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November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Boro Park’

‘On the Rerouted Train’

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The sudden jerk of the train woke Rena up with a start. She blinked a couple of times realizing she was still on the subway. Her head was pounding from the roar of the tracks. She adjusted her headphones letting the music echo heavily in her ears. Rena closed her eyes again trying to ignore the headache which just wouldn’t go away. She scanned the train car mindlessly. The lone guitarist stringing at his guitar grateful for every penny thrown into his hat; the mother trying to calm her restless children; the punk rocking to his music blasting so loud for all the train to hear. The teenagers boisterously arguing. Rena looked back down at her darkly painted fingernails noticing the chipping nail polish. She took a deep breath as she switched the song on her I-pod and ran her fingers through her long straightened hair, noticing it was beginning to get oily, yearning for a warm shower.

Closing her eyes again, images kept creeping back into her mind. Her brother’s scared face… She tried pushing away the expression on his face when he walked into the bathroom and saw her holding the pills. She tried pushing away the image of her father’s anger. She tried closing her eyes to her mother’s tears. Rena fidgeted with her I-pod trying to blast the music to flood out all her thoughts. But still, between the drumbeats she heard her brother’s confused tone saying her name over and over.

“Rena…Rena!” his tone was surprised. His tone was afraid. His eyes spelled confusion. He slowly let his fingers fall from the door knob as he backed away muttering, “Rena you’re kidding right?”

She shuddered as she remembered her uncontrolled reaction. Slamming the door violently. Screaming for him to leave. It all kept creeping back at her. The loud flush of the toilet, the pills swirling down away forever. Sitting on the hard subway seat, Rena buried her face in her knees trying to block out the sounds of yelling, the endless phone calls, the endless stares from her neighbors and friends. How did she mess it all up? She asked herself over and over. But as she thought of that she heard her mother asking the same.

“Rena what happened? Rena what was wrong? Why did you do this?” And somehow as her mother’s pained voice banged at her mind dripping in guilt, she couldn’t pinpoint a specific answer.

The train came to a sudden screeching stop. Rena looked up, staring at her blank reflection in the subway window. The dark eyeliner outlining her eyes was beginning to run. Loose strands of hair hung in her face blocking her pained eyes. Again she looked around the car noticing the confusion on everyone’s faces. She lowered her music and suddenly heard the conductor announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry for the inconvenience but the M train is being rerouted to the A line. For the M train please transfer at the next stop.”

Rena glanced at the map trying to figure out how exactly she would get to her destination now. Annoyed she looked at the rest of the passengers whose feelings were visible on their faces.   She tried figuring out which train to transfer to as she began thinking about how crazy it made everyone when one train was rerouted. One train off its tracks. One train off the planned route. It messes everyone up. And slowly the stops on the map all came clear. She was on the wrong route.

Rena bit her lip as suddenly she saw her reflection differently. She saw herself as a lost train. Her dripping eyeliner. Her chipped nail polish. Her short skirt. She ran her fingers through her hair nervously as she approached the chassidishe woman sitting with a bunch of children. Pulling out her head phones and tugging at her skirt Rena took a deep breath and anxiously asked, “Excuse me.”

The chassidishe women looked up at her curiously and nodded. “I’m trying to get to Boro Park,” she asked bravely. She made up her mind. She would reroute her train too. The women furrowed her eyebrows and tried explaining which train to take. Rena thanked her and as she got off the train she fished for her phone in her bag full of open candy wrappers and endless packages of gum. Stepping outside onto the sidewalk the sun blinded her in her realization. She turned her phone back on ready to face the phone calls and texts. Sliding the touch screen she dialed her home number, her heart pounding with every ring. The phone to her ear, she slowly started walking down the street, each step feeling heavier and heavier. The rings seemed to go on forever and Rena bit on her nail waiting for someone to pick up.

My Machberes

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Editor’s Note: A photo Rabbi Tannenbaum included in last week’s My Machberes, of a meeting in Jerusalem between the Satmar and Belzer Rebbes, was, unfortunately, not authentic. The picture was obviously Photoshopped. Such a meeting did not take place. We regret our oversight in publishing it.

Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler

Lakewood Yeshiva Bans Smoking

The roshei yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG) of Lakewood have issued a wide-ranging prohibition forbidding smoking of any kind in any of the facilities of BMG, though smoking by BMG’s students has been banned for quite some time. Students include those married as well as those unmarried. The extended ban by Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Rabbi Yeruchim Olshin, Rabbi Yisroel Neuman, Rabbi Dovid Schustal and Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon now includes everyone, every type of smoking, in every facility. Further, the ban also includes electronic smoke. Additionally, the ban specifically forbids all smoking in public. The prohibition has been enthusiastically received.

 

 

 

Serdehaly/Toshnad Chassunah

On Tuesday, February 7, Mordechai Katz will marry the daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu Yitzchok Brisk, Toshnad Rav in Monsey, in Ateres Chaya Sarah Hall on South Madison Avenue in Monsey. The chassan is the son of Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz, eldest son of Rabbi Chaim Leib Katz, Serdehaly Rav in Boro Park. Rabbi Asher Anshel is the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Katz, zt”l (d. 1985), Sombotheily Rav; son of Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz, zt”l Hy”d (1881-1944), Serdehaly Rav and author of Ule’ashar Omar; son-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich, zt”l Hy”d (d. 1944), Shomloyer Rav and author of Lechem Shlomo. Rabbi Chaim Leib is also a grandson of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Pollack zt”l, Woodkerter Rav.

The kallah is the granddaughter of Rabbi Yehoshua Brisk, zt”l (1932-2010), Toshnad Rav in Netanya; son of Rabbi Aaron Zvi Brisk, zt”l (d. 1960), Tashnad Rav who immigrated to Natanya; son of Rabbi Mordechai Brisk, zt”l Hy”d (1886-1944), Toshnad Rav and author of Maharam Brisk; son of Rabbi Yehoshua Brisk, zt”l (d. 1914), Toshnad Rav; son of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Brisk, zt”l (d. 1879), Nir’arad Rav; son-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Lieberman, zt”l, Shenya Rav; son of Rabbi Yitzchok Yehuda Lieberman, zt”l, Shenya Rav; son of Rabbi Shimon Lieberman, zt”l, Mahd Rav.

The celebrations begin with the Shabbos Beshalach aufruf, February 3-4, at the Serdehaly Beis Medrash in Boro Park, followed by a royal kiddush. In order to accommodate the large number of guests who will arrive to partake in the special Shabbos, chassunah, and sheva berachos, a special hachnassas orchim committee was formed to organize lodging. The Shabbos Yisro Sheva Berachos will be held at the Toshnad Beis Medrash in Monsey.

Nikolsburger Chassunah

On Sunday, January 29, Yitzchok Dov Jungreis married Tziporah Friedman, daughter of Rabbi Alexander Zusha Friedman, at the Ateres Chaya Sarah Hall in Monsey. The chassan is the son of Rabbi Mordechai Zev Jungreis, Nikolsberger Rebbe in Boro Park and Woodbourne. The simcha began with the aufruf on Shabbos Bo and continues with sheva berachos through Shabbos Beshalach. In order to accommodate a larger participation of chassidim, family, and friends, the tefillos, tisch and kiddush, led by the Nikolsberger Rebbe, were held at Beth El Hall on 15th Avenue in Boro Park.

Nikolsburg in Boro Park

The Nikolsburger Rebbe, a long time rebbe at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin where he continues to infuse his students with a passion for Torah and Yiddishkeit, established his beis medrash at 4912 16th Avenue, where he also conducts an evening kollel. The beis medrash exerts a magnetic pull and the Nikolsburger Rebbe has developed a lively following. Very much in the spirit of Rabbi Yeshaye Steiner, zt”l (1852-1925) – Keresturer Rebbe lovingly renowned as Reb Shayaleh Kerestirer – there is always a bounty of heimishe food on the tables in the beis medrash where the idiom “no one goes away hungry” rules. The Nikolsburger Rebbe has had much success with chassidishe youth-at-risk.

Immediately prior to the summer of 2010, the Nikolsburger Rebbe of Boro Park formally met with the dedicated administration of Woodbourne’s B’nai Israel Synagogue and, with their enthusiastic support, assumed summer leadership of the Woodbourne Shul. Though the shul had not been fully utilized for years, the board’s resilience in its maintenance is recognized as an important part of the shul’s successful transformation.

Nikolsburger Rebbe of Boro Park and Woodbourne

Nikolsburger chassidim upgraded the Woodbourne shul. In addition, they rented a home across the street that serves as the Nikolsburger Rebbe’s summer residence. With the shul’s downstairs refurbished and turned into a large second beis medrash, the shul accommodates more than one minyan at a time. Often, a third simultaneous minyan is held outside the front doors. The last minyan for weekday Maariv was scheduled for 11:45 pm, but minyan after minyan continued well past midnight.

Again? Yes, Again

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

“Not again!” you may say. To which I respond, “Yes, again!” I say this as I write once again about the most heinous tragedy that could have befallen us, so even though it may not be popular – even though your reaction may be, “We heard it already” – I am nevertheless writing because I fear we have returned to business as usual.

Hashem has been sending us wakeup call after wakeup call, but we remain deaf to all of them and have yet to sound the alarm, have yet to see the hand of G-d beckoning us. This time, however, is different. This time, no one can avoid seeing that what has befallen us is so incomprehensible, it can only be interpreted as a message from the Almighty Himself.

A Jewish child is slaughtered by another Jew – in, of all places, Boro Park, a glittering stronghold of Torah.

And before we can even catch our breaths, a sage in the holy land of Israel, in an enclave of Torah, is savagely murdered – by a Jew.

Is there anyone among us who should not be trembling? Is there anyone among us whose heart should not be shattered – whose eyes should not overflow with tears? With these murders, something has changed, something that never occurred before, something that should frighten each and every one of us.

Every yeshiva child knows our First Temple was destroyed because of three cardinal sins, as a result of which we were taken into the Babylonian exile. Through the mercy of Hashem, after seventy years of exile we returned to our land and rebuilt the Temple.

The Second Temple would eventually be destroyed as well, though for an altogether different reason. While we were careful in our observance, unwarranted hatred permeated our lives. Walls of animosity, controversy and jealousy divided us. It was this fragmentation that catapulted us into the Roman exile, and it is in this exile that we still languish.

For almost two thousand years we have been suffering in this darkness. We have traversed the four corners of the world, tasted the bitter sting of the lash, experienced oppression, torture, inquisition and the Holocaust. Centuries have passed and we remain in exile. Why did G-d not redeem us as he redeemed our forefathers?

The answer to this question is painfully simple – we never repented. Stubbornly, we clung and continued to cling to our hatreds and animosities and in every generation, in every society, we found different reasons to justify it…so much so that the hatred has taken on a life of its own. We no longer see anything wrong with it and consider it a normal way of life.

But these recent heinous, unprecedented events alter our reality.

Our generation continues to stubbornly cling to the sin of unwarranted hatred that is at the root of our present exile, and we concede we are guilty of two of the cardinal sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple: immorality and idol worship (idol worship does not only connote “idols” but anything that is like an idol (money, etc.) and removes us from the true worship of G-d.

Nevertheless, we were secure in the knowledge that the third sin – murder – never penetrated our sanctuary.

Now, with the savage murders of an innocent child and a Torah sage, that illusion has been forever shattered. Overnight, we became the generation that carries on its shoulders the heavy burden of the sins that led to the destruction of our two Temples and sent us into exile. Just take a moment to think about it. It is a catastrophe that has never befallen our people. The sins that led to those destructions are now identified with us. Is that not reason enough to tremble? Is that not reason enough to examine our lives before it is too late?

The Rambam taught us that when suffering is visited upon us, we are commanded to cry out, awaken our people, sound the shofar. Everyone must be alerted to probe his or her life and commit to greater observance of Torah and mitzvos. The Rambam warned that if we regard the tragedies that befall us simply as “the way of the world” – “natural happenings” – we will be guilty of achzarius, cruelty.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand why the Rambam would choose to ascribe “cruelty” to those who view trials and tribulations as “natural happenings.” Such people may be unthinking, apathetic, blind or obtuse, but why accuse them of cruelty? The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as “mere coincidence,” we will feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways, andchange. So yes, such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortune upon ourselves and others. It would be the height of cruelty to dismiss what is occurring in the world today as mere happenstance.

As Jews, we all know (even if we do not want to admit it), that nothing on earth occurs by accident. G-d’s guiding Hand is always there. In the holy tongue, the very word “coincidence” is kara, meaning kara me Hashem – “it happened from G-d.” G-d has sent us a wakeup call so loud that even a deaf person must hear it. But somehow we manage to console ourselves with distractions and blame some mental or emotional sickness to explain away this savage brutality.

We are a generation that no longer recognizes terms such as “bad” or “sinful.” Rather, we tend to rationalize it all away with psychological jargon. At the end of the day, however, no matter what psychological illness we attribute to these heinous deeds, the tragic, shameful fact remains – they happened! And they were done by our own! Now if this is not enough of a wakeup call, what is?

In the face of all this, what are we to do? What can we do?

(To Be Continued)

A Soul Revisited

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

While working for the U.S. Census Bureau in 1990, I knocked on the door of Soviet ?migr?s in Boro Park and proceeded to converse with them about their recent arrival to the United States. This elderly couple had come from Moldavia. They were survivors of both Nazi and Communist tyranny.

The elderly man, 74, implored me to assist him in finding work since, as he explained, the boredom was becoming unbearable in his new homeland. Throughout his life, he had proudly supported his family by working as a shoemaker. He was limited in his choice of professions because he had an amputated leg. I offered to teach him how to bind books and he immediately excelled at this endeavor.

Over the next ten years, Fridel and I worked together in the book-binding field. He bound thousands of sefarim for numerous shuls. He worked meticulously, honestly and with a glad heart. He took great pride in his craftsmanship.

Fridel was the product of a painful era that produced millions of Jewish souls who suffered immensely yet continued to carry the tradition of their ancestors’ faith. He truly possessed “emunah peshuta,” the kind of simple and innocent faith in Hashem found only within the great ones among us.

Almost exactly ten years later, during the 2000 census, Fridel passed away in his Staten Island home. He was survived by his loving wife, children and grandchildren. After his passing, his wife presented me with his tefillin which he had worn faithfully every morning. I made a mental note to save them for a male grandchild.

In 2002, Fridel’s granddaughter gave birth to a boy who was named after him. Every few months, I would visit Fridel’s widow and we would reminisce about the time we had all spent together over the years. Unfortunately, the family moved, and we lost contact.

After four years of trying to track them down, something short of miraculous took place. This past Yom Kippur, 5771, I included Fridel’s name during Yizkor and pledged a donation in honor of the memory of his soul. This sparked several amazing occurrences into motion.

Right after Yom Kippur, my mother asked me to take Fridel’s tefillin home to my house, since she was getting rid of unclaimed property in preparation for the renovation of her house. I took home Fridel’s tefillin and placed them safely on a shelf. Shortly thereafter, I found a business card with Fridel’s new phone number. Now, with the new link to Fridel’s family in my hand, I proceeded to call his 94-year old wife. Sure enough, she picked up the phone and I felt a surge of joy. My four-year search had come to a happy conclusion!

The next evening, I called Fridel’s granddaughter to arrange to visit. I did not know whether to bring up the topic of the tefillin. As I spoke to her on my cell phone from a wedding hall stairway, a fifteen-year-old boy dropped his tefillin down the flight of stairs and they fell right in front of me. I bent down, kissed them, and handed them to him. I did not need any more direct sign from Above and immediately brought up the topic of Fridel’s tefillin. She was thrilled when I told her that I was holding onto her grandfather’s heirloom. I told her that it would be a very appropriate gift for her eight-year old son, Fridel, once he reached his Bar Mitzvah.

Throughout life, we receive signs from Above. I believe that because I pledged tzedakah for the sake of my dear righteous friend’s soul, Hashem helped me to once again be able to be part of his family’s life, and to ascertain that Fridel’s precious pair of tefillin would proudly be worn again by his only male descendant.

Fridel may have spent most of his life in a world where it was impossible to live as a proud Jew, but he left this world after ten years of proudly proclaiming each morning that Hashem is One each morning. And he left his tefillin to continue the golden chain of his shining righteousness.

Fridel ben Azik a”h, 1916-2000 – yehi zichro baruch.

Shomrim In The Face Of Danger

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

    Shomrim, volunteer citizen patrols, established in Jewish communities to handle quality-of-life issues, have been in existence for many years and are credited by local police forces for their key role in reducing crime. Not only are there active Shomrim patrols in Brooklyn’s religiously concentrated neighborhoods of Boro Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, but also thriving patrols in the Jewish communities of Baltimore, Northwest London and more. While these patrols are designed to monitor suspicious activity and report any potentially dangerous activity to the police, the recent shooting of four Boro Park Shomrim members in September is a chilling reminder of the inherent danger these dedicated volunteers face on a daily basis.

 

   Chaim Deutsch founded Flatbush’s Shomrim Safety Patrol 20 years ago at a time when crime was so prevalent in the area that according to Deutsch, “If you stood outside for a reasonable amount of time, you knew you would see something happen.” The 40-man Flatbush Shomrim team works closely with Brooklyn’s 61st, 63rd and 70th Precincts and they receive training from both Shomrim and the local police department. They patrol their 40-block district every night, keeping their eyes open for suspicious activity, which they then report to the police. Deutsch believes in quality, not quantity, and limits his team to 40 well-trained men, each of whom commits to patrolling one night a week and carrying a radio at all times, except on Shabbos and Jewish holidays.

 

   Boro Park’s Brooklyn South Shomrim Patrol, originally known as the “Bakery Boys,” also began 20 years ago, when a group of bakery deliverymen banded together to prevent the crimes that seemed to be prevalent in the area in the late night and early morning hours when bread deliveries were being made. Since then, the patrol has grown to include approximately 100 volunteers, encompassing all of Boro Park, Bensonhurst and Kensington. They work closely with the 62nd, 66th and 70th police precincts and have a close relationship with Brooklyn South Police Chief Joseph Fox.

 

   “We don’t stop anyone and we don’t put ourselves in jeopardy,” said Deutsch. “If we see something suspicious we call it in to the police. We are basically the eyes and ears of the community. Our responsibility is not to put ourselves in danger and if, G-d forbid, someone gets hurt it is a scar on our organization. Sometimes we do have to hold someone down if there is imminent danger but most of the time we just let the cops do their jobs. They have the guns, not us.”

 

(L-R) Chaim Scharf, Flatbush Shomrim task force coordinator; Noftoli Rosenberg, coordinator;

Chaim Deutsch, founder of Flatbush Shomrim; Akiva Klein, search and rescue coordinator

 

   Boro Park Shomrim coordinator, Simcha Bernath, follows a similar plan of operation. “We try not to have any contact with the perpetrators. We follow suspicious individuals and, if need be, we call the police. Let them come and apprehend the perpetrator.”

 

   What happened in September was an anomaly, according to Bernath. “Unfortunately we were in major danger and what happened, happened. We look at it as simply patrolling and trying to keep the neighborhood as safe as possible, but we found out that you never know. This particular perpetrator, no one would have ever thought he would pull a gun and start shooting in the streets of Boro Park.”

 

   In the wake of the recent shooting, New York State Senator Eric Adams provided Boro Park’s Shomrim with bulletproof vests but the Shomrim are still trying to decide whether or not to wear the vests while on patrol.

 

   “They have a lot of ups and downs,” explained Bernath. “We are looking into what our policy will be in the future.”

 

   The Flatbush Shomrim will not be wearing bulletproof vests any time soon.

 

   “I am against the vests for two reasons,” said Deutsch. “First of all, you might think you can put yourself more at risk because of the vest. We shouldn’t feel untouchable. We don’t carry weapons and we don’t expect to get into shootouts. A policeman’s job is to protect and they are armed. For them a vest is a second layer of safety. Second of all, a perpetrator who sees you wearing a vest will assume that you have a gun and will be more likely to shoot at you.”

 

   Volunteers are carefully screened and their references are scrupulously checked to ensure that Shomrim members are able to deal with the varying situations that they may encounter while on patrol. Aside from being ever alert for suspicious activity, Shomrim members are also trained to deal with non-medical emergencies, missing persons, children at risk, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

 

   In the aftermath of September’s shootings, Deutsch reports that no new safety measures have been enacted, as the wellbeing of the Flatbush Shomrim team has always been of paramount importance and as always, frequent meetings are held to ensure the safety of all volunteers. In Boro Park, while no major changes have been made, Shomrim are being provided with more training and encouraged to be even more vigilant and careful than usual.

 

 

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various Jewish newspapers, magazines and websites in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full-scale productions.  She can be contacted at sandyeller1@gmail.com.

It’s My Opinion: First Do No Harm

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

One of my dearest friends recently flew to New York to be with her ailing father who had suffered a severe heart attack. Sadly, he did not survive.

 

Her father lived in the same Boro Park building for over 60 years. His children grew up there. His wife had passed away a few years earlier. My friend’s father stayed in his apartment. It was his home.

 

Over the years, the neighborhood changed. The apartment building became more and more haredi. The elderly man in the knit kippah was now an anomaly, but he managed with a pleasant word and lighthearted banter toward all.

 

During the dark days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he became the information center for the building. He was the only one in the entire apartment house who owned a television. He graciously accommodated everyone who came to his door seeking news.

 

His death occurred on the first day of Sukkot. My friend stayed in her father’s home throughout Chol HaMoed. Because of the holiday, she would not be able to sit shivah until the Motzaei Shabbat after Simchat Torah.

 

The normal sadness of losing a father was exacerbated by the strange behavior that she observed as exhibited by the tenants of the complex. Residents passed in the hall. People came in and out of the same doors. No one offered a condolence. No one spoke a single word about the loss of a longtime neighbor.

 

My friend is one of the nicest and kindest human beings I have ever met. Her fuse is long. Her patience is incredible. Days went by. Finally, even she had enough.

 

She exploded. “What’s wrong?” she asked one of the women. “You know my father just died. Don’t you even have the decency to say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss?’ ” The woman responded, “It’s Yom Tov. We are forbidden to take part in mourning.”

 

             Obviously, the neighbors in the building were acting in accordance with what they thought was proper adherence to Jewish law. The regulations of mourning during holidays and the Sabbath are actually quite restrictive. However, a few words of condolence are not the same as an effusive public eulogy.

 

The neighbors in this apartment building certainly did not purposely act with malicious intent. They meant no harm. Nonetheless, their actions left behind a hurtful aftermath. Medical doctrine advices, “First do no harm.” We would all be well advised to follow that credo.

Where Have All Our Middos Gone?

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Shame wells up in me as I thread my way through the cluster of young wives standing near my home, animatedly talking with one another as their children play at their feet. Four shopping bags dangle from one arm, five from another, and I shift them uncomfortably as I carry them from my car, practically bent over from their weight.

I take a deep breath as I try to quell the hurt and disappointment I feel, the anger that courses through me. For I know – sadly and with great certainty – that as I wend my way toward my front door, no eager young hands will try to wrest the bags from me and insist on helping me drag them up the stairs to the third floor where I live. Not one of these fine young frum women will detach themselves from the group to inquire: “Do you need help?”

The clammy cold hand of truth grips my heart and tells me: “You are invisible to them, your need is invisible to them.” What else can I think, how else can I rationalize their indifferent behavior? That they do see me struggling mightily and simply don’t care? I’d rather not be seen.

I wish I could convince myself they still consider me young – not their contemporary, clearly, but young enough to easily carry these bags myself. But I’m in my late fifties, as old, or even older, than their own mothers, and my extra weight makes me lumber, not limber.

For years I’ve tried making excuses for them, but I’m running dry; I want to think well of them, but I just don’t know how to explain their oblivion. Shame scorches me, but I’m not quite sure why: is it my own shame at being rendered so irrelevant, or is it the shame I feel as the physical capacities I once took for granted now fail me?

Or is it the shame I feel for them, for their glaring lack of middos and consideration? Why do I race to help them shlep their baby carriages and strollers up the steps, when they always stare so blankly at my arms laden with ten bags?

When I grew up in Boro Park in the 1960′s, my teachers made it clear that while learning was important, menschlichkeit was supreme.

We were repeatedly instructed to surrender our seats on the buses and subways to pregnant women and the elderly and to assist all people (regardless of gender, age or religion) weighted down with too many packages and escort them home if need be until their cumbersome burdens were safely deposited at their doors. We were taught to open doors for the people filing into stores behind us, to gracefully give up our place on long lines at the bank or post office to those stooped over in age, and to leap at the chance to scour the sidewalks for loose change someone had dropped and was now bending over to anxiously retrieve.

(I was reminded recently of the soft-spoken teacher who delivered that particular lesson to us in her gentle, pleading voice, when my white-bearded husband dropped a roll of quarters that scattered in many different directions on a busy Boro Park street traversed by dozens of frum people, all of whom – I am sorry to say – ignored his kneeling figure and never once thought to stop and assist him.)

I sincerely wish I could exculpate my fellow Orthodox Jews by subscribing to the theory that a glaring lack of middos is a “New York thing,” a function of too many people squeezed into too small a space, and that common courtesies and general civilities are the sacrificial lamb of congested city life.

But I find that as I grow older (evidence of it apparently radiating from my face despite the best advertised attempts of Olay), these little courtesies are actually being extended to me more and more each day by the non-Jews in the neighborhood. Which makes the issue rankle me even more: When it comes to ordinary, everyday middos, why are frum people lagging behind those to whom they are supposed to be a beacon?

* * * * *

 

Recently, I was driving down a street in Flatbush looking for an address scribbled on a piece of paper. As much as Hatzolah has campaigned that all homes be marked by clear and large address numbers (so that they can be easily found in case of emergency) many are still woefully lacking, and I had to stop and start my car constantly as I tried to peer at the miniscule script inscribed on most front doors.

I was still creeping slowly down the street when a car pulled up to next me. The driver honked the horn, motioning that I should open my window. It was a frum young woman wearing a sheitel and the requisite high-necked, long-sleeved blouse. Since I had been, on that same day, brooding over what I perceived as the decline in middos in the younger generation, I felt heartened – downright elated – that this woman was trying to come to my aid, clearly disproving me and my theories wrong.

My assumption – as I rolled down the car window with a broad smile, my heart literally expanding with happiness that I was mistaken, that people did care – was that she had witnessed my confusion and distress and wished to help me out. She, too, rolled down her window and bent her head out to address me. But on her face no smile appeared. Instead, she snarled at me and spat out these words: “Why don’t you learn how to drive, lady?” She then extended her middle finger in my direction and sped away.

I pulled over to an empty space on the street and sat in my car, shaking for several minutes. I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. If she had been just any woman, it would have been an ugly encounter. The fact that she was frum left me devastated.

Yes, I’ve heard the rhetoric before and I know it by heart: Frum people are human. There are bad apples in every group. You can’t judge a group from a few individuals. Yes, all of the above is true, so much so that they’ve become clich?s. And yet .

There was something deeply disturbing about that woman’s behavior that afternoon. Her outward appearance conformed to frum standards. Sheitel: check. Tzniusdik clothing: check. Tefillas HaDerech dangling from her rear view mirror: check. Deretz eretz: ZERO.

Was the woman’s chutzpah representative of something dark and pervasive in our community, or was she an anomaly? I would like to wholeheartedly believe the latter: that her behavior was uncharacteristic, that she belongs to a tiny minority of deviants, and that our community is drenched in kavod habrios, derech eretz, and exemplary middos.

* * * * *

 

Just the other day I was battling the Sunday crowds in a pizza shop when a burly young man rudely pushed past me, jostling me so strongly that I tipped off balance, almost keeling over to the floor. He was too frum to speak to me – a woman – Heaven forbid, perchance to say, “Excuse me, please.” But what about the laws of negiah he clearly violated as he tightly squeezed by?

The woman standing next to me and I rolled our eyes at each other, but as she was not wearing a sheitel and was clearly Modern Orthodox, I felt an immediate impulse to defend the young man. “I guess he was in a huge rush,” I stammered, embarrassed.

“Oh, come on, honey, it happens all the time,” she rejoined. “These people are so rude.”

Cringing at her criticism of “these people,” and not wanting her to leave with negative impressions, I ended up – ironically – trying to persuade her that the majority of frum people are aidel, fine, kind and respectful. I tallied up the huge number of chesed organizations in our community and asked her if there was anything comparable to be found among other groups.

“Yes,” she said, “that’s true. But chesed and middos are two different things.”

As I reflected upon her remark, I recalled an incident that had occurred to me the previous week. I had been on line at a takeout place when a frum young man cut in on me and bellowed out his order to the counterman, without checking to see if everyone else around him had been served.

Having been told I need to be more assertive, I timidly spoke up: “Excuse me, sir, but I believe I was ahead of you.” I expected an apology, a smidgen of remorse. Instead, the young man sneered and said: “So what do you want me to do about it now? Give you my sandwich?”

* * * * *

 

There are several other issues of common courtesy I wish rabbonim and teachers would address. Driving etiquette – more accurately, lack of same – is one of them. The incessant honking by impatient drivers in our neighborhoods grates on the nerves and is a huge contributor to the noise pollution that diminishes our quality of life. Aside from the assault on our ears and equilibrium, the constant honking creates a chillul Hashem. What exactly do frum drivers imagine they can achieve by aggressively pressing down on their car horns when there is a traffic jam up ahead? Do they want the cars trapped in front of them to sprout wings and fly over the cars stuck ahead of them?

Equally aggravating is the tendency of some of our brethren to stop their cars smack in the middle of the street while they engage in conversation with pedestrians, totally forgetting about or disregarding the cars idling behind them. Can’t they just pull up to the nearest empty parking space and have their discussions there, instead of holding up traffic?

And then there’s Purim. A good number of non-Jews reside on my block. It is appalling that the limos/trucks/SUVs and other vehicles carrying young merrymakers on Purim night roll down the streets at 2 and 3 a.m. blasting ear-splitting music at deafening decibels, waking up everyone within a two-mile radius, including the non-Jews, some of whom must rue the day frum Jews moved into the neighborhood.

Speaking of non-Jews, how many of us even bother to greet our non-Jewish neighbors and validate their presence in our lives? Most people know the inspiring stories of the Bluzhever Rebbe, who was spared the gas chamber because of his pre-War daily greetings to a rabid anti-Semite, and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, whose widow was paid a shiva call by a local priest who could not forget the rav’s hearty salutations to him each morning.

We love these stories, but how much do we incorporate their lessons into our own daily lives? We need to be conscious of our non-Jewish neighbors as people, not just convenient Shabbos goys.

Holding doors for people entering places you’re about to exit is a minor thing, as is saying “thank you” when the doors are being held for you. Extending greetings for a “Good Shabbos” to everyone you pass on the street (including strangers) is de rigueur in smaller frum communities, but infrequently practiced in the larger ones.

I’ve heard people argue that there are so many frum people on our streets that it’s just an impossible feat to perform. Perhaps that’s true – maybe it would become tiresome, tedious and robotic. But what about people who do greet you on the street and you look past them, ignore their greetings and just walk on? Not extending Shabbos greetings is one thing. Not reciprocating them is inexcusable.

* * * * *

 

People wring their hands at the stories of frum people embezzling one another or perpetrating massive and irrevocable kashrus frauds. How is it possible, we ask, shaking our heads in disbelief. Frum people would do this to one another? Incomprehensible! But is it really? Haven’t we already set the stage for this kind of behavior by ignoring its lesser manifestations – bad middos?

Lack of respect radiates outward, far beyond the domain and parameters of simple human decency. Allowing our children and grandchildren to get “away with it” – with chutzpah, rudeness, and offensive behavior – not only augurs poorly for the day-to-day interactions and relationships in our community, it also nurtures harmful, even dangerous, attitudes that spill over into other spheres and create myriad abuses.

If one is allowed to be impertinent and cheeky without formal restraint, if one is given free rein to engage in disrespectful behavior without any accompanying censure or the proverbial slap on the wrist, then the door is open to a complete breakdown in human relations – a breakdown that ultimately threatens our very way of life.

Unchecked disrespect of other human beings is an important building block on the road to spousal and child abuse, financial crimes, kashrus scandals and many of the other upheavals we’ve experienced in recent months. Many of the social ills currently besieging our community could have been at least partially avoided if we had inculcated our children with kavod habrios, ahavas Yisrael and overall menschlichkeit.

It certainly is true that when it comes to chesed, the frum community’s level of activities and programs is unparalleled, and in that regard we have much to be proud of. But make no mistake: As the woman pointed out to me in the pizza shop, chesed and middos are two very different things.

Let us hope the time will come soon when mitzvos ben adam l’chavero carry as much currency in our community as do mitzvos ben adam laMakom; when the current separation between these two pillars of Yiddishkeit dissolves and is integrated into one seamless whole; when we say “mi k’amcha Yisrael” in reference to both chesed and middos; and when we can effectively serve as the light unto all nations we were meant to be.

Soferet Dugri is the pseudonym of a writer living in Brooklyn.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/where-have-all-our-middos-gone/2010/05/05/

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