Thursday, April 09, 2015

Knocking Out His Teeth

Inexcusable! (Forward illustration by Lior Zaltzman)
When the Rasha (evil son) of the Hagadah asks his rhetorical question about the point of Pesach, the answer we give him is to be so sharp that it literally makes his teeth stand on edge.  (Hakeh Es Shinov.) Naftuli Muster recently experienced this reaction in spades.

You might recall that name. Naftuli is an expatriate Belzer Chasid who filed a lawsuit... get the State of New York to enforce its mandate for requiring a decent curriculum in its schools.  For their part, Chasidic leaders in these enclaves are quite proud of being a century behind the times… 
According to a New York Times article, Naftuli is no longer observant. But if one reads the story in the Forward, one would not conclude that. I don't know if he is or isn't. But it doesn’t really matter with respect to the points I am about to make.

During Chol HaMoed, the recently married Naftuli had visited his Hasidic grandfather and their daughter (his aunt) and her husband… and later his wife’s parents who are Charedi, but not Chasidic. He brought with his some Kosher L’Pesach cakes.

The Hechsher (Kosher certification) on these cakes were apparently of the highest caliber. There was no question about their reliability. The reaction to these gifts from these two families could not have been more different. Radically so. His grandparents, now Lubavitcher Chasidim are very strict about food items on Pesach. Lubavitcher Chasidim do not eat any processed food, no matter how great the Hechsher. Even if it were to have an Eida HaCharedis Hechsher, they won’t touch it. 

Being raised in Belzer Chasidus and having the same standards, he nevertheless assumed that very young children would be permitted to eat those cakes, just as he had been as a child in Belz.  What happened next is shocking. I could not believe what I was reading. From the Forward
“What is that? Take it out!” my grandfather yelled at me, pointing at the box. I tried setting the box on the table, telling him it’s kosher, when he yelled, “Don’t put it there, take it out! Get out with the food!” I tried setting it above the fridge, in a less accessible area, thinking that would suffice, but still my grandfather yelled. 
Surprised at his reaction to my seemingly courteous gesture, I offered the pastries to my aunt and uncle in the adjacent room. 
“You couldn’t bring it there, so you think you can bring it here?” my uncle hissed. “Get out of here.”
“What’s going on with this family? I’m trying to offer kosher food and this is how you treat me! This is  ------- ridiculous,” I said, my aunt, too, now shrieking me out of the room… 
“How dare you use that language in front of my kids,” she screamed, while her husband seethed into my ear. His breath was on me, his long, grey beard quivering in my face. “Get out or I’ll ------- stick a fork up you and your wife and eat you,” he said… 
My aunt toddled toward me. “You talk that way to my father, and I’ll hit you.” … Then she lunged at me, throwing a few punches at my face, before another uncle managed to restrain her. Leaving the hotel, my grandfather yelled after me, “You shaygetz! You mamzer!”
Even if you factor in the fact that his grandparents may have had pre-existing anger at Naftuli for  no longer being observant, this was not the reaction to have. If it was only about the food, they could have just politely said no thank you. Naftuli did nothing except to try and honor his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins with a holiday visit.

He came bearing gifts And he was treated like a lowlife piece of garbage by his own grandfather. Naftuli certainly did not intend to make his grandparents eat this food. He thought his very young cousins would appreciate these Kosher L’Pesach L’Mehadrin cakes.  

If this is the kind of Chinuch transmitted by his grandfather to his children, one of whom was Naftuli’s father or mother - it is no small wonder that he dropped an observant lifestyle. It’s true that there is always personal responsibility. And it’s true that many very fine families with impeccable child rearing practices have one of more of their children rebel to the extent of dropping observance, Nonetheless the wretched behavior of Naftuli’s grandparents in this episode is an abject lesson in how not to raise your children. If the grandfather is upset about what happened to his grandson, and wants to blame anyone, he ought to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Contrast that with the visit Naftuli made to his in-laws the next day. Still having the unopened boxes of cake, he wondered whether his Charedi in-laws might have a similar reaction. His wife responded: 
“My mother loves cheesecake.” We set the box on the kitchen counter when we arrived, joined everyone in the family room downstairs, and told them we’d brought Passover cakes. 
 “You brought cake?” said my mother-in-law. I stood frozen, horrified at what I’d brought upon myself a second time. But in the next instant, my mother-in-law tore up the stairs, and by the time I joined her in the kitchen she had plated herself a piece of cake. 
Two Charedi families. Two opposite reactions. Makes you wonder why the reactions are so different. Perhaps Naftuli’s family was so angry at his dropping observance that all they needed was the slightest pretext to blow up. But his wife of less than a year must have been in the same boat. She too must no longer be observant. Unless he returned to observance at a more modern level before he got married and both he and his wife are now observant. Or maybe he never even left observance. Just Chasidus. I don’t know.

Whatever the case may be, the role models for behavior are clearly not his grandparents. Or his aunt and uncle. The role models are his wife’s parents. Parents that are warm and welcoming as any loving parent would be to their children.