This modern-day coming together of different groups and their customs always creates the feeling of us as different links (or pearls!) within the same precious necklace.
If one is missing, the whole strand falls apart.
And I’m far from being the only one who feels this way.
Enjoying Our Differences
In fact, I lived near a Yerushalmi chassidish neighbor who loves hanging out with Sephardi neighbors. She also started inviting Russian baalei teshuvah couples for meals.
She’s very makpid with her own children that they should never denigrate another group. I can tell that it’s all fun for her (and because I’m Sefardi by marriage and American by birth—and therefore another part of the colorful prism of frum Jewry in her eyes—thus I also end up as part of her fun...which greatly benefits me too because she is a wonderful person).
After she came back from a trip to different holy graves of Rebbes in Eastern Europe, she enthused about how a Breslov woman on the bus inspired her with a steady stream of Breslov thought throughout the ride to Uman.
“I said Tikkun Haklali at the grave of Rebbe Nachman!” she bubbled. “And I saw orot (lights/spiritual illumination)—yes, really!”
And she is part of a chassidus reputed to oppose Breslov (although Rav Levi Yitchak Bender insisted this wasn’t true, as stated by the former Rebbe of that chassidus himself, as recalled by Rav Bender in Words of Faith).
A Minyan in Every Flavor
He experienced different kinds of chassidus and different kinds of Sefardi...and he thoroughly enjoyed himself.
If you saw him, you’d think he is a very quiet serious-but-nice conventional Litvak.
And he is!
But that doesn’t contradict his healthy appreciation for other frum groups.
Spending Shabbat in a Totally Different Hashkafah
Everyone treated him with such warmth and no one agonized over why he was in yeshivah as opposed to the army (as sometimes happens outside the charedi community).
He experienced a lot of warmth, acceptance, and good old-fashioned ahavat Yisrael combined with tremendous ahavat Torah—the divrei Torah never stopping flowing from the host and his family.
One family there in particular adores the mitzvah of hosting guests (which quite suits the place, being so near Avraham Avinu, who epitomizes the hosting of guests).
My son doesn’t want to join that community; he’s happy where he is.
But he received tremendous enjoyment and inspiration from frum Jews who subscribe to a different hashkafah.
Getting to Know the Hilltop Youth Never Shown by the Media
And some of them are like that.
But many are not.
Many observe things others (sometimes including their own parents & community leaders) do not wish to see.
Many are thinkers & idealists.
My son ended up in Bat Ayin for Shabbat & he stayed with some Bat Ayin boys in an ancient ruin they'd made habitable. (The boys' families lived in regular homes nearby.)
These boys both knew & cared about all the Shabbat halachot for living in an ancient stone ruin with minimal electricity, including keeping the food warm over Shabbat, etc.
One of the boys' fathers stopped by before Shabbat to make sure their electric wiring remained in good condition.
It was a very cool experience—the experience of living in ancient Judea as our ancestors did in the same kind of structure constructed of local stones.
Also, my son is obviously a charedi yeshivah bachur and felt total acceptance from these non-charedi-yet-religious Bat Ayin residents because Bat Ayin residents have a solid sense of achdut (unity) with their fellow Jews.
You keep Shabbat & learn Torah? Hey, you're one of us!
That's their attitude.
Like my son, his youthful hosts never served in the IDF—but for completely different reasons.
My son received an exemption based on his yeshivah attendance.
(Just to prevent confusion between my older sons, who are periodically mentioned in this blog: Son #1 served in the IDF; Son #2 happily remains firmly in the charedi yeshivah world.)
The IDF refused to let these Bat Ayin boys serve, stating the boys held views that were too far right.
(It stunned me the first few times I heard of the IDF rejecting eligible young men because of views deemed too far to the right. But it's really not uncommon for the IDF to do that. Chew that idea over for a minute...)
Anyway, these boys displayed wonderful character, commitment to Jewish Law, and detachment from materialism.
Here's how I see them:
They crave authentic Judaism. And their living in the original housing & lifestyle of the Judean Hills of Eretz Yisrael, along with their open hospitality, is all part of their desire for authenticity.
With their good middot & knowledgeable commitment to Jewish Law, they clearly are not as portrayed in the media.
Our Satmar Brothers
Satmar chassidim are another much-maligned group.
My son meets them as they drive around the country here on their business trips.
(Even though a Satmar community exists within Eretz Yisrael, my son always runs into only the American Satmarers here on business.)
My son and his friends clearly look like Sefardi yeshivah bachurs—a very different group than Satmar chassidim.
Yet the Satmar chassidim my son encounters never seem to feel my son is different than them.
Intrigued by their very different outlooks & customs regarding the political situation in Eretz Yisrael, my son nicely asked the Satmar driver about it all as they rode in his car.
In a friendly & casual manner, the Satmarer acknowledged the opposite viewpoint held by nearly everyone else, then briefly explained the Satmar view in the same unimposing & friendly manner.
Another time, my son & his friends spotted a Satmar chassid at a gas station in northern Israel.
They politely inquired whether they could join him. His eyes widened in pleasant surprise as he said, "Of course! If there's room in my car, then why not?"
It's hard to convey the exact tone & facial expression of the Satmarer, but my son described it as if the Satmarer was surprised they felt the need to even ask.
Meaning, it was as if he didn't understand why, upon seeing room in the car, they didn't automatically pile in as he finished paying for the gas.
It's just as if you would have no problem finding your brother—not just any brother, but the brother you REALLY like—suddenly in your car.
You'd be pleasantly surprised, right?
So that's the vibe this Satmar chassid gave off to them.
Tongue-in-Cheek Note: Having exemplified all this Satmar generosity & brotherhood, it should be noted: If you see a Satmarer, you still shouldn't just get into his car without permission. Even if he's as generous-hearted & welcoming as this Satmarer, it could still be he needs to get somewhere urgently, or pick up other people. So you should still ask.
Seeing the Full Picture according to Torah
We also have problems in our communities.
But these are discussed obsessively (and a bit hopelessly)—with great relish & self-righteousness by the secular & non-Jewish media (including blogs), and with a great deal of recrimination & self-flagellation by the frum media/blogs.
The reason why I often focus on good people doing good isn't because my brains consist of half-baked noodle kugel, but rather because all my reading of authentic Torah sources indicate this as the correct & healthiest way to relate to the world.
While the non-Jewish world only considers you honest if you mention the negative aspects among the positive, the study of our Sagely commentaries on Tanach opened my eyes to the fact that Judaism only considers your portrayal honest if you mention the positive among the negative.
You see an aspect of this in how the Great Sanhedrin could only sentence a person to execution as long as the guilty verdict was NOT unanimous.
Meaning, if not one Sage on the Great Sanhedrin could not see a way in which the accused was innocent—in other words, finding some kind of merit—then they assumed they lacked the full story.
Emulating the Lion of Yehudah
As Rav Itamar Schwartz explained in his talk for the month of Av, there are 2 types of "lion."
One is the lion of Dan (who also represents the serpent).
If you only focus on the sur m'ra, on repressing your yetzer hara, you will certainly be a very good person, but you will not be able to rise from the dust (just like a serpent cannot raise itself from the dust).
We need to be proactively good — aseh tov! — and leap from the place in which we could remain stuck—like the lion of Yehudah.
The lion of Dan excels in guarding the boundaries & fences.
(This relates to gevurah—the power of restraint.)
The lion of Yehudah excels in leaping over the walls to proactively act before being acted upon.
(This represents the aspect of malchut—royalty; a true king is incredibly powerful. Regarding authentically Jewish malchut, this invincibility comes from Hashem, Who is Truly All-Powerful. It's the power to do good & come out victorious.)
The lion of Yehudah is Mashiach.
In part, this means we need to look at the good in others.
We need to see the people who ARE investing in goodness, who exhibit goodness—and not just the people who make a mess out of their lives and the lives of others.
While we needn't whitewash or deny the negative, we need to look for positive role models at the same time and follow their lead.
Sure, we can look only at the dysfunctional people.
Yet is it fair to ignore all the people who stretch themselves to do good?
Is it fair to ignore the people who DO treat others with compassion?
Is it "honest" to ignore all the people who behave with compassion & respect?
For example, there's a charedi city in Eretz Yisrael where a Lubavitcher chassid prepares a Kiddush table laden with refreshments for all the wayward youth hanging out on the streets (and often making trouble).
He feeds them & engages them.
He does this every Friday night.
Should we close our eyes to this religious Jew who invests so much time, caring, and expense in his fellow Jews?
A lot of charedim treat these kids compassionately.
Is it honest to completely ignore all these good-hearted people, pretending they don't exist?
That's just one example.
Likewise, we also need to view the positive qualities in ourselves.
We need to know that underneath everything, Hashem has gifted each & every one of us with a beautiful, pure neshamah that not only yearns to do good, but knows & loves what is good.
And we need to know that others possess this too.
We need to seek it in both ourselves & others.
It's true that some apparent Jews lack this.
Some contain primarily Erev Rav souls.
And some aren't even Jewish, but their actual status got lost over time (or was hidden or confused—maybe not even so long ago).
But before we dismiss people has lacking an authentic Yisrael neshamah, we should search for their innate holiness & goodness (and our own innate holiness & goodness!) through eyes of real honesty & compassion—eyes that take in the whole picture, and not just part of it.