Hey Yankel, how are you doing?
Thanks for the pics you sent me. You and your son really look well fed and robust. However, since you asked me how I am doing, I have no choice but to be honest.
Yankel, I have known you all of my life; after all, you are my older brother and I have always attempted to emulate all your ways.
I live in “treif America”; you settled in Eretz Yisrael. While I use English as my spoken language, you insist on exclusively speaking Yiddish. While I wear “Western style” clothing, you are obsessive in maintaining what you emphatically describe as “authentic Jewish” dress.
Although sometimes I kidded you for your obstinacy, in truth I envied you for what certainly seemed to me at the time to be your “more Jewish” lifestyle.
You are living in Meah Shearim; you have the freedom to teach your kids the way you want to; you are protected by the state; and for the most part no one — and I mean no one — interferes with your life.
When I would visit you I was always amazed by your financial stability and the growth of your neighborhoods. You now have air conditioning, cell phones and beautiful Shabbos clothes. You purchased apartments for all your children when they married.
In short, you were blessed by He whose blessings count and I was happy for you.
Even though you complained at times about all the Americans who come through your neighborhood, privately you admitted to me that it was those American dollars that pour through the shops and collectors of your streets that enable you to make beautiful weddings for your children.
I remember how at the last wedding of your daughter you had two videopeople – one for the women and one for the men. It did make me wonder why you needed that – after all, I (the Modern American) had no videoperson at my son’s wedding while you had two! However, I let it pass and was happy for you.
When the incidents occurred in Beit Shemesh, I believed what I read in the haredi media: that this was not indicative of the feelings of most “authentic Jews”; that this was the work of a “fringe group.”
Perhaps I did not really believe this, but I so wanted to believe it was true that I let it pass.
All that was before Motzaei Shabbos week before last, when I turned on the computer and there you were with your son – my nephew – Yossele.
Yankel, how could you do it? And how could you do it to our Yossele?
Look at your smile, Yankel, as you proudly set your eyes on your son whom you manipulated to raise his hands in a grotesque, sickening pose, mimicking the iconic photo of a young Jewish boy being rounded up by Nazi soldiers.
Yankel, I am sending you a copy of the authentic (as I know you always want that which is authentic), original photograph of that scared little boy. He is terrified, not knowing what life has in store for him.
Look at the other people in that old photograph (I know, most of them are women, but let’s be honest, Yankel, you must have studied this photo intently before you offered your son on the altar of hate) – they are petrified and to be pitied.
Look now at yourself, Yankel, and at the other people in the picture from Motzaei Shabbos. All of you are dressed in your Shabbos finery, and none of you appear frightened.
Yankel, what did you say to little Yossele before you sullied him with the badge of hate?
What words of chizuk did you offer to his pristine neshamah as you told him to pose in that position of mockery?
After that Motzaei Shabbos demonstration – and you often pointed this out to me – no one can claim you are “just a few fringe people.”
There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and execution of that event.
You had women sewing the concentration camp uniforms. You had technical assistance in surfing the web to get the best Holocaust pictures. You had people printing and translating your signs into Hebrew and English.
And as you noted to me many times, although we have seen rabbinic bans and protests against concerts and books and women rabbis and individual authors, there has not been a single signed pronouncement appearing with the names of any prominent haredi rabbis protesting or denouncing your actions.
All that being said, Yankel, the reason I am writing to you is because you are my brother and I do love you dearly.
I love you with all my heart and soul and I cherish the good and wonderful and spiritual times we spent together singing and discussing Torah.
I remember fondly when you told me about how happy you were when you found solace and peace in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov; how happy you were with his love of each and every Jew and how he accepted all Jews no matter who they were and what their standing was.
You told me how he started a movement wherein each and every precious Jew could be counted and loved, irrespective of how learned he was or how he dressed.
You told me Hashem looks into the heart of every Jew and forgives his or her lapses.
However, that was before you sent me the picture of you and Yossele.
That was before I saw my nephew forced to pose with his hands held upright in ridicule of that which is pure and pristine.
You told me about love and now I see hate.
You told about compassion and now I see cruelty.
You told about sanctity and now I see sacrilege.
Yankel, I know you are my brother, but I must ask: Who are you?
Often I can no longer recognize you.
With all my love,
Your brother who loves and misses you.
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey. His new book, “The Elephant in the Room,” is available either directly from the author (mail check for $24.99 – cost includes shipping – to Rabbi Eisenman at Congregation Ahavas Israel, 181 Van Houton Ave., Passiac, N.J. 07055) or at Amazon.com.
About the Author: Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey. His new book, “The Elephant in the Room,” is available either directly from the author (mail check for $24.99 – cost includes shipping – to Rabbi Eisenman at Congregation Ahavas Israel, 181 Van Houton Ave., Passiac, N.J. 07055) or at Amazon.com.
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