing the Dati Leumi family of stealing this building, using a building in the Charedei area, provocations towards the Chassidim, etc. Where is HONEST REPORTING?
    The extremists (not a fringe group of anyone) are fighting a battle of turf, power and money. We have allowed this to continue for too long…and now the GENIE is out of the BOTTLE and we are shocked with the global reaction. Our religion is being HIJACKED and we still wonder should we publish statements, tell the truth, let the media know…….the decision is yours as always.

  • Jay

    Yehudis: “I wish that all of the Israeli charedi world could speak with such a clear conscience.”

    I wish, at least some of the commentators of CC exclaimed upon reading Chabad’s statement: ‘Today we are all Lubavitch’. Maybe that’s too much to ask. Bashing Chabad has always been glatt. Praising them is treif unless they are killed in the line of duty.

    [YA - How about something more focused. Like, "I have no doubt that Chabad's statement takes top honors in the competition for best statement regarding the situation, my own included."]

  • cvmay

    Baruch, This statement is a norm for one outside of the shooting range. It is also a norm in psychology…if it is not happening to me or my group, it is impossible that it is as bad, horrific, or even a true event. How about asking an Israeli Dati Leumi friend living in Bet Shemesh on his read of the situation? (at least he will respond without the laughter)

    “I recently spoke to a friend who is part of the Israeli Dati Leumi community in Beer Sheva. I asked him “So what’s the deal with the Chareidi/secular tensions?” He laughs: “Come on, it’s just the media blowing things up”.

  • Yannai

    yehudis

    The reason spitting and rent are related is that the Chareidi community cannot simultaneously come begging to the general productive public to fund their lifestyle and infrastructure while simultaneously treating the general public with disdain (let alone violence). Similarly the Chareidi world cannot simulatenously live in geographical proximity to the secular world and demand complete isolation from secular ideas.

    The Amish, Mennonites, etc. live austere lives, separated from the secular world and with similar attitudes towards gender roles, large families, and modesty. However, these groups also place high value on (extremely) hard work and are able to pay for their society. They are able to produce or barter their goods and services with the outside world for everything they need and do not demand that others fund their lifestyle. They also maintain a very rural lifestyle which supports both a very low cost of living and workable separation with minimal conflict with the secular world

  • L. Oberstein

    A Gerrer Chosid told me that some chassidim in Elad printed raffle tickets to raise money for their cause. The prize was an opportunity to daven in close proximity to the rebbe. Someone showed the flyer to the Gerrer Rebbe and he said he had never autorized it. The rebbe himself personally called the Gabboim of all the Gerrer shtiblach ( I presume in Elad) and told the gabboim to take down the posters and cancel the raffle. On the other hand, the leadership of the Litvish world e.g. Rav Elyashiv does absolutely nothing to disassociate from bans in his name . It has to be more than callous cynacism that allows the people around the Posek Hador to ignore raging problems and instead issue bans on Mishpacha Magazine without ever asking anyone from Mishpacha is they have a side of the story. This started for me with Slifkin and has been steadily down hill since then. It hurts to see once revered terms like Daas Torah made into a mockery. How can anyone in the Chareidi leadership hold his head high when this open cynicism and falsification goes on.

  • Pg

    I am an American child of Holocaust Survivors. In 1966 I spent a year in israel studying in the Bais Yaakov Seminary in Yerushalaim (this was before they had an America program). There was a mantra repeated by the teachers there many times. It was “אנחנו והרחוב US and the STREET or US vs the rest of Israel. This being the Sixties (16 years after the Holocaust) and me being a child of Holocaust survivors, i was shocked by this Haskafah/philosophy. I had not been taught this way of looking at other Jews not by my parents nor by the Bais Yaakov I attended in Brooklyn. Why am I giving you all this history? It is because I feel that what we are witnessing today in Beit Shemesh is one of the results of this Hashkafa. Unfortunately this is not a fringe Hashkafa. There has to be soul searching about what we teach our children and basic love of other Jews should be a foundational teaching in our schools.