Monday, June 8, 2009

We Are Normal

Tonight, the Satmar Rabbi, Aaron Teitelbaum, marries off his granddaughter, Bluma Ashkenazi, in Kiryas Joel.

Mazel Tov to you too.

But not without incident, that is.

One of the founding principles of the Chassidic movement is that regular folk marry off their children modestly according to fixed spending regulations, while rabbis throw extravagant weddings. There are several ways to uphold this treasured tradition. Prevalent custom among contemporary rabbis is to decorate with ornamental lights all streets leading to the various dining rooms and ballrooms where matrimonial festivities are to be held. Nobody questions whether this is really necessary. Certainly, like all traditions, it is rooted in our holy past.

Of course, not every nook and cranny in the outdoors belongs to a certain Chassidic sect, but that’s why we have invented laws of eminent domain. Our boys are free to hang electrical wire wherever they see fit. No questions asked.

Apparently, utility companies disagree.

And it came to pass that Orange and Rockland Utilities dispatched a couple trucks to take off wires illegally strung on their utility poles by Satmar Chassidim in Kiryas Joel, Times Herald Record reports.

Before long, they were surrounded by a mob of zealous young Chassidim. How dare they remove the wires? What do you mean these are your poles? I mean, we did make you guys pay to move the poles away from the curb in a successful litigation where we argued the poles are yours, but that doesn’t mean we cannot use them the way we want to.

So the boys block the technicians, the technicians call the cops, the cops order the crowed disperse, the crowed instead barricades the trucks, the trucks are escorted by police, police are barricaded too, and get some eggs and plastic bottles hurled their way as well.

Police clash!

Mazel Tov again.

Wait. Isn’t this all about God? To most VIN commenters it is. Everything we do either sanctifies the name God or desecrates it.

If we serve the police kugel, God is great, and if we have an argument, His name is disgraced. Now, what will the gentiles say? That Chassidic teens occasionally quarrel with police? You mean just like teens in Newburgh, Middletown, and elsewhere?

What a chillul haShem that is.

I don’t care whether O&R Utilities should have been more sensitive and waited another day to remove the decorations. Neither is it relevant to ask why the KJ Public Safety couldn’t coordinate with police to prevent this from happening.

I want to know why an offense against Police and the People of New York is turned into an offense against God. Why do we have to be better than everybody else?  Why do we represent God more than any other religious group? What has this to do with faith at all?

And if it does, isn’t it enough that crime statistics are lowest in our neighborhoods? Do we really need to be picture perfect? Who raised the bar that high?

Yes, our teens are rogue. We even have a few real criminals.

We are normal.

Friday, May 22, 2009

לשון חלקלקות

Chassidic Yiddish speakers often distort English words in ways other than the general public. This post started out as an honest attempt to compile a list of such words, but mysteriously turned satirical. I decided to post the fun entries too, but, on a sober note, I hereby appeal to my readers to help me add more words to the list.


Copper: Bronze. Example: Offerings for the Tabernacle included gold, silver, and copper. Bronze is an alloy from the element copper, but they don’t call it the Copper Age, right?

Steam: Heating. Most places already have more efficient heating systems than steam. Alas, not the only example where we stick to the fifties.

Votes: 1) Elections 2) Polls 3) Votes. Example: When the votes closed, candidate x had a majority of votes; he won the votes.

Europe: Eastern European cemeteries. Example: Buy raffles from yeshiva x, and be the lucky winner of a trip to Europe.

Meshugener: Extremely context sensitive. It can mean anything from genius to skeptic to homeless. Examples: Where should I start?

Seder HaBuses: Bus Schedule. Example: Dial (718) 782-5566. Are you guys out of your mind? You’re running a large commuter enterprise. It’s not like you charter buses to the rebbe’s wedding.

Cool-ay: Kool-Aid. Example: I had cool-ay, my neighbor had cool-ay; we all drank from the cool-ay.

Abortion: Sent off to California. Ha ha. Very funny. Until it hits you. Well, why don’t they go for the real thing? We are not Catholic, after all. Just say'n.


More, as it occurs to me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ייבש המעיין

This blog will cease to propagate for a while.

Not because I don’t want to share my thoughts with you. Quite the contrary;  יותר ממה שהעגל רוצה לינוק הפרה רוצה להינק More than the calf wants to suck, the cow wants to feed. However, I want to take this blog in certain direction and on certain level, and I’m not ready yet. So unless I’ll feel strongly about a current issue, things will be quite around here.


So long,


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hestia or CompTia?

Should I go on reading Classic Mythology or practice for the CompTia Network+ exam?
Or read blogs?

תעוף עיניך בו ואיננו

I live, I observe, and I think. Those thought nuggets have to be developed by further reading, otherwise I will lose them.

Here are some topics I should have read more about, but I wasted my time sleeping in and checking Facebook profiles. Maybe I’ll never get to it, or, as I hope, I’ll get to it at some point in the future. It’s either חבל על דאבדין or עוד חזון למועד.


Biblical Significance: Aside from being the bread of Passover to commemorate the Exodus, matzo is also the only bread allowed on the Altar, and most sacred breads in the Temple were matzo. Also, Lot baked matzos for the angels, (Gen. 19:3) and so did Gideon (Jud. 6:19).

Etymology: Is matzo etymologically related to similar Hebrew roots for feud, glimpse, flower, drain, juice, or suck?

(ריב ומצה, מציץ מן החרכים, ויצץ ציץ, ונמצה דמו, מיץ ענבים, מציצה בפה. הי הי)


Color: Usually white. See Moses (Ex. 5), Miriam (Num. 12), and Gehazi (2 Kings 5). However, Leviticus 13 discusses red, green, and yellow besides white.

Causes: Gossip, per classic commentators on Deuteronomy 24: 8-9. Another cause: Trespassing of the priestly privilege, per Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26. Are the two related? After all, the Torah makes it clear time and again priests have the exclusive license the handle leprosy cases.

Place: Moses: on one hand. Uzziah: on the forehead. Miriam: significant part of her body. In addition, Leviticus 13 discusses full body, the scalp, beard, clothing, and house.

Prevalence: It would have no relevant Halachic ramifications, but does the disease still exist today? If not, when did it cease to exist, and why? R’ Yochonan, a third century Talmudic sage, was familiar with the phenomenon in his days. See Brochos 5b.

5th of Iyar

Why was the State named Israel? If you were going to build a homeland for Jews, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call it Judea? The ancient Kingdom of Israel fell a long time before its sister Judean Kingdom, and while Jews returned from Babylonia and reestablished Judea, Israelites were forever lost.

Why are the people of ancient Israel called Israelites, while the people of the modern state are called Israelis?

The Satmar camp refers to Independence Day with the Hebrew phrase יום המר והנמהר. The source is a verse in Habakkuk (1:6) that describes the Babylonians as ruthless and impetuous. I understand the Satmar zealots believe the State of Israel to be evil and its Independence Day a sad day, but frankly this phrase makes little sense. Call it a tragedy; call it a disaster; call it even Al Nakba, but ruthless and impetuous?


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Heroines of Fantasy

I remember the story of Bais Yaakov martyrdom from childhood. I think it was Yom-Tov Ehrlich who composed a lyric euphemistically describing a flock of white doves ascending to heaven, but I’m not sure.
In 1943, ninety three Bais Yaakov teachers in Krakow Ghetto preferred to leave their bodies washed and pure rather than defiled and contaminated by the Vehrmacht—or so the story goes. A letter supposedly written by Chaya Feldman, the ring leader, relates the events to Meir Shenkolevski, director of Global Bais Yaakov in New York.
Apparently, Holocaust researchers have long doubted the veracity of the story. Some serious questions need to be answered before it can be accepted as believable. Rafi G. wrote a post yesterday at DovBear, where he quoted an article in Maariv that asks:
1) How did the suicide note found its way from a hermetically closed ghetto to a rabbi in NY?
2) How did they procure poison in quantities enough to put 93 adults to sleep in a ghetto where everything was rationed?
3) Why were Holocaust survivors from Krakow unfamiliar with the story?
4) Why was the letter written in a Hungarian Yiddish dialect when the author, Chaya Feldman, was most likely a Pole?
5) The Aryan doctrine prohibited the Nazis from such relations. Even if the policy was occasionally broken in isolated incidents, the same cannot be said about such a large group.
The questions are tough, but not breaking. Question #1 is challenging indeed, but the others not so much. They could have concocted a poison from household chemicals. Thousands perished everyday, so it’s not unlikely that a mere 93 passed unnoticed. I’m not a linguist, but I did read Yiddish from Polish and Hungarian sources. I’m unaware of any noticeable difference in the written word between both dialects. Anyway, I’d love to see a copy of the original letter. Finally, the story doesn’t claim the Germans actually had relations with the loathed Jewesses; rather the women themselves believed they were going to be raped. Maybe their captors told them that to frighten them in vain.
However, I don’t have any agenda to defend the story as anything more than a nice legend. As the Maariv article says, just as there are Holocaust deniers, so are there Holocaust fabricators. And the danger of both is equal. If one story turns out to be a myth, it casts a shadow on all the rest. As Simon HaAmsoni said (Kidushin 57a), just as we take reward for telling, we take reward for rescinding. God’s name is sanctified by the courageous act of pure women, and God’s name is sanctified by being honest and admitting a lie.
I wondered if it’s all a myth, why was the number 93 was picked? The following liturgical chant, (with an obscure interpretational twist), explains.
נחשב כצג באיתון דחות בפילולי עקלתון ונקדישך בשבת שבתון קדוש (מוסף יו"כ)
We deemed the 93 as courageous, reject with trials the dishonest, and we will sanctify you by the elimination of the pantheon of martyrs.


Roots for irregular translation

כצג: צג בגימטריא 93

איתון: איתן מושבך (במבדבר כד)

בפילולי: ונתן בפלילים (שמות כא)

בשבת: תשביתו שאור מבתיכם (שמות יב)

שבתון: יושב בשבת תחכמוני (שמואל ב כג)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Je me souviens l'Tash

Pesach was great, thanks.

I spent the holiday, and a couple days before and after, in Tosh. We arrived onאור לארבעה עשר באורתא דתלת נגהי ארבע after a nice and pleasant drive.

We schlepped along the whole house, as if we were going to wander the desert for forty years. The Tosh liquor / mikvah store is unreliable and overpriced, so I crammed in a case of merlot and chardonnay under the back seat of my Honda Accord. Amazingly, I totally forgot about the wine at the border. Not that I mind paying the Canadians the few cents per liter; it’s just that I hate being pulled over and having to undergo the waiting, form-filling, and who-knows-what-else process.

Kiddush HaChama was very special, if not for the ceremony itself than for its rarity. It warmed my heart and frostbit my fingers. Ironically, the onset of the spring season was celebrated under a light snowfall. Well, the Vernal Equinox wasn’t really on April 8; it was two weeks before that. The sun played hide-and-seek. It thought it was cool to peek-a-boo out of clouds every ten-fifteen minutes to tantalize the celebrators. But it did expose its whole body upon the recital of the blessing, just as it was on the day it was born. Happy Birthday!

Right after the morning prayers, the crowd gathered in the court to the east of white synagogue. The Rebbe appeared shortly thereafter. A dais, decorated with banners, was built for the dignitaries, three long rows of tables covered in white disposable tablecloths were prepared for the congregants, and scaffolds for the young flanked both sides. The crowd was black, except for four people who were wrapped in a tallis. Those were R’ Yoel Zvi Moskowiz, the dayan, R’ Yoel Yechial Cohen, the Rov’s son-in-law, Hershey Fekete, and me. Women were banned, for modesty reasons, but a dozen women stood there, nevertheless. Some came in feminist protest, and others had nothing better to do on Passover Eve. The Rebbe no longer leads the services, so his son R’ Meilach substituted. After the service, the Hadaser Rebbe, R’ Avigdor Fisch, publically made a sium, (finished a Talmudic tractate), thereupon, tuna and egg sandwiches were served; L’Chaim!

The sun above Hershey Fekete's grandparents' home

Dais. The Dayan in a tallis to far left

Some of the crowd

Photo courtesy: Hershey Fekete

Mid-Passover the unbelievable happened. I fell in love with Tosh. The place I abhorred for better than decade as obnoxious and inhabitable suddenly appeared serene and delightful. Its residents walk around carefree and seem to live off nothing. Besides, I like those Canadian socialists. You get child benefit cheques, (Canadian English, all you spelling freaks), free health care, and you even get paid to learn French! I couldn’t think of one possible advantage Kiryas Joel possesses that Kiryas Tosh lacks. What about my job? Ha, nothing to lose here. Well, Tosh has no available apartments anyway, so not relevant; move on.

What else? Chol HaMoed I visited one cybercafé in Montreal and another in Laval / Vimont, (city names are screwed up in Quebec.) It got me thinking if I could open a similar place in KJ. Many folks don’t have Internet access here or even a computer. How about a cozy place to sip and browse? Nah, they will bust it down sooner than a page loads with DSL here in Monroe. Okay, so not a storefront-like leisure-oriented hangout that may lead to mixed dancing, but a discreet dark-alley basement with no available parking and furnished with five computers running JNet Internet service that sounds an alarm whenever a patron attempts to click a non-kosher site. I could make a buck here by selling overnight kugel every Thursday night. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, after all.

What do you think?