Monday, September 21, 2015

A YCT Student’s Encounter with Satmar

Jonathan Leener
I am not surprised at all. The hospitality of the Chasidic world is legendary. To a Satmar Chasid there is no such thing as judging a fellow Jew’s religiosity. A Jew is a Jew. 

Jonathan Leener, a senior rabbinical student  at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah moved into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, entering the world of Satmar. Which gave him some trepidation based on all he has read about them in the media (and perhaps even on this blog). But his fears were not warranted. His experience in a Chasidic Shtiebel that he happened upon quite randomly was a radical departure from the Shuls he was used to in his previous neighborhood of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Instead of the rejection or cold shoulder he expected, the atmosphere there was warm and welcoming. He was treated practically like royalty. In spite of the fact that he looked more like a Beatle than a Hasid (as he describes himself in a Times of Israel article) he was given an Aliyah and even called up to the Torah as ‘Harav Channan David’. He had never gotten an Aliyah in his old neighborhood. When he mentioned that he was going to be a rabbi the Chasdidm there seemed genuinely excited for him. He enjoyed the atmosphere of prayer there too: 
The beautiful melodies and the rhythmic swaying or shucking was completely memorizing.  I had a feeling that my ancestors davened in a shul like this back in Poland.
After Davening he enjoyed a ‘Cholent’Kiddush and lively conversation about people and issues of the day. What he took from this experience is the following: 
They redefined for me what Jewish Hospitality — hachnasat orchim — should look and feel like. With small and intentional gestures, the great divide between us seemed insignificant. 
As I said at the outset, none of this surprises me. As individuals there are few Jews that can compare with the warmth this community exudes for fellow Jews of all stripes. It doesn’t matter what you look like to them, or even what your Hashkafos might be. ‘A Yid is a Yid’. That is all that matters to them. That is how their world famous Satmar Bikur Cholim operates. (Yes, they have a website!) 

If you are sick and in the hospital in the New York area, it is not unusual to find a Satmar Chasid bringing Kosher home cooked meals to - not only you, the patient – but to all your visiting family members as well. This all stems from the warm and welcoming attitude that Satmar Chasidim have for their fellow Jews. This is a part of their Chinuch that they get exceedingly right and something from which we can all learn.

This doesn’t mean that all the criticism I have of their public or educational policies has gone away. I still have tremendous issues with them on so many levels. But in this respect, they are Tzadikim. I’m happy to look at the positive for a change and I appreciate the article by Jonathan Leener, the YCT student that took me there.