Wednesday, November 30, 2005
1. List the elements of Jewish beliefs which help shape Asher Lev’s personality.
a. any man who causes a single soul to perish, it’s as if he causes the whole world to perish – 11
b. the Rebbe is the authority figure
c. family and the community is central to the people
d. it is important to serve for the Ladover Jews and help one another
e. responsibility is passed down through birth
2. List the important characters Book 1 and describe them and their relationships to Asher.
a. Rivkeh Lev – mom, studies in college
b. Aryeh Lev – dad, travels for the Rebbe
c. Rebbe – the authority/central figure in the Hadover Jewish faith
d. Uncle Yaakov – Rivkeh’s brother, dies traveling for the Rebbe
e. Uncle Yitzchok – offers to buy Asher’s painting
f. Aunt Leah
g. Mrs. Rackover – housekeeper type figure in Asher’s home
h. Udel Krinsky – brought to Brooklyn from Russia, provides Asher with knowledge of events throughout the world
3. What events seem to shape Asher’s view of the world?
a. mom’s sickness as a result of brother’s death
b. meeting Reb Udel Krinsky and talking to him
c. his mom decides to study and his father decides to travel again
d. the death of Stalin
e. the Rebbe asks for his family to move to Vienna
4. Trace Asher’s development as an artist from pre-school years to the age of 10.
a. What kinds of subjects does he choose to paint?
i. four – draws mom and dad in real-life actions
ii. five – tells dad a drawing is not foolishness - 12
iii. six – draws black and red swirls bec realizes that the world isn’t pretty, and he wants to draw what is real; tries to use elements of light/dark
iv. draws a negative pic of the Rebbe in his Chumash after learning his father is sent to Vienna
b. What details indicate he has a gift?
i. uses sand to make drawing of shore look realistic
ii. uses ashes from cigarette to create shadows and make drawings – 34
iii. sees world in a different perspective – lines/shapes/light
iv. draws without realizing that he is doing it
c. What does he want to do with his art?
i. show the world and what is real
ii. “I would put all the world into light and shade, bring life to all the wide and tired world. It did not seem an impossible thing to do.” - 36
d. List both positive and negative things that come from his art.
i. positive – it is a way for Asher to release his emotions and is an outlet
ii. negative – he distances himself form the ones that he loves, he is impelled to steal, he stops thinking of how his art affects others and the pain that it brings
5. Why can’t Asher leave his street?
a. there are the obvious reasons of childhood insecurities and a fear of the unknown
b. he feels like he has to be able to draw his own street successfully to prove to himself his ability before he can move on and draw something new
posted by tnt --- kevin
Sunday, November 27, 2005
This isn’t meant to denigrate those who toil in the field. They are dedicated and there are solid accomplishments. There also are activities that are more permanent and therefore more effective, such as Beginnings Services in synagogues. My point is to suggest that certain tactics widely employed by the kiruv movement cannot counteract the powerful assimilatory forces that every day permeate the lives of nearly all American Jews. A smart man said to me recently that Chabad is succeeding in so many communities because when its people come, that’s where they stay. There are no greener or other pastures. Where they are today is where they shall be tomorrow.
Every once in a while I feel the urge to write on the parsha of the week, and given that I'm feeling a little bit under the weather and need to compensate for my failure to attend Kabalat Shabbat services - here it goes.
This week's parsha is Chayei Sarah - The Life of Sarah
My post has more to do with my eternal internal conflict between my respect for the Ortohodox (without wanting to be Orthodox) and my failure to understand Conservatism (although that's the movement with which I affiliate myself).
This is the opening line of the parsha transliterated from the Hebrew:
Vayihyu chayei Sarah me'ah shanah ve'esrim shanah vesheva shanim shnei chayei Sarah.
On the Chabad website, the line is translated as follows:
And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah.
In Etz Hayim, the new standard Conservative chumash, the line is translated thusly:
Sarah's lifetime - the span of Sarah's life - came to one hundred and twenty-seven years.
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew can see that the Chabad translation is more exact than the Eyz Hayim translation. The name Sarah clearly comes at the beginning and end of the phrase and not one time right after the other. In addition, it is obvious that a form of shana (year) is used three times, not once as in the Conservative translation.
In fact, the writing of Sarah's age as "one hundred years and twenty years and seven years" leads you to ask, why would this be written this way?", whereas the Etz Hayim translation instigates no discussion at all.
The funny thing is that Etz Hayim provides a midrash on the topic anyway as follows: Sarah retained the innocence of a seven year old when she was twenty and the beauty of a twenty year old when she was one hundred. Chabad quotes the Midrash the other way around - Sarah retained the beauty of a seven year old when she was twenty and the innocence of a twenty year old when she was one hundred. An OU website confirms the Chabad understanding.
Therefore, not only does the Conservative movement provide it's congregants with a less-meaningful, simplified translation, but the commentary it provides is totally backwards.
I imagine that the vast majority of Conservative Jews who bother to read the Chumash at all wouldn't ever notice this, but the fact that our religion is based on this book, gives me considerable pause when I hear the "we're just more modern" mantra from Conservative leadership.
posted by Howard
Saturday, November 26, 2005
There's so much I'd like to say about this past week, and yet it's almost like nothing has happened of note to warrant an essay.
I will say, for one, that I am riding a wave of spiritual renaissance, with which my life holds meaning and security.
To go into a few details:
In the past I always had a love/hate relationship with going to any formal religious services, I would do my best to sleep in Saturday mornings, come late to the mandatory morning services in school and leave before being dragged into evening prayer. It wasn't that I disliked prayer, it's that I disliked being forced to pray; and by their rules.
In Israel I came to know something strange, when a prayer service would literally fall from the sky and grab you by the arm and say "Come, join us." This, my friends and I came to call a "divine yoink". You could be walking through the streets of Jerusalem, minding your own business, when an elderly Israeli man would spot you and make you the 10th man for a Minyan of prayers. These, you could never turn down.
But morning services, still the bane of my existence, were neglected, as were many other services along the way. I learned alot about myself as a person and an artist in Israel, but it would take dunking myself into the hedonistic world of a New York art school to develop my sense of drawing the line and moralistic upstanding.
I suddenly went from being painted as the outsider and rebellious one in my religious circles to being the Jewish Guy at Pratt. The one that keeps Kosher. And Shabbos. And now I represented a religious and moral standard to the masses who never really got to know an Orthodox Jew.
And so I was on my way.
Last year I finally connected with a local Rabbi, who began having events on campus here and there, and I motivated myself to build stronger bonds. Staying in New York this Summer solidified all that, it made me more than one of the Pratt kids who show up to the Shul in Brooklyn Heights for Friday Nights and a meal to get drunk at afterwards, I was now becoming a part of the community.
The Shul is completely unique, a mix of tradition and modern, where there are as many people showing up to services who need to borrow a yarmulke as there are Chassishie Rabbis with long beards. Friday night they sing Carlebach, hippee-like songs, and dance around clapping and singing afterwards, dragging everyone into it, including the guy with the mohawk who's never been to a Synagogue before.
There is no pressure to show up there. There is only self motivation and the smiling faces when you do come. For the first time, I feel at home in a shul, and want to return as often as possible.
Which brings me to my real point here.
This past week was a 1-2-3 punch of Friday night, Rosh Hashonah 2 day holiday, and Friday night again. On R"H, I showed up at every service, happily getting myself up both mornings without the service of an alarm, and walking the 25 minute walk downtown after having walked back home at midnight the night before. Needless to say, it was exhausting. But it was also stunningly moving and gorgeous.
For some reason, the holiday moved me this year- the first blasts of the Shofar the first morning brought me to tears, walking with the entire synagogue to down by the Brooklyn Bridge to do Tashlich, the casting off of sins, throwing away my transgressions symbolically and physically into the East River as the sun set behind the Manhattan skyline in front of me- these are moments in my life that I still can't really wrap my mind around.
By the time it was all over I found myself fasting the next day, going to classes for pretty much the first time in a week, and questioning what the hell my life is now, feeling empty being away from the amazing experience I had.
This past Shabbos ressurected that, and Friday night, sitting there at the head table with my Rabbi, sipping Johnny Walker Blue, the Rabbi looked across the table at me and said "Saul, I feel like we really get one another."
And he's right.
The shul we attended - the only Orthodox shul in the area (ok, so there were some Satmar shtieblach around...) (and a 25-minute walk away from where we were staying) - was Congregation B'nai Abraham, which was a small shul run by Lubavitchers. It was a neat experience, as it was a small shul, with some middle-aged people, along with some Pratt students and Brooklyn Law students. (For more on the shul, see Saul's description about it.)
The only two liturgical differences I saw were the opening of the ark for יגדל (Yigdal) on Friday evening and something else which I can't currently recall.
Friday, November 25, 2005
By Tamar Snyder
I always have dozens of books piled up next to my desk, waiting to be read. The pile dwindles at times, but often becomes so big that I need to divide it into two. But for an avid reader like myself, there is something comforting about this precariously piled stack of books. The literary offer endless adventure, wisdom and fantasy — from NY Times best sellers. Jewish-themed novels to books about the stock market, journalism and Israel.
Recently, I (carefully) unearthed Chaim Potok`s My Name is Asher Lev from the bottom of the tower of books. A friend had recommended it; “It`s my favorite book,” she told me. Since I liked The Chosen and appreciate art, I figured that I would enjoy reading about Asher Lev, a deep-thinking hassidic boy blessed with an aptitude for art.
But the book wasn`t as enjoyable as I imagined it would be.
Don`t get me wrong; My Name is Asher Lev was certainly well written. And it managed to keep me up late at night, thinking. (Two important qualities every good book should posses). But I found Potok`s characterization of Asher Lev to be dark, disturbing and depressing. Realistic, maybe — but harrowing all the same.
If you haven`t read My Name is Asher Lev, or can`t quite recall the story-line, I`ll give you the Cliff Notes version. Lev, whose uncle prophetically calls him “a little Chagall,” is blessed with the ability to paint pictures and view the world with an artist`s eye. But this gift becomes Lev`s curse. His schoolmates alienate him. His own father, a devoted follower of the Rebbe, berates his son for wasting time drawing such “foolishness.” Lev struggles as he tries to fulfill two conflicting destinies: a faithful follower of the Rebbe and a gifted artist.
One can sympathize with Reb Aryeh Lev, the father of a starry-eyed, talented son whose head is in the clouds — and not in Torah learning, or perpetuating the ideals of the Rebbe.
But all feelings of empathy soon shift in Asher Lev`s favor.
“Asher, you have a gift,” the father tells his 10-year-old son. “I do not know if it is a gift from the Ribbono Shel Olam or from the Other Side. If it is from the Other Side, then it is foolishness, dangerous foolishness, for it will take you away from Torah and from your people and lead you to think only of yourself.”
Asher Lev is beside himself after listening to such guilt-laden criticism. “If You don`t want me to use the gift, why did You give it to me?” he asks G-d, and himself.
A good question, no doubt. While I am not a psychologist, an educator or an expert on the Sitra Achra (the devilish “Other Side”), I can see how negating a student or child`s innate talents can only wreak havoc on the person`s self-esteem, and inhibit growth.
Thankfully, I was brought up otherwise. Talents are a gift from Hashem, I was always told. In fact, each person has a responsibility to cultivate his or her skills and channel them in service of G-d and improving the community.
High-school productions were the best illustration of this belief put into action, at least on a small scale. Everyone pitched in. Those who could sew made the costumes. The artistic ones painted scenery and gathered props. Those blessed with computer savvy created the playbill. Math gurus collected the money. Singers sang and dancers danced. And the put-together few who could lead others and keep everyone in step, would direct. (Admittedly, I was usually busy with newspaper or yearbook, but the concept of contributing one`s talents still holds true).
Some schoolmates became the stars of the show. Others played vital roles behind the scenes. But in order to put on a wonderful production, each person needed to utilize the unique set of talents bestowed upon her by the Almighty.
But not everyone participated.
Throughout my years of schooling, I noticed that there was always a group of students who chose not to get involved. “We have no real talent,” they would say. “There are plenty of people who are better than us at art/dance/singing, so why even bother,” some would rationalize to themselves. Others would complain about the hard work. “I just don`t have the time,” they were quick to say.
Now that is foolishness. To refuse to discover one`s innate talents is akin to throwing these gifts back in G-d`s face. And it only gets worse with time. Those who never get involved while at school are likely to stay that way. They won`t join any clubs at college. They`ll shy away from volunteering to help the PTA. Worse, they`ll never experience that burst of exhilaration one experiences after achieving a meaningful goal and venturing beyond the comfort zone.
A love of painting isn`t rooted in the Sitra Achra — at least not in my book. But refusing to discover and utilize one`s talents just might be. Living an uninvolved life is the ultimate in “dangerous foolishness.”
Tamar Snyder is an English and Communications major at Lander College for Women. If you would like to comment on the above article, you can e-mail Tamar at TamarSsnyder@aol.com
© Copyright 2001, The Jewish Press Inc. (ISSN 0021-6674)
Women should reclaim their self-esteem by embracing their natural beauty, a former beauty consultant and TV personality told a room full of wives, mothers and daughters at the annual Chabad Lubavitch of Markham sisterhood evening last week.
Adrienne Gold, who made her mark on Canadian television as host of the beauty and fashion show Images with Adrienne Gold, spoke about beauty and the media, and about learning to love yourself, using her trademark humour and unabashed honesty.
The event, titled “Women Who Make a Difference,” included speeches, a fashion show and a raffle, and it honoured Jeanette Karp, a member of the Chabad of Markham sisterhood, for her charity and volunteer work.
Gold talked about her journey from being a young, self-conscious girl who hid behind makeup and clothes because she thought she was ugly, to a mature, spiritual woman who walked away from a career in television to teach lessons from the Torah to women all over North America.
She recalled her days as a schoolgirl, desperately trying to fit in, all the while trying to draw attention away from herself by creating a distracting visual image.
“I thought if people looked at me and said, ‘Look what she’s wearing today,’ then they wouldn’t look at me.”
“Many times when you see a woman dressed in an over-the-top, overly erotic way… you need to know that that woman wants to not be seen,” Gold said.
“I perfected the look so that no one could see me.”
People began to take notice of her fashion sense, which led to a job as a stylist, but what her employers didn’t realize was that she was selling tips in distraction, rather than fashion, Gold said.
She told her audience that women shouldn’t feel the need to hide behind makeup and clothes.
“When I started to become more religious, the first thing I embraced was modest clothing,” she said, adding that she wanted to be seen for who she was and not what she wore.
She said it’s unfair for women to compare themselves to 18-year-old models on skin-care commercials who represent what the beauty industry thinks a 40-year-old woman should look like.
“The fashion and beauty industry has one motivation. They want you to feel bad about yourself, because if you do, you’ll want to buy stuff.”
She said that youth and beauty dominate our culture, but the standards are unrealistic.
Gold spoke about shopping with a friend and discovering a piece of clothing with a tag that said “size zero.”
“I said, ‘What exactly is a zero? Does that mean we are not supposed to exist? Is that progress?’”
Gold said that trying to become a size zero is not only an unhealthy, unrealistic aspiration, it also hinders a woman’s chances of fulfilling one of the biggest mitzvahs.
“Women with no body fat cannot fulfill the first mitzvah in the Torah, which is ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ You need fat. Women have fat. It is just that simple.”
She acknowledged that some women are naturally skinny, but noted they make up only two per cent of the population.
“One of the things that Judaism teaches us about beauty… is that beauty and grace are not lasting.”
Rather than obsess about looking young and beautiful, Gold said women should embrace the natural process of aging.
“If you are lucky, you will age. Your skin will betray you. You can shoot yourself full of Botox until next Thursday, but at a certain point, you’re going to start to look like Joan Rivers and everyone will know it,” Gold said to a chorus of laughter.
“You can get away with it only for so long, so why not stop now?”
She said we need to stop aspiring to be a size zero, “a nothing,” and be joyful with who we are.
“One of the things we learn in the Torah is that if you want to maximize pleasure you need to minimize it. Less body, more soul, more joy, more beauty.
by Hella Winston
Recently, my friend Stan — a nonpracticing lawyer who spends much of his time retooling his Web site and rollerblading around Venice in tight green biking shorts and what can best be described as Elton John sunglasses — has been flirting with becoming Lubavitch. Even though he isn’t ready to trade his shiny spandex for a black suit and hat, Stan is deeply attracted to the Lubavitch way of life: He longs for a wife and house full of children and is drawn by the prospect of fully expressing his Jewish identity as a member of a tight-knit community, steeped in Jewish tradition and insulated from the pressures of modern life.
Given all this, I was hardly surprised by Stan’s reaction when I began telling him about my own forays into the Chasidic world, conducting research for my book, “Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels,” among people who are struggling to live within, or even leave, their communities, and who are secretly transgressing in all sorts of ways in order to fulfill their intellectual and emotional needs.
“You mean there really are Chasidic people who are unhappy with that life?” he replied incredulously. “But it’s so beautiful.”
Stan is an incurable romantic.
Over the past two years, I have met many Stans — usually non-Orthodox Jews who look longingly upon the Chasidim as representatives of a kind of alternative lifestyle, attractive for both its perceived spirituality, as well as its commitment to the maintenance of Jewish tradition. Of course, more often than not, these Stans turn out to know almost nothing about how life is actually lived in contemporary Chasidic communities.
They are usually unaware of all the ways in which Chasidic people’s lives are governed by the strict interpretation of Jewish law their communities embrace, ranging from how they are supposed to put on their shoes to whom they can socialize with, and even when they can touch their spouse. (By the way, the hole in the sheet is a myth.)
And many also don’t know that — with the exception of the Lubavitchers, who are unique among Chasidic sects for their outreach to secular Jews — members of Chasidic sects are raised to avoid all unnecessary contact with the outside world. This means they are not allowed to read secular books, watch movies or television, use the Internet, go to museums, follow sports, listen to non-Jewish music or go to college. Being identified as someone who does any of these things can result in rejection by one’s relatives and friends, loss of employment in the community and stigmatization of family members by association.
Despite these prohibitions, there are those Chasidim who nonetheless feel compelled to explore the world beyond Chasidic borders. Some such people are religious questioners, like Steinmetz, a young married man who sneaks off to the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary behind his unsuspecting wife’s back to read forbidden books on Spinoza and Kant and the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment).
Despite his break, Steinmetz feels he cannot leave. He hails from a prominent rabbinical family and has a wife and several children. As a result, his fantasy of escaping what he calls the “tight cage” of his life is likely to remain just that, and books his only comfort.
Other people I interviewed are motivated to transgress in smaller ways, just to experience parts of the world. Chanie, a religiously observant woman, loves nothing more than to spend the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an activity that, if discovered, could get her fired from her teaching job in the community, but which is too important to her to give up.
For some Chasidim, these furtive forays into the outside world provide a much-needed outlet that enables them to remain in a community to which they feel deeply attached. For others, this kind of exploration can lead to doubts and questions about the Chasidic way of life, and even the tenets of the religion.
For example, when a married woman named Dini began surfing the net on a computer she and her husband had sneaked into their house in garbage bags, she started to encounter people and ideas online that caused her to reevaluate the Chasidic understanding of gender and to challenge it in her everyday life, earning her numerous letters and phone calls from the community “modesty patrols.”
When I describe these and other “rebel” Chasidim to the Stans, they are often somewhat taken aback. Most concede that the Chasidic way of life may not be for them after all. But many still express chagrin that it might not be good for some Chasidic people, either.
And they’re not the only ones who seem to feel this way. I have encountered many secular and Reform Jews who, while they actively oppose the Chasidic way of life, somewhat paradoxically still feel the Chasidim play a vital role in upholding “authentic” Judaism. This reaction is genuinely puzzling to the people who participated in my research.
“If these other Jews feel it’s so important to preserve this way of life, let them switch places with me,” one man suggested. He had done his time in the living museum and would be happy to quit his display case and give someone else a chance to be in the exhibit.
Hella Winston explores how some Chadism rebel against isolation from mainstream society.
Chasidim are used to being warned against the dangerous contaminations of the outside world by leaders and members of their own communities, but they cannot fathom why Jews who have obviously embraced life in the mainstream would also want to consign them to a “gateless ghetto.” These other Jews are thriving in American society, free from persecution and discrimination, they say, so why should the Chasidim be charged with defending the faith? Shouldn’t the freedom to choose one’s way of life be available to everyone?
I believe it should. And yet, I think I have also begun to understand why some Chasidic people’s desire to exercise that right stirs such uncomfortable feelings in many non-Chasidic Jews. These “rebel” Chasidim are, in a certain sense, re-enacting what is a centuries-old Jewish journey of emancipation — though in their case, of course, the community’s ghettoization has been self-imposed.
In Europe, for millions of Jews, that journey didn’t end well. It has obviously been a very different story in America, but the unprecedented freedom and acceptance Jews have acquired in this country have also contributed not only to a well-documented decrease in traditional observance but also to an erosion of a distinctive kind of Jewish culture — one born out of the experiences of Jewish persecution and exclusion, of separation from the mainstream.
I am certainly not suggesting that Jewish cultural production requires the continued persecution and exclusion of Jews as its inspiration; to do so would not only be factually incorrect but also immoral. But it is also true that the dumbing down of Jewish culture, including lavish bar mitzvahs, T-shirts that proclaim Jewish pride and hipster holiday parties whose main Jewish component seems to be a clever name (think the Matzah Ball) don’t always feel like very meaningful forms of Jewish cultural expression. In this context, it is easy to see why some Jews, even those who take issue with the Chasidic interpretation of Judaism, would still romanticize Chasidic culture.
Ironically, perhaps, these Chasidim making their way out of their communities might actually be cause for some hope, as they could be uniquely placed to re-invigorate Jewish culture in several important ways. Certainly, their knowledge of Jewish law and ritual practice — not to mention, in some cases, Chasidic philosophy and even, of course, Yiddish — could make them a rich resource for Jews who wish to engage in Jewish learning without necessarily becoming religiously observant.
And their openness to doubt and questioning, which have become so salient in their own lives, might just make them the best representatives of a tradition that, too often despite appearances to the contrary, at its very heart values the process of dialogue and debate even over the rigid adherence to rules.
In the end, however, it may not be their knowledge of Judaism from which we have the most to learn, but rather their experiences as outcasts in a Jewish community. Many of those I met who dared to openly express their dissenting views, or failed to conform, have been ostracized and rejected by family and friends and even kept out of community institutions. For their perceived transgressions, some have even been denied contact with their own children.
To help such people see that there is a larger Jewish world beyond the one in which they were raised — a world that is vast and varied enough to accommodate everyone from the most religious to the devoutly atheistic — is nothing short of tikkun olam (heal the world).
Hella Winston’s book, “Unchosen : The Hidden Lives of Chasidic Rebels” was published this year by Beacon Press.
© 2004 The Jewish Journal, All Rights Reserved
Thursday, November 17, 2005
For Rabbi Moshe Bleich of Wellesley-Weston Chabad, the Jewish month of Tishrei is the busiest time of the year. Usually falling during the months of September and October, the month of Tishrei contains the "High Holidays" of Rosh HaShannah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) as well as week-long festival of Sukkot where Jews build and dwell in "sukkahs" which are temporary hut-like structures with roofs made of twigs and leaves. In years past, Rabbi Bleich and his congregation gathered in the Wellesley Inn for High Holiday services so when the rabbi heard the news of the Inn's closing, he scrambled to find another location. Fortunately, Jim Gordon of Eastern Development offered the use of the now-empty offices located at 170 Linden St. Still in need of chairs and other equipment to serve the almost 250 people who planned on attending services over the course of the holidays, Rabbi Bleich turned to Holly Grace, project manager of Spaulding & Slye Colliers. "We were very happy to be able to help a Wellesley community organization," said Grace, "When the
Wellesley-Weston Chabad approached us with their need, it was clear that we could provide them with useful items in time for the holidays."
Eleven members of the community, including students at Babson and Wellesley College, helped set up the synagogue in advance, and dozens of others made contributions making this year's High Holidays a huge
community effort. "I've been coming to the holiday services for several years and this year was by far the best," said Jesse Greenberg, president of the Wellesley-Weston Chabad congregation. "The convenient location and
the large and involved congregation made for a wonderful experience." The Chabad Rosh Hashanah services on Oct. 4, 5 and 6, and Yom Kippur services on Oct. 11 and 12 were the only free holiday services for
The following week marked the beginning of Sukkot. During Sukkot, Jewish tradition is to eat all of one's meals inside the sukkah. Despite cold and rain, dozens of people joined Rabbi Bleich's family each day to eat, sing and celebrate. In fact, though Chabad had only planned on having one public dinner (outdoor in the cold) for 50 people, it was so crowded that he held a second Sukkot dinner the next night for 40 more.
Fortunately, the rain abated for the biggest event of the week. More than three dozen students from Babson and Wellesley College gathered under Rabbi Bleich's sukkah for "Hookah in Da Sukkah," a fun-filled event where students smoked nargila, a flavored tobacco popular in Israel and the Middle East, and learned about the holiday while listening to music andeating pita with hummus and other authentic Israeli foods. The event was co-sponsored by the Babson chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity.
Rabbi Bleich also celebrated the opening of the new Alpha Epsilon Pi tower at Babson College by putting up mezuzahs, which are small pieces of parchment containing biblical verses inside decorated covers, on 17
doors inside the tower, in accordance with Jewish law. The president of the Babson chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Joshua Neman, expressed gratitude for the support. "The brothers of appreciate Rabbi Bleich's continued support
for our goal to maintain a Jewish home on campus," said Neman. Though usually expensive, Rabbi Bleich found an anonymous philanthropist who donated all the mezuzahs.
Rabbi Bleich will soon be moving with his wife, Geni, and their three children, Mendel, Ephraim, and Esther, to a new house on Route 9. As the community continues to grow, the rabbi is also working to acquire facilities that will allow him to better tend to the needs of the community through prayer and programming.
November 23, 2005
Hollywood · The city's former code enforcement chief told federal lawyers she thought the city's scrutiny of an orthodox Jewish group using a private home to conduct services was "excessive."
In a Nov. 10 deposition, Jackie Gonzalez, the city's former director of development administration and economic development, said the city's methods left a "bad taste" in her mouth.
"We visited the Chabad on a regular basis ... and it was continuous, continuous, continuous, and I felt maybe a little too continuous or excessive," she said.
The issue first arose in late 2000 after the Hollywood Community Synagogue Chabad Lubavitch, which owned two houses on North 46th Avenue near Sheridan Street, set about converting one of the homes into a synagogue for twice-daily services. Neighbors complained about noise, traffic and garbage piling up outside.
City commissioners wrangled publicly over whether to let the Chabad stay. Ultimately they ordered the Chabad out, saying they were protecting the integrity of the neighborhood's residential zoning.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Chabad Lubavitch are suing the city, accusing city officials of denying the Jewish group a zoning variance based on its religious denomination.
While questioning Gonzalez, justice department lawyer Sean Keveney and a lawyer for the synagogue tried to shed light on how all-consuming the issue became in the city.
They presented documentation they said showed that Commissioner Sal Oliveri pushed city employees to use every tool at their disposal against the Chabad. Some of the measures included code enforcement visits two or three times per day, police patrols at the site every two or three days, checks of building permits and liens against the property, and running the license plates of the cars parked near the synagogue.
Never during her tenure with the city did a single issue receive so much attention, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez told the lawyers she preached a "kind and gentle" type of enforcement, encouraging people to comply with codes and ordinances before hammering them with citations and fines.
Former City Manager Sam Finz agreed with her approach, she said, but Oliveri did not.
Oliveri led the push to oust the Chabad. Oliveri, who is being sued individually along with the city, referred calls Tuesday to his attorneys.
Gonzalez said Oliveri confronted her during a meeting in July 2002, questioning her handling of code enforcement at the synagogue.
"I'm not one who gets rattled easily, and after he berated me in front of my peers and my boss, accused me of not doing my job, spoke to me in harsh tones ... I walked out and went back to my office," Gonzalez said. "I was very upset."
Shortly after that meeting, Gonzalez lost authority over code enforcement and several other divisions. City Manager Cameron Benson said Tuesday he made the move because he wanted her to focus strictly on economic development -- the City Commission's top priority.
But the prosecutor asked Gonzalez if she thought she was "stripped of responsibility" because Oliveri was unhappy with her handling of the Chabad properties. Gonzalez said she had heard statements to that effect but said she could not remember from whom.
Gonzalez left the city in February for a private sector job.
Oliveri's lawyer, Carlos Mustelier, said he did not agree with the federal prosecutor's interpretation that Gonzalez was demoted because Oliveri was dissatisfied with her.
Heidi O'Sheehan, who lives across the alley from the synagogue, said Tuesday she did not feel Oliveri acted inappropriately or that the city harassed the Chabad.
"It's large groups of people meeting two times per day every day during prime hours when people are trying to enjoy their homes," she said.
Franklin Zemel, who represents the synagogue, said he feels the city denied the synagogue a zoning variance to operate out of a house because it was "too controversial."
"Government can make up any excuse it wants as to why they are doing certain actions," he said. " ... It's not about whether the Chabad should be there or not. It's about the abuse by the city to harass and intimidate and run them out of town. That's the problem."
Shannon O'Boye can be reached at email@example.com or 954-385-7912.
Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Wednesday November 23 2005
Shrewsbury and Wellesley are two towns questioning the display of menorahs
Local Chabad rabbis are meeting resistance from town officials over displaying menorahs and holding candlelighting ceremonies on public property this Chanukah season.
Shrewsbury town selectmen originally refused a request from Rabbi Michoel Green to place a menorah in the town common. However, after a Nov. 21 meeting, the town decided to retract their refusal, although they have not given Chabad permission to display the menorah.
In Wellesley, Rabbi Moshe Bleich successfully negotiated with town officials to allow a menorah to be displayed on the town lawn for the entire holiday season under the agreement that he would rescind his request to hold a public ceremony.
The problems both Chabad rabbis encountered are not new to the Greater Boston area or Chabad. While the U.S. Supreme Court case of County of Allegheny v. ACLU ruled in 1989 that a menorah was a secular symbol when displayed among other holiday symbols, and can be displayed on public property, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has often experienced opposition from local community members in attempts to hold candlelighting ceremonies or display a menorah on public property.
“Our experience is that [the menorah] reminds people that it’s Chanukah and it makes them excited and proud to be Jewish and because of that it’s definitely worthwhile,” Green said. “ There are people who object and even a number of Jews based on church-state issues, but we feel that the benefit that it brings far outweighs any of the negative aspects.”
Green, spiritual leader of Chabad-Lubavitch of Westborough, successfully displayed a menorah on the town’s public property last Chanukah. According to Green, because half of his congregants live in Shrewsbury he put in a request in August that a menorah be placed there as well.
Prior to making his request, Green spoke with a town selectman, Phillip Hammond, who assured him that the request would be approved. But at a Nov. 7 town meeting a decision passed to refuse Green’s request because the Chabad is not located in Shrewsbury.
Hammond did not return calls placed by the Advocate.
Daniel Morgado, Shrewsbury town manager, said: “We had a request from the Chabad Center in Westborough to put a menorah on the town common in Shrewsbury and determined that it was not a Shrewsbury organization. We allow use of our common for public displays for Shrewsbury organizations.”
After the Nov. 21 meeting, Morgado refused to say whether Chabad now had permission to display the menorah. He said “the decision to refuse Chabad was retracted.”
While Green is certain he ultimately will be allowed to display the menorah because the law is on his side, it is unclear whether he will be able to overcome the obstacles the town has placed before him in time for this year’s holiday season.
Green said that while he could pursue this legally, he hopes to be able to work it out with the town. “ The selectmen are good people and they’re trying to do their job,” he said. “It’s just a question of change. Change is tough, and putting anything up is something they take very seriously, especially a menorah.”
While Green has a lengthy process in front of him to overcome challenges in Shrewsbury, Rabbi Bleich has negotiated in his favor to display a menorah and candle-lighting ceremony.
Last year Bleich received heavy criticism from both the American Jewish Committee and Jewish residents of Wellesley. Both the AJC and local Jews cited the separation of church and state in their discomfort with the display. Bleich threatened to sue the town if they proceeded to refuse his request. With the law on his side, the town gave in. However, they only allowed him to display the menorah on the last day of Chanukah. This year, Bleich wanted to display the menorah during the entire holiday season. The town agreed to allow him the extra time if Bleich would not request a public candle-lighting ceremony, which he did in 2004.
Bleich said that he was pleased with the negotiations, particularly because his synagogue just purchased a new property on Worcester Street near Route 9 West and he plans on holding the public ceremony there.
Rabbi Joel Sisenwine, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, said: “Recognizing that Chanukah is a religious holiday, I would prefer that the community celebrate it in the synagogue as a religious celebration.” However, he added, “I recognize the recent Supreme Court decisions and the complex roles that these symbols play on public grounds.”
Sisenwine’s opinion however, is not a reflection of his entire synagogue, he said. “Like American society, we continue to struggle with the appropriate separation between church and state and so our community is as diverse as America.”
Both Bleich and Green feel that displaying a menorah is not only their legal right, but also an important contributor to Jewish pride. “Lots of Jewish kids here go to public schools and the Jewish kids are out of the loop,” said Green.
Bleich agreed: “It gives Jewish people a sense of pride. You walk by Town Hall and you see Christianity everywhere – not in a negative way. I have no problems with Christians celebrating Christmas but at the same time I want Jews to have a positive feeling as well.”
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
In better kiruv, less is more. But two things are paramount.
The first is the recognition that Noam doesn't happen in a vacuum. A potential BT is a real human being with real life. You are about to tell him that everything that he holds true is false. You are telling him that his common sense is really just an evil inclination. In doing so, you are changing his priorities, estranging him from his family, and challenging every survival skill that he has. But as the sign says, you break it, you own it. Recognizing that we asking nothing less of Noam than to leave everything that he knows about how to make a living (no more Shabos work, no shaking hands with the opposite sex, no lunch and dinner on late or unexpected assignments etc.), how to find a shiduch, how to relate to others in his world, and how to just fit in and get along and adopt to a new lifestyle. The KP is responsible to replace that family with a new family, people who are actively pursuing Noam's full and proper integration into the frum world. If you are not willing to go that far, don't be a KP, period. I am not just suggesting a passive role of answering questions and making sure that he serves your purposes. You must serve his purposes, making sure that he is going about things, pursuing a living, pursuing a shiduch, making a life plan, in a realistic manner, making sure that he is truly integrating with frum society, not just some idealized kiruv version of reality. Knowing Noam as we do, we see how very important is this point.
The second is to avoid ANY AND ALL APOLOGETICS!!! If confronted with the inevitable questions in deifficult areas, respond truthfully and there is only one truthful answer. I DON'T KNOW, and no one else does either. We do not have the means to resolve apparent contradictions between our tradition and apparent fact. Perhaps we will sometime in the future, but we do not have enough knowledge to understand this now. Do not quote kiruv sources or silly backwoods proofs.
The biggest proponent of this type of approach was the Chabad Rebbe. Regarding our first point, the CR demanded that everyone make a mashpia for himself. In Noam's situation, the KP is the natural person to do this, and the requirements are far heavier when we are taking away his baseline of survival and replacing with something foreign to him. The KP must make sure that he enters frum life as a savvy adult, not as a starry eyed child. Regarding the second, in his first directives on kiruv, CR announced twelve separate "military campaigns" or mivtzoyim. Each was a particular mitzvah. Never did he suggest to bolster it with apologetics. He offered apologetics himself only after much prodding and they were of a very weak and noncommitted nature. They were stated very softly as "perhaps we could say". Ultimately, he answered that if we do not have an answer for a question, we cannot put a time limit on finding it. This was obviously very wise. For instance, the entire ideas of relativity and QM, so popular among apologists today, were not available to apologists 200 years earlier, a mere blip on the Jewish timeline. Apologetics that were proposed 1000 years ago are now useless, based on long outdated science. They can only do harm, as they only convince the convinced.
Next: The BT permission slip. What the BT must sign to be allowed to become frum.
Monday, November 21, 2005
That evening we made our way to Shabbos at a local Chabad rabbi’s home (set up by my rabbi in L.A.). Little did I know that Pittsburgh is a HORRIBLE city when it comes to public transportation. To make a long story short: Cab arrives, cabbie doesn’t know where the home we’re going to is, I have to navigate on the map, he calls dispatch and I have to remember directions. Therefore, we arrived an hour late …I digress.
Shabbos was pleasant. The rabbi, his wife and their 6 kids were wonderful. There is nothing like being in a strange city and feeling like you have a “home” to go to. I’m very thankful to the Rabbi for not only hosting us, but for sitting around with us while we waited almost two hours for a cab…yes on Shabbos (forgive me)! He’s a good guy and I enjoyed discussing many different aspects of Judaism with him.
My g/f's youngest was Bat Mitzvahed this weekend. She and my g/f have been working on the various aspects of this along with the father and me and planners, etc, etc, for months and months. It's finally over. This Thanksgiving we're not going anywhere. We're getting the turkey and trimmings from the supermarket, premade. We're too tired to do anything else.
There's an awful lot of work involved -- first, there's the theme. And the decorations. And the invitations. WHo sits at what table. The menu. The entertainment. Learning the torah portion trope. ANd on and on.
ANd then there's the custom of doing custom prayerbooks for the service. So my g/f and her daughter had to pick special readings and prayers. And since the theme was "A Secret Garden" we got a good passage from the book into the prayerbook for the amidah part, and my g/f found other good garden/growth/plant-related stuff to put in... she stuck in one of my poems I'd written her years ago, and I got to do a reading-- something by Chabad rabbi Tzvi Freeman I'm sure was a reworking of something "the rebbe" said--
There are people who do many good things, but with pessimism, because to them, the world is an inherently bad place. Since their good deeds have no life to them, who knows how long they can keep it up? We must know that this world is not a dark, sinister jungle, but a garden. And not just any garden, but G-d's own pleasure garden, full of beauty, wonderful fruits and fragrances, a place where G-d desires to be with all G-d's essence.
If the taste to us is bitter, it is only because we must first peel away the outer shell to find the fruit inside.
My daughter helped me memorize and work out the phrasing, so when I read it at the bimah, I was reciting it, rather than reading it. I did a pretty good job, making good eye contact with everyone. It's a perfect shul for that, being in the round, with the bimah at the center and the seating all around on three sides. After I did the reading, as I was going back to my seat, the cantor pulled me aside and said I missed my calling and I should have been a rabbi. (Based on how I read a mystical Chabad thing to the rationalist Reconstructionist congregation, mind you. ;-) ) My reaction was "Who says I can't still become a rabbi!?"
(Part of the reason I did so well getting into that reading was that I was listening a lot to Matisyahu's CD, which is just great, great stuff for getting you into the appropriate Chabad/chasid mindset. I was finally the imperfect prophet I've alwasys wanted to be.)
Anyway, so we had a nice service, and then the party to end all parties, with all sorts of wonderful music and food and dancing, and then the brunch on Sunday, and by then I was so damn exhausted and grumpy my daughter and I spent yesterday afternoon and evening lying around doing nothing at all. The bat mitzvah girl and her mom, meanwhile, were up till 1am opening presents and making up thankyou list stuff.
So it's odd. time passing, kids growing up. Getting older. My daughter will be 13 next year. Very odd.
posted by lee
yesterday i decided i would not respond to the person who reacted to my lecture at the nyu conference and saw it fit as his duty to correct me
i have changed my mind but it should be clear that i am not interested in a protracted discussion with this man or anyone else
let me say first that the main point of the response is valid, and had the person listened carefully or better had he read the paper he would have seen that i said clearly and repeatedly that i did not think the rebbe advocated a breaking of mitsvot, but what i was trying to bring out is that in his thinking there is an awareness of a higher mode of avodah, what i called the hypernomian as opposed to the antinomian, what the rebbe himself calls the avodah is lema’alah mi-torah u-mitsvot
here is an exact citation from my lecture, which i read word for word:
The holy madness is linked by the Rebbe to the interiority of Torah, which is fully realized in the “worship of self-sacrifice,” which, as he says in one context, is “aroused precisely by means of the concealment and hiddenness of the world, the body, and the animal soul.” With this statement the Rebbe affirms an ascetic orientation that anticipates his understanding of the messianic redemption: the highest level of achievement, which corresponds to the esoteric meaning of Torah, comes about by the act of self-sacrifice, a negation of self that is above the intellect and beyond the nomian framework of halakhah. This is not to say that in the Rebbe’s teaching the esoteric is at odds with or in contradiction to the exoteric. On the contrary, he often enunciates the convergence of overlapping of the secret and the contetual, sod and peshat. What I am suggesting, however, is that he did affirm a messianic vision predicated on the possibility of the mystical attainment of the nondifferentiated oneness—theosophically this corresponds to the aspect of Atiq and psychologically to the highest gradation of soul yechidah—wherein good and evil are indistinguishable, and thus it is possible, indeed necessary, for one thing to be transformed into its opposite. In a state where opposites coincide, the binary distinctions basic to a nomian system break down. The ultimate coincidence is reserved for the messianic era, a time that can be characterized in the paradoxical terms that Schneersohn used in a brief discourse on the eve of the new month of Sivan 1953 several days prior to the festival of Pentecost: “In the general matter of the giving of Torah, there is a response to those who have claims against the study of the hidden aspect [nistar] of Torah, for in the time of the giving of Torah the matter was reversed, the exoteric aspect of Torah was hidden and the esoteric aspect of Torah was revealed” she-nigleh de-torah hayah nistar we-nistar de-torah hayah nigleh.
The secret of the secret elaborated by the seventh rebbe of the Lubavitch-Habad dynasty turns primarily on this reversal of outside and inside, the manifest and hidden, the body and soul. As he put it already in a letter dated the fifth of Nisan 1955: “In the future redemption, the inner soul of the Jewish man will be united … with the external soul, for this is the vessel for the disclosure of the unity of the hidden aspect of Torah and the manifest aspect, and for the unity and disclosure of the hidden aspect of the holy One, blessed be he, and the manifest aspect of the holy One, blessed be he, for this is the matter of the complete and true redemption.”
The new Torah (torah chadashah) to be implemented in the messianic era exemplifies this reversal: the interiority of Torah (penimiyyut ha-torah), the illumination of the disclosure of the light of the Infinite (gilluy or ein sof), which for the most part has remained veiled, is fully revealed. Following earlier sources, moreover, the content of the concealed aspect is identified as the “secrets” and “rationales” of the Torah. The secrets and rationales, however, do not relate to ritual practice as such, since in the messianic state there is no longer a viable distinction between permissible and forbidden. As Schneersohn expressed the matter in a discourse connected to the second day of Pentecost in 1991, “The rationales and secrets of Torah are above the application of purifying evil”—since there is no more distinction between good and evil, there can be no more need to purify evil. The secret of the secret that one may elicit from the teachings of the Rebbe is predicated on understanding the messianic redemption in hypernomian terms as the overcoming of all binaries and divisions, a mystical vision beyond reason that allows one to see that darkness and light are no longer distinguishable.
In a text for Shabbat Sheqalim written when Schneersohn was in Paris and preserved in his own hand, he already anticipated the reversal that became so central to his way of thinking:
“The greatness of the level of the children of Israel is that they are found in this corporeal world parallel to the level of the angels. Thus we have found that in the future to come the soul [neshamah] will be sustained from the body, and this highlights the level of the corporeal body [ha-guf ha-gashmi] in relation to the soul. And this is … [the import of] “many miracles” [nissei nissim] (the matter of the name Yohanan) precisely, for it is not enough that the corporeal world [ha-olam ha-gashmi] will be elevated to be equal to the spiritual [ruchani] ]—and this [the meaning of] “miracle” [nes] from the word “elevation” [haramah]—but it will be above it.” The messianic future is thus described as an inversion of the longstanding hierarchical relationship of soul and body. It is not sufficient to envision the eschaton as a leveling out of the difference between the two, but it must be seen as the moment when the material is elevated to a higher status than the spiritual. In the continuation of this text, Schneersohn accounts for this matter by noting that just as the ten commandments are holy so too are the ten sayings by means of which the world was created. The distinction between the words of creation and the words of revelation is that the former deal with the manifest (gilluy) and the latter with the hidden (he’elem). As a consequence of human transgression, however, the holiness of the world has been concealed—a point driven home by the play on words between olamand he’elem. In the future the matter will be rectified and the spiritual essence of the corporeal will be manifest, an idea that Schneersohn expresses in terms of the rabbinic idea that the land of Israel, which is holy, will spread forth in all lands and then “it will be revealed to every eye that the whole of the world in its entirety, which was created by means of the ten sayings, is holy.”
If the land of Israel spreads forth so that it is everywhere, then there is no more distinction between it and other lands and, consequently, no more distinction between holy and unholy. In this discernment lies the secret of the secret, which is at once obscurely obvious and obviously obscure.
To realize the truth beyond the polarity of truth and deception one must walk the path of lawfulness, a path that leads beyond the path, not by breaking the law, but by fulfilling the inscription of its own erasure. In the final analysis, this to me seems to be the secret of the secret that Menachem Mendel Schneersohn both revealed and concealed, and as a consequence his notion of esotericism should be seen not only as the culmination of the kabbalistic-hasidic ethos but as the expression of mystical personalities from various religions who experience the ultimate paradox that any mystic operating from with the depths of a particular tradition experiences: the mystical truth that is radical both in the sense of rootedness and in the sense of uprootedness; indeed, it is precisely the latter that reinscribes the former.
this is a portion of my text, and i said at the beginning of my lecture that i could noit read my paper which is already over 50 pages
i want to conclude by saying that this respondent displays an arrogance by suggesting what i should read as he has no idea what i have read and he has no idea how many sources i engage in the written version of this study
he has ever right to disagree but it is impulsive and inaccurate on his part to start criticizing me by assuming what i have read or have not read
i am not surpirsed by his response but it is an inaccurate portrayal of my thinking, and i do not think that he will ever understand what i am talking about
the teaching of the rebbe on this point is greater than his hasidim and it is greater than habad itself
i was trying to pinpoint a tension that gives life to the tradition, a tension that envisions the tradition stretching beyond itself
to paraphrase rilke, one who knows how to bend the branch can take hold of the root
By Dalia Karpel
Almost 29 years have gone by since the rock guitarist Yossi Piamenta left Israel for New York in order to work on his joint album with the legendary sax player Stan Getz. The album never happened. Instead, Piamenta found God and became religiously observant, married his 16-year-old cousin, raised six children and, within a few years, from his Brooklyn base, gained a reputation as the "Hasidic Hendrix," not to say the "gefilte Garcia."
Now he's back in Israel - for good, he says. "I have returned permanently. My father, who is 80, called me in New York and said, `Come back to Israel, be with me a little.' He never talked in that tone before, and I decided to come back. All my life I have played and made music and I won't stop. Now I will play in Israel and form a band and go abroad for gigs wherever I am invited. My base from today on is Tel Aviv."
Last week a phone was installed in his apartment on Frishman Street in the city. We sat on the balcony overlooking the street. Piamenta smoked one Noblesse after another, drank gallons of specially ground black coffee he brought from New York and never stopped serving equally high-quality imported refreshments - white strawberries from Afghanistan, raisins from Iran, cashews from Thailand.
"I live like a millionaire, buy the best food in the world," he says. "When I cook I use the best materials. But the thing is that I am broke. Everything I had, I spent on life. The kids' tuition fees, which amount to thousands of dollars a year, and the rent for the big house in Brooklyn. You name it. Life is what happens now, right?"
He chuckles at the question of whether the return to Israel won't be an economic disaster for him, sending him back to 1976 when he earned $30 for playing at a Hasidic wedding - compared to receiving $2,000 for the same job at his peak.
"I have a bright future," says Piamenta. "I am optimistic. I will have a very good band here and I will play in every possible place in Israel and continue to record. Give me a month or two."
He plans to form a band with a bassist, percussionist, keyboard artist and, of course, his brother, flutist Avi Piamenta, who appeared with him during all the years in New York before returning to Israel a few years ago and settling in Kfar Chabad. Is Piamenta in fact counting on the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector? And who makes money from rock-'n-roll in Israel?
"I will play wherever people will pay me," he replies. I will not play with or accompany female singers, because kol b'isha erva" - a woman's voice is provocative - "and singing, as we know, makes people horny and that is forbidden. I will not play music for mixed dancing. But apart from those limitations, I will play anywhere ... I look at it with show-business eyes. How much does it cost to rent a hall that holds 500 people? I think it is possible to make money from music in this country and I can fill halls not only in the religious sector but in Tel Aviv, too. I don't want to sound like I'm on a trip, but I think it is possible."
For the present, there is no need to be concerned about Piamenta's economic well-being. On the first day of the intermediate days of Sukkot he appeared at a festive event in Baltimore ($3,000), and the next day in Queens ($2,000). So it's true that "Sukkot is the high point of the season and that I didn't work for a month" - but he doesn't rest for a moment and is almost frighteningly optimistic, even though he has known happier times in his personal life.
In May he and Vivian, his wife of 28 years, separated; they have six children and several grandchildren. Their case is now being handled in the courts. He won't talk about the reasons for the break-up; he finds the situation very difficult. His dream is to bring the children, of whom the youngest is eight, to Israel. "In August of this year I made up my mind to return and since then I have observed the Jewish holidays for one day: Israelis who live abroad have to observe them for two days, and now I am exempt from that. That proves I have already returned to Israel."
On October 11, Piamenta, who is 54, took the stage in the Third Ear music store in Tel Aviv (located in the building of the former Maxim movie theater) for a special appearance commemorating the legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. In the performance, called "Jimi Hendrix Lives," he was accompanied by the guitarist Shlomo Mizrahi and his band and by Chelly Sigalski, from the band the Blues Messengers. The evening was produced by the veteran rock devotee Shaul Grossberg, whom Piamenta calls "the professor of Israeli rock and the owner of the most comprehensive archive on the subject, which includes posters of my band from the early 1970s."
When Piamenta, who appeared as guest artist, took the stage, he was greeted by whistles and cheers as though he were the prodigal son who had returned home (which he was). Wearing a colorful Bukharian skullcap ("I loved Bukharian kippot even before I became religious, and the older they are, the more I love them - it's the best prop there is"), sporting a thick beard and white and snow-white ritual fringes peeking out over his Calvin Klein jeans, Piamenta was smilingly round and the warmth that illuminated his face was palpable. Every time he seemingly struck the guitar ("I come to the strings from far away"), the crowd responded with excitement. Among those who came to the performance was the composer and arranger Ilan Virtzberg, as well as Yisrael Borochov, from the Breira Hativit band, who used to play with Piamenta. Also prominent in the audience were about 20 young Chabadniks who came especially from Kfar Chabad, knowing that Piamenta - who is not identified with any religious stream ("I am a simple Jew") - made their brethren in New York dance and thrilled the senior rabbis, including the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself, with his distinctive Hasidic rock.
"What did you think, that for 20 years and more I wasted my time in America?" Piamenta says, and replies immediately: "It is very prestigious to play for rabbis. It's as though you were to tell me that Eric Clapton applauded me in a concert. I played before the greatest Torah sages and they listened with pleasure."
He is very proud of his meetings with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In the guest room of his father's house alone there are at least eight pictures of the Rebbe, framed and unframed, including a photo of Piamenta with him and also one of his secular father, Yehuda Piamenta - one of the original members of the prestigious 101st Paratroops unit commanded by Ariel Sharon, in the 1950s - bowing to the Rebbe. Not long ago he was moved to see a full-page High Holidays ad published by Chabad, featuring a photo of the Rebbe. "I have to send it to my sister in New Jersey," he says.
Piamenta was the first in his family to become religiously observant. His brother, Avi, the well-known flutist ("my second hand"), and their two sisters followed suit. Today they, too, have large families and are happy with their lot. "I do not use the term lahazor b'tshuva (to become penitent). I hope that on my last day I will be able to say that I have become penitent. To become penitent is a day-to-day process, whether you are religious or secular. What do you think, that religious people themselves don't become penitent - that they have no sins and transgressions?"
During all his years in New York, he also clung to his Israeliness, reading papers from Israel and not connecting to anything other than the music channels on local television. "I don't know how to turn on a computer. I don't have the head for that. Just let me play the guitar. In my free time I read Torah and Psalms; every year I learn a new interpretation of the Torah. That is what is really important."
But Piamenta is not a fanatic: When I extended a hand at our first meeting, he shook it without hesitation. "It is a transgression to reject an outstretched hand, even if it is a woman's hand, and to shame her," he explains. "May God forgive me - it is truly forbidden for me to touch women - but I live here and I am realistic and I am no less Israeli than the most secular person you can think of. I wear jeans and a T-shirt and you will not see me in a streimel [Hasidic hat]. On Shabbat I wear a fedora in honor of the synagogue."
From New York he brought over an amplifier he bought in 1976 ("Santana has one just like it"), when he first arrived in the United States, and the aged guitar from which he does not part. He bought the guitar in a store on 48th Street in New York during that same shopping trip, spending a week in the used guitar section until he found a 1963 Fender Stratocaster - "the one I love best." He paid $750 for the instrument and added parts to it, which he likens to special tires a racing driver installs on his car. He relates that in 1990 Bob Dylan offered to buy the guitar after he saw him play at a Chabad telethon. But Piamenta has no plans to replace it.
"It is battered from all the times I've hit it, and let's not forget the 15 years during which I played a few Hasidic weddings a week and played nonstop for five to nine hours at each wedding. In a rock show, three hours of playing is tops, but Hasidic weddings go on and on. And the guitar still serves me in the best away possible."
In 1993, when he was 42, The Village Voice magazine described him as the "Hasidic Hendrix." In 1998, a New York Post article added epithets such as the "Sephardi Santana" and also noted that Piamenta was not known well enough outside the Haredi neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Borough Park. "I got called a lot of things, such as `gefilte Garcia,' and my music was described as `Hasid rock,' which was written like `acid rock,'" he says. "I do not get excited by it. Someone wrote that I was `Mahavishnu Joe'" - referring to the legendary guitarist John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra. "Okay, so they wrote what they wrote. I am Yossi Piamenta, a Sephardi Jew born in Jerusalem."
Piamenta performed nonstop and in 1998 released an instrumental album, "Strings of My Heart." In the 1990s he appeared not only at Chabad weddings and other events, but also in New York clubs. "Around 1994 I went back to rock-'n-roll, and until 2000 I played at Wetlands, which closed down four years ago. I would rent the place and fill it. It was a mixed crowd - religious, blacks, Italians and South Americans, who read in the paper about the `Hasidic Hendrix' - and I didn't even play Hendrix!"
What is the "Piamenta style"? "I improvise in mixed styles between Mizrahi and rock and blues," he explains. "The Mizrahi is Mediterranean in the style of the Egyptian singers Umm Kulthum and Abd al-Wahab, the Syrian Sabah Fakhri and the Lebanese songstress Fairouz. In all the music I ever played, including the Hasidic music, I was a rock guitarist. I played with music greats and I became religious and I had a daughter, so how was I to make a living? Instead of becoming a cab driver, I chose weddings of Hasidim, for whom the guitar was impure because it meant sex, drugs and rock-'n-roll. When I got into Hasidic music in New York, the usual instruments in Hasidic bands were the organ, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and clarinet, but never a guitar. It took time for them to understand that I played on the guitar the songs the way they sing them. They sang `Ahhh' and I stretched the string to make it sound like the human voice. Hendrix's technique served me. When they said it was all impure, I explained to them that the instrument does not determine impurity or holiness - only the musician determines that."
Piamenta's mother, Genia Swed, was born in Damascus and arrived in Jerusalem with her family at the age of eight. At the age of 16 she married Yehuda Piamenta, the boy next door. The patriarch of the Piamenta family, with its nine children, Yosef Piamenta (for whom his grandson, Yossi, is named), was an inspector for the department of health during the period of the British Mandate. For years there has been a dispute in the Piamenta family over whether they have been in the country for 14 generations or only seven, because the members of one generation left for a few years.
Yossi's father, Yehuda Piamenta, was a combat intelligence officer, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. Yossi spent his early childhood in Jerusalem; afterward the family moved to Upper Nazareth, where his father was a liaison between the Nazareth Arabs and the Histadrut federation of labor and government bodies. In 1963, when Yossi was about 12, the family settled in Tel Aviv. He received his first guitar at the age of 13 from his uncle, the jazz and rock musician Albert Piamenta.
"For about two months all I did was play around with it and then complaints started that I wasn't doing my homework and that I was cutting classes, and Dad smashed the guitar," he recalls. "I was so upset that I stopped eating and after a time he bought me a pretty good guitar, which I played on for about six years."
The three-way battle - father-son-guitar - did not stop. "When Dad, who was pretty strict, understood that I skipped an entire trimester in ninth grade and that I had to do the year over, he registered me in the military boarding school in Haifa - only a military regime would whip me into shape, he said. I went through a crisis there - suddenly I had to make my bed and report for morning roll call - but it didn't break me in any way. I won talent contests with the guitar in the Reali School in Haifa and I was one of the guys. True, I wasn't much at soldiering, but I got good marks at Reali. During vacations I met in Tel Aviv with the members of the first rhythm groups, such as Yitzhak Klepter. But one day I accidentally fired a bullet while cleaning my rifle in my room at the military boarding school at 8 P.M. I was court-martialed and kicked out. They said I could have killed someone."
He finished high school at Ironi Daled in Tel Aviv, but skipped the matriculation exams. "I didn't go for a scholarly career," he says. Instead, Piamenta joined Black and White, a rhythm band. He did his military service in the Artillery Corps, and in 1974, about a year after his release, founded the Piamenta Band, which fused rock, jazz and Mizrahi (Mediterranean) music. "Today I can say that all these titles are pathetic. It's an original style that has no name, so they give it a label - `Mizrahi rock.' Stan Getz was once asked what turns him on about Piamenta, and he said that what turns me on is that I play in my own style."
Piamenta: "My roots are in rock-'n-roll. I was a big fan of The Shadows, Cliff Richards' band, and its guitarist, Hank Marvin, was for me the greatest of them all. I liked blues and then the Beatles, and it went on to rock in all styles."
It turns out that he cannot read music - "For me, learning means listening," he explains. He listened to jazz a lot and after the army made a living in part by appearing with Jojo Musa's band, which played Arab music and accompanied soloists who sang rock and pop. In 1975, while doing a gig in Nahariya on Friday evening, Piamenta got an electric shock - he still has scars on his fingertips. "The strings burned my hand and the voltage was 340 watts. My hands were locked onto the microphone and the guitar. My brother touched me and also got an electric shock - it took a kick to detach the electric cable from the guitar. Zvika Pik, who was also supposed to perform that night, did not do his gig, and I was hospitalized for a few days. The papers called me the `electrified guitarist.'"
About a year later Stan Getz arrived in the country to perform in the Israel Festival. Piamenta heard that Getz was staying at the Hilton and decided to make his move. "I called and asked to speak to him and to my surprise he suddenly answered. I told him I admired him as a giant of a musician and invited him to come see me so I could play him wonderful music. He didn't really want to come. I told him, `I will bring you whatever you want - good Lebanese hashish, for example.' But he didn't go for it. I asked him what he would like and he said, `Girls.' I told him I had two charming sisters and he laughed and said, `I'm sure you wouldn't want me to mess around with your sisters.' I said, `That's right, but they are special and charming, so come.' He said he would. I bought a quarter of a bag of hash and brought a water-pipe home. I begged my father to let people smoke in the house, but he wasn't ready to agree to that. Finally I persuaded him that only Stan Getz would smoke, because otherwise he wasn't willing to come.
"We prepared a royal feast for Getz. At first he sat in the living room with my parents and sisters and ate. When he wanted to smoke, we went to my room, where the music equipment was. I put half a finger of hash on the water-pipe, and after it was gone we started to play. My brother Avi played the flute, the drummer was Benny Kadishzon and the bassist was Joe Mir [today a physician in New Jersey and married to Piamenta's sister]. Getz was bowled over by the music and asked whether we had ever recorded it. I told him we had no budget for that. He delayed his return trip by two weeks and with his funding we recorded all the songs in the Kolinor Studios. He took the master to New York and two months later called me to come and do the mix there."
For a few months Piamenta lived at Getz's home in New York. During the work the two had a professional disagreement, and Piamenta was also turned off by the lifestyle he saw: "Everyone was taking cocaine and couples were mixing and married people were cheating on each other and their kids hated them and everyone was loaded with money. I was disgusted. I experienced a crisis and I was disappointed in those people. A month after that I returned to Israel."
Why did you become religious?
"In my last year in the army I started to look for myself. At first I got interested in Zen Buddhism and meditation. I studied anthroposophy and I read the writings of Rudolf Steiner, but nothing clicked. As a boy, my maternal grandfather took me to the synagogue, so I had traditional roots, but didn't realize that I was on the way to religion. I was lacking something and I didn't know what I was looking for, until I understood that I was on a search for Divinity. One day I arrived at the awareness that the world has a Creator.
"All this also connects with the day on which I went to New York to meet Stan Getz. I was 25 and it was my first trip abroad. At my parents' place I looked for something that would symbolize home for me. After all, I am a native son and for me Israeliness was natural, so I looked for something that would leave the country in me. I looked until I encountered my bar mitzvah tefillin [phylacteries]. I stayed with Getz for six months and I put on tefillin every day, because it gave me a good feeling. I did not observe Shabbat and I did not eat kosher food; I just put on tefillin. A few months later I went home and then Getz came to Israel and we went on tour, with Getz playing material of his and mine, and I kept on with the tefillin. One day I discovered within myself that God exists, and the next stage was what he wants from me. So I started to study Torah."
In November 1977 Piamenta married Vivian in London. The daughter of his uncle on his mother's side, he had not seen her since the age of nine, since she moved with her family to Miami. When he was in the United States he visited his relatives and the two fell in love at first sight. But she was only 15 and unable to be married in Israel. His parents were not surprised by their desire to wed. The solution: to get married in London, when Vivian was almost 16. "She was secular when we met and when the relationship grew closer, I asked her, `You know our parents and you know the way of life of our grandmother and grandfather. Which seems to you to have more quality?' We agreed that the traditional lifestyle of the grandparents was preferential. From the day we were married, I started to observe Shabbat."
At the age of 17 Vivian was already the mother of Genia, today 27 and the mother of four (and expecting a fifth). A year later Zippi (26) was born, followed a year later by Muni (25), who is a singer and has managed his father's business affairs since Piamenta underwent open-heart surgery three years ago. They were followed by Rachel (18), Yehuda (17) - who, according to his father, is "a scary guitarist with his guitarism" - and the youngest son, Avi. Vivian, a saleswoman in a Manhattan shop, did not want to hear about living in Israel, but now that the two have separated Piamenta believes the way has been paved to bring his children here, too. "We will live here on Frishman. So what if the apartment is relatively small? After all, I also grew up here."
Piamenta's naivete is captivating: His father's apartment is not located on a good section of Frishman and there seems to be an escort service operating on the first floor. "Every time I leave the building," says Piamenta, "someone shouts at me, `At least shave off the beard,' as though I had come out of that particular apartment."
Piamenta has released 13 albums and the songs on all of them are in Hebrew. The album he made with Getz, with his brother and sisters accompanying, was never released. Getz died in 1991, but Piamenta still has the masters. About 10 months ago he had the unfinished mixed transferred to a computer. "I intend to go back to the studio and finish the album when I have about $20,000, so that it will have the proper quality, as I dreamed back then."
If we exclude the Hasidic albums, his representative work, he says, consists of "Strings of My Heart" and two albums he recorded live recently in New York, featuring an abundance of original rock music of his own: "Piamenta Live" and "Heavenly Jams Band." (The latter also features bassist Oteil Burbridge, who in 1997 joined the veteran Allman Brothers Band.) "It is only in the past two years that I played with famous American artists. People approach me, or someone organizes it. Two months ago I appeared with Pinetop Perkins, the most classical blues pianist going, who received his Grammy from Clapton. He is 92, climbs onstage with a cane, and sits down at the piano. The performance was at a Toronto club and was packed. I also played with Leo Nocentelli, the legendary guitarist of the Funky Meters, one of the black bands that invented funk in the 1970s."
Aren't you concerned that secular people will have a hard time accepting the connection you are creating between religious texts, rock and fusion?
"It's a song. Those are the lyrics. You hear music, let's say in the Hendrix style, not with the words `Come on baby,' but instead with `Blessed be Hashem' - what doesn't go with music? The problem is that you can't imagine that there is a believing person who is just as modern as you. In your view, it is impossible to ride a rocket, only a donkey, to be religious. I have to play the clarinet in order to be considered a true Jew. I connect sacred verses and rock in the most natural way. Back at the beginning of the 1970s, before I became religious, I set music to `One commandment brings another' and the grace after the meal, and the Piamenta Band played original Israeli rock to those texts at Beit Lessin. I am not schizophrenic. I make no separation between what I play and what I express in words. Everything returns to the same center: I am a Jew who grew up in Jerusalem and lives in Tel Aviv, who has been playing music all his life and uttering words that express what my soul feels."
Saturday, November 19, 2005
A Tenafly synagogue, the Lubavitch on the Palisades, will be converted into a restaurant tonight when more than 100 teens collect money for a young Israeli girl set to undergo a brain tumor operation.
A youth group called the Teen Friendship Club - composed of high school students from Tenafly, Demarest, Old Tappan, Cresskill and Englewood - will run and manage the synagogue-turned-restaurant. Dinner costs $180 a plate and includes steak, prime rib, schnitzel, fish and chicken.
The proceeds will go to a fund created for 8-year-old Chen Zilberberg of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, a town just outside the northern Gaza Strip. Lubavitch officials say she is expected to arrive in Houston for the operation next week.
Zilberberg was diagnosed this summer with a lump in her brain stem and has been treated with radiation therapy and steroids.
For more information, call (201) 871-1152. The Lubavitch is at 11 Harold St. in Tenafly. For information about Zilberberg, log on to help-chen.org.il.
- Soni Sangha
Thursday 17th of November 2005
Rabbi Mendel Lew was appointed last weekend as the next senior minister of Stanmore and Canons Park Synagogue following a vote by members.
The 40-year-old, who will leave Southend & Westcliff Hebrew Congregation to take up the role, said he hoped to take over at the north London community around Pesach.In a statement, the father of seven said: “I am very honoured and hope to repay the confidence shown in me. I am looking forward to working closely with rabbi Shaw to lead and inspire this wonderful community.”
He told TJ there will be “no fundamental changes to the character of the shul and the community. It is the finest community because of its traditions, ad we will work to enhance it.”
Asked whether his Lubavitch roots will affect the way he leads the community, he added: “Lubavitch children are taught from the earliest age the value of each individual. We are taught to respect others whatever the perceived difference. This is the approach that we will continue in Stanmore.”
Rabbi Lew also paid tribute to the “outstanding and dedicated leadership” of Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, who will step down on 7 January following 19 years as the community’s minister. “He has set high standards in Stanmore and I hope to carry on his good work.”
United Synagogue President Simon Hochhauser said Rabbi Cohen has been a “towering figure in the British Rabbinate.”
By Molly Resnick
I should have known it was going to be extraordinary — nothing short of miraculous — when a total stranger made out a $100 check to my son`s five-week old Chabad House right in the aisle of the Jet Blue flight headed for Oakland on erev (eve) Rosh Hashana. He was simply inspired by the idea of helping out a newly formed Jewish center in northern California that a typical Jewish mother like me was only too happy to boast about.
My 22-year-old son Elliot, my 17-year-old daughter Gillie and I were on our way to pay our first visit to my children Rabbi Raleigh and Fruma Resnick, the new shluchim (emissaries) of the Tri-Valley in northern California, for their first Gala event — Rosh Hashana.
What we encountered was literally a creation ex nihilo, something from nothing. Here is this newly rented, five bedroom suburban corner house on Via De Los Cerros, with a weeping willow on one side and some fine Japanese neighbors on the other, transformed — not only into a warm, welcoming home, but into a vibrant Jewish Center. The back porch is literally begging for a sukkah, Ikea shanks are filled with holy books and an Aron Kodesh (holy ark) all stand ready to welcome any Jew, "regardless of background and affiliation, whether Reform, Conservative or Orthodox", as was written in the Pleasanton Weekly article titled: "Rabbi here to urge Jews to come home."
The tall ceilinged living room was magically transformed into a shul when the green trees were discretely dragged from the wings and lined up to form a mechitza (screen). For the leining (Torah reading), a tiny Sefer Torah (scroll), given on loan for six month with an option for another six month extension, was unfurled on a makeshift bimah (stand), made up of a folding table covered by a glistening white brocade tablecloth.
All the while, Raleigh, the rabbi, is explaining every significant detail in the prayer book while Elliot, his brother, is premiering as chazan (cantor), (missing two days worth of courses in Cardozo Law School.) Gillie is ready with toys and story books for her junior congregation, should it materialize (it was advertised on the pages of the two or three local papers.) And everyone else in the family, including three of Fruma`s beautiful red-headed sisters, one brother-in-law, and one adorable two-year-old niece, are busy making themselves useful, either by helping the newly-formed congregation find the right page in their prayer books or just smiling to make everyone feel at home.
All the Machzorim (High Holiday prayer books) are new and have been donated by a kind soul in Brooklyn, so that they can hopefully be rededicated by some local newcomer, inspired to honor a beloved mother or father on this holy day.
Throughout the four, two-day services, not only did the minyanim materialize, but over 70 people came to sample a taste of honey and apple, with some becoming the permanent nucleus of Chabad of the Tri-Valley, which is 45 minutes north of San Francisco.
So here is this young shluchim couple, my children, literally in their "outreach career diapers", leaving behind the comfort of their home, family and friends in New York, not to mention all the physical amenities of a kosher community. In the span of a few weeks, they are able to create a new entity — a new family — made up of people drawn together in a desire to reconnect to their maker and celebrate their Jewish heritage.
And then, at the conclusion of every service, out comes this sumptuous kiddush spread with three varieties of fish, ten colorful salads (made from recipes collected over the last few months for this purpose), freshly-baked honey cakes and chocolate cookies, all created by Chef Fruma with some last minute help from the family. Only the rugalach are imported fresh from Gruenbaum`s in Washington Heights, packed carefully in my carry-on bag, banking on the knowledge that the way to a Jew`s heart (i.e. neshama) is through his or her eyes, taste buds and stomach. And suddenly, there`s a human happening as people are socializing and mixing, wishing each other "Shana Tova." and celebrating the plain joy of being Jewish.
The first-day Rosh Hashana services take place in two side-by-side lounges in the Courtyard by Marriot Hotel ("To make it look more professional," they confided) in Pleasanton, California. This little town is one of the three that will make up the "fiefdom" of Chabad of the Tri-Valley, together with the cities of Livermore and Dublin. (Total population 160,000, with an estimated 10,000 Jews.)
Not a moment is wasted in the life of shlichus. In those crucial minutes when we are all holding our breath to see if the place would actually give birth to a minyan, people start trickling in: a couple from South Africa, a pony-tailed attorney, a Russian lady and her two children, a former mustached country club chef and, of course, a few Silicon Valley engineers.
What a perfect time to initiate some of the men into the mitzvah of Tefillin — before mincha. And they come forward — some reluctantly, some adventurously and some incredulously. "This must be a New York thing", I hear a man whisper to his wife. I didn`t want to ask if he meant the actual act of donning Tefillin (his having never laid eyes on these black boxes before) or the lateness of the hour in the performance of the mitzva. But judging by the look of the couple, I would venture to assume it was the former.
It was truly a miracle. A miracle that is being duplicated by young idealistic couples all over the world`s 3000 Chabad houses. "In Thailand alone, close to 4,500 people participated in this year`s various Rosh Hashana services. As a matter of fact, Chabad organized 4,574 services in 371 cities worldwide this year," recounted Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, who initiates most of Chabad`s new ventures.
"How long are you going for?" is one of the most commonly asked questions. "Until Moshiach comes!" is the only answer you will hear from these committed couples who carry out their mission without any of the commonly-expected job perks: pre-negotiated salary, job security, health insurance or pension plan. And all to fulfill an idealistic life mission they would replace with no other. "Over 150 couples a year — or three [per] week — set out to diverse places around the globe with one purpose only: to reconnect a Jew to his G-d- given heritage" added Rabbi Kotlarsky. "And there are hundreds more talented, qualified candidates waiting to be called on wherever they are needed."
I could not help but reminisce with gratitude about my own encounter 27 years ago with Chanale, a daughter of one such couple, the Blumenfelds in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was an encounter that totally transformed my thinking and my life and enabled me to marry my dear husband, Dr. Larry Resnick, a``h, the Rebbe`s physician. Together we merited to become a part of this miracle — through our children.
May G-d bless all the Rebbe`s shluchim with abundant success in their holy work and may they go from strength to strength in all their endeavors. Their work is as close to Imitatio Dei (imitating G-d) as it gets, creating something out of nothing in their service G-d. And the auspiciousness of the timing, Rosh Hashana, the anniversary of the creation of man (and of course woman), only made it more poignant and miraculous.
To sample a taste without having to board a plane, please visit: www.JewishTrivalley.com.
Monday November 14 2005
Congregation plans to raise $30k to protect building
After two recent anti-Semitic attacks against Chabad-Lubavitch of the North Shore, the synagogue has begun a campaign to raise between $24,000 and $30,000 to upgrade its security. However, despite Chabad’s security fears, other synagogues in the area are not concerned that the attacks are part of a new surge in anti-Semitism in the Swampscott area.
But while Chabad is taking steps to upgrade its security, Rabbi Edgar J. Weinsberg, spiritual leader of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, said that although his congregants have approached him about the Chabad attacks “there’s no sense of anxiety.”
He said: “Anti-Semitism has been around for a long time. It’s still isolated incidents and I don’t see any organized movement with serious consequences.”
However, he added that “the saying ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom’ is always accurate when it comes to a few of the crazy or just pain irresponsible individuals who seem to get pleasure from such activities.”
To maintain that vigilance, he said his synagogue has a security system with an alarm and is regularly patrolled by the police. He added that his congregants are on alert for suspicious characters.
Weinsberg also attributed his feeling of safety to the Swampscott Police Department, who, he said, has been attentive in protecting Jewish institutions since the intifada began in Israel in 2000. “The police are very alert and responsive and have helped keep the calm,” he said.
He also attributes his calm to a conversation he had with Rabbi Yossi Lispker, spiritual leader of the Chabad, immediately after the first attack. “It looked to him more like a prank or people who are ignorant rather than a group of organized white supremacists which is why I didn’t get alarmed,” said Weinsberg.
However, since the second attack, questions of a connection are arising. Peter Nathan, president of the Chabad said:”We don’t even know exactly what is happening and we won’t know because the police, while they’re in the middle of the investigation, won’t release that information. Because we don’t know what it is, I think it would be inappropriate to say there’s a big level of anxiety. We are concerned and we are taking appropriate steps.”
However, both Lipsker and Nathan have been buoyed by the support of the larger community, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Lipsker said he received calls from Jews and non-Jews in the area expressing support: “Total strangers have been reaching out and asking, ‘What can we do?’ The support has been very uplifting.”
Nathan said a group from Gordon College visited the synagogue during Sukkot and expressed their support for Lispker and the Jewish community in light of the recent attacks.
“People have been extremely generous,” he said, adding that a new van was donated anonymously to the synagogue only days after the attack. “[The community] said they’re behind us and that they’re indignant.”
The Anti-Defamation League of New Engald provided Lipsker with a security manual available on its Web site to the larger Jewish community. “The first step is doing an assessment [of the institution] and then doing a plan that meets their specifications,” explained Robert Trestan, civil rights director of the ADL. “Everyone should have a security plan and that’s what the manual is geared at.”
Based on the ADL’s assessment, the Chabad estimated the amount of money they would need and created a task force to upgrade security and raise money, including posting a link to donate on its Web site, www.nsjewish.com. “The ADL has been very supportive and they helped us by providing certain security resources,” said Lipsker.