Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Way We Were… and Are Now

Baal Shem Tov
The founder of Chasidus, the Baal Shem Tov, would not recognize his populist movement today. A movement that embraced every single Jew and infused joy into their Judaism with his innovative Chasidic philosophy.

I don’t know who Rabbi Arthur Green is - or his religious affiliation… but he wrote an article in the Forward back in 2010 that is very perceptive about what has happened to Chasidic Judaism. Without getting into details, he said that Chasidim have lost their way. 

Here is how he puts it:
What happened to Hasidism? How did a daring and innovative movement for the spiritual regeneration of Judaism turn into a hard core of embittered defenders of a lost past, squabbling constantly among themselves, producing headline-grabbing violators of Jewish ethical norms, and viewing the outside world as entirely defiled and hostile?
Regular readers here know I am not a Chasid even though my roots are in Chasidus. Because - among other reasons - I have serious issues with their current isolationist worldview which at least in part causes the kind of behavior described by Rabbi Green.

Nowhere is the change from their mission of warmly embracing every Jew with love more obvious than in the recent events in Skvere. Those who have left the fold are virtually shunned! This is what happened at the funeral of Deb Tambor. Her friends - many of whom were former members of that community - tried to attend it. They were ignored by the vast majority of those Chasidim.

According to a Chasidic Rav who is a friend of mine and familiar with these now OTD Skverer Chasidim the majority of them experienced some form of sex abuse. Which is what caused them to leave Skvere and go OTD.

He tells me that none of these people are bad people. They are all fine and decent human beings that have been traumatized by events in their own lives and by what happened to a dear friend. They did not want to cause any trouble. They just wanted to show their final respect for a dear friend, who died so suddenly by her own hand. They were truly saddened by it – seemingly more than those who did attend.

My Chasidic friend attended a recent memorial service for Deb. Here is what he said in an e-mail:
There was about 50-60 people there, and .....they are just nice people.  And because they are mostly estranged from their families, the genuine bond they have with each other is meaningful and deep.
I cannot begin to tell you what it meant to them to have a rabbi-type accept them.  I went to deb's "Levaya" earlier in the week at about 8:30 p.m. We stayed for 15-20 minutes, said Tehilim and wished her friends comfort. When I checked back at 11 pm and heard the funeral hadn't taken place yet, I went to a local 24 gas station and bought some drinks, came back and gave it to them. 
It was so terribly sad how surprised (and off the record, those who didnt know me, suspicious) they were. It was as if I walked across enemy lines. I cried when I got back to my car for so many reasons.
And last night, every single person who was in Skvere came to tell me how much it meant to them. 
We, who give thousands of hot meals away to frum and frei people in hospitals, can't invite our own neshamos in for a hot meal while they are mourning their close friend??
We, the frum folks, are making such a terrible, terrible mistake by Giving them the back of our hands. I wish I could have brought over a bus load of our leaders to see what I saw... They might worry less about the Internet and kosher cellphones.
May Hashem forgive us.