Thursday, December 18, 2014
For the most part, I'm filled with excitement when I learn about peoples' move toward growth, especially in their relationships with each other and with God. When one makes a conscious decision to delve deeper into such a major component of their life, to simply not allow what is to just be but to grapple, to contend with it and to confront the existential elements that inform our everyday actions - I see that as a positive in general. If that brings a person closer to their roots, or draws them into a whole different world but gives them a healthy, meaningful perspective that allows them to actualize their spiritual potential then I fully support and encourage that exploration. That is what I believe is happening for many today, as they become exposed to the world of pnimiyut.
I have a long standing reluctance to use the term neo-Chassidism or its more well known alias neo-Hasidism; this is primarily because of its association with camps that exist clearly outside the realm of Torah Judaism. I would argue that one of the reasons why chassidut in general gets its bad rap nowadays (long after the hatchet has been buried between the so-called "camps", although there are a few clueless holdouts) and carries a reputation of being a twee, less-than-intellectually-serious derech haChaim is in no small part due to the neo-Hasidic movement with their romantic revisionism of what the Chasidic lifestyle was and what it was intended for. Why anyone would want to even bear a resemblance to that shameful miscarriage of a great and holy path of avodah is beyond me.
I find myself reluctant to even describe myself as a chassid without a prefix - if I do at times it's purely an aspirational thing.
Moreover, assuming the name neo-Chassidut effectively sets one apart from a great living tradition, a gestalt that has infused these last days of galut with light, joy and energy, not to mention volumes of astonishing Torah in all areas of study. I fear that this insistence on choosing a distinctive name stems from an egocentric place; I hope that I am wrong, although I have seen other indications that certainly point to a pronounced lack of bittul.
The article highlights the spread of chassidut in the Modern Orthodox world, but this is so much bigger than that. Indeed, there has been a renaissance of sorts in the past two decades at least even within the "mainstream" chassidic world. With teachers such as Rav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg, Rav Itchie Meir Morgestern and Rav Gamliel Rabinovitch - among others - dedicating their strengths to once again cultivate a more conscious approach to Judaism, more and more people are "buying in" in response to the phenomenon of "selling out" with a pale facsimile of monolithic Judaism. Instead the article focused on people within the movement for the most part, as opposed to the individuals leading the movement. Again, I'm concerned that this is indicative of a larger issue of people not understanding the need to have real leaders to rally around; neo-Chassidut has been described as a DIY (do it yourself) movement. While this can foster individual responsibility, it has many risk factors as well, especially in light of the youthful composition of the "movement's" adherents. There are not yet enough resources that make chasidic texts accessible to the initiate, although thankfully that is changing. Yet by and large, translations of major texts come from places and individuals who are not observant, and whose well-meaning attempts to translate and explain these fundamental aspects of chassidut fail miserably in so many ways. It's a very dangerous place to be, to enter into something as potentially powerful as pnimiyut without an experienced teacher and structure. Lord knows that I have so much lost time as a result of this. The JA article did not do justice to this warning.
We have to tread carefully and be very cautious in this area.
I was somewhat dismayed by the response in the various social media sites from both those within and without the neo-chassidut camp. There was some sort of triumphant horn-tooting and self-congratulating that came across to many including myself as immature, as well as premature. There was an impression of eliticism in response to those that didn't necessarily agree or appreciate the article (I saw "snag" and other derivatives of the word mitnagid bandied about); I have more to say on the general subject of the "right" way to serve God, but this post is too long as it is. Another time.
(I will mention one thing in particular: an individual who is a senior faculty member in RIETS has been ridiculed by many in response to his reported comments to JA. This individual is at least partly responsible for Rav Moshe Weinberger being at YU in an official capacity. At the very least he deserves some gratitude for recognizing what is "working" with many of the students and - despite his misgivings and skepticism - brought Rav Weinberger in as mashpia. The scorn leveled at him based on a quip that was quoted as part of a larger article is not fair, nor is JA's use of his on-the-record remarks to be set up as the "bad guy". Bad form.)
Many of the responses to the article have been so very cynical, even caustic in some instances. And while it is so natural to assume a defensive position and swat away at the attacks and criticism, we would do well to at least take heed to some of the more salient points that those critics make. It is precisely that opposition that keeps us on the straight and narrow and it behooves us to at least take it seriously, because there is a grain a truth in some of their words and we can learn from it.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
On behalf of my wife and myself, we would like to thank everyone who made the effort to come to our simcha and of course to the Ribbono Shel Olam Who has sustained us and brought us to this occasion, Whose kindness is a bechina of ketonti m'kol hachasadim...
I'd like to say a few words about the rach hanimol's namesake; I know that it's a workday and a school day, so I'll try to keep it short.
This particular simcha is very special for me personally, as this is the first time that I have merited to name a child after one of my own grandparents. My son is named after Reb Dov ben Reb Meir, my father's father, whom I was fortunate enough to know for a good portion of my life. Truthfully, I encountered my grandfather as an elderly man, but even at his advanced stage of life I was able to sense the uniqueness of his character, what my father one time described as Oz, might or strength.
My grandfather did not lead an easy life. A survivor and an immigrant, he escaped the fiery crucible of the Holocaust and withstood the melting pot of assimilationist America. His determination and resolve to not allow anything to get in the way of his commitment to Torah and Judaism enabled him to live in a spiritual desert and - along with my grandmother Liba - cause Judaism to flourish in the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon. My grandfather made no compromises; one anecdote involved the "kosher" butcher in Portland refusing to show my grandfather his shechita knife - my grandfather went years without touching meat until innovations allowed for importing from Seattle or California.
I remember reading Holocaust memoirs and interviews conducted with my grandparents. At one point, my grandfather mentioned that as a young adolescent in Europe (before the war) he had "rebelled" and experimented with certain behaviors that ran counter to observant Judaism. For a long time I was unsettled by this anomalous "blip" in his lifetime, which didn't seem congruent with the man I knew and had heard about, growing up. But then I realized that this was precisely in line with who my grandfather was, as he exemplified the rebellious attitude that was necessary so many years later in America to survive and thrive as a religious Jew against the zeitgeist of acculturation. Perhaps as a youngster it manifested as inward facing rebellion against his own upbringing but ultimately he figured out how to channel it in the healthiest way...
Today, it is also somewhat an act of rebellion to live as Jews, indeed to bring children into the world, one that seems to be coming apart at the seams at times. But ma'aseh Avot siman l'Banim, and as we read the portions of the Torah at this time of year, that's all we have. We learn from our forbears' actions, at the way the Avot went against the grain amid a world that was chaotic and idolatrous and didn't allow themselves to be swayed left or right.
There is an exhortation to ask masai yagi'u ma'asai l'ma'asai Avosai, Avrohom Yitzchok v'Ya'akov? If one can say such a thing, I would recommend to my newborn son - indeed, all of my children that they need not look that far back. They already have strong, courageous role models a generation back in our grandparents.
May they bring honor to all of their namesakes.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
A good story takes you back in time.
A holy story doesn't have to, it keeps on taking place.
Tonight is the yahrzeit of R’ Moshe Heschel, also (and mainly) known as Moishele Good Shabbos.
While attending a wedding of dear friends just a few years ago, our lives changed forever. Before telling you exactly why, PLEASE refresh your memory, and open your hearts to one of the most powerful moments in Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s life.
Reb Shlomo ztz'l:
I don’t want to tell you sad stories, it's not really sad, maybe a little bit, but it’s a gevalt. Every person needs a Rebbe. Sometimes you meet somebody and it mamesh reaches you so much that it mamesh carries you your whole life. So one of my Rebbes, which I saw just twice or three times in my life, was a Yid and his name was Reb Moshe.
My father was a Rabbi in Baden Bei Din, in Austria, and here comes 1938. I don’t want to mention their name, the other side began to take over. In Germany it was not so dangerous yet to walk on the street, but in Vienna it was mamesh dangerous from the first day on. Yidden couldn’t go to shul anymore, especially my father.
So on Shabbos morning it was only dangerous from 8 o’clock on, but between 5am and 8am it was less dangerous, and my father would make a minyan in the house. People would come at six o’clock and would mamesh daven so fast. Kriyas Hatorah would also go by real fast because everyone wanted to be home before 8.
My brother and I were little kids. When you don’t see people all week long, you are mamesh hungry to see a person. So I remember my twin brother and I, we were nearly up all Friday night. We couldn’t wait, we wanted to open the door for the minyan that would come in the morning.
There was usually a knock at the door, and we would see a yid standing there with such fear. I would open the door just a little bit and he would slip through the door, and then I would close it real fast.
But then one Shabbos, I remember it was Parshas Bamidbar. There was a knock, and I went to open the door. I’ll never forget it. I see a Yid with little peyis, and little beard. But this yid? He’s not afraid. He started singing:
Good Shabbos good Shabbos. Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Oy Good Shabbos good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.
This Yid was mamesh in another world.
He walked in and he walks up and down and the whole time he is singing Good Shabbos good Shabbos.
Then he turns to me, I’m a little boy and he says to me in Yiddish, “what is your name, what is your name,”
I didn’t want to G-d forbid stop the melody, so I answered him back singing, “my name is Shlomo, what is your name.”
He said “Moishele, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Oy Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.”
So my brother and I called him “Moishele Good Shabbos”.
This Moishele came in for the minyan and we began to daven fast. Basically when it comes to Nishmas Kol Chai you are not permitted to talk, but obviously Reb Moishele, just couldn’t hold back. He said to the chazzan 'prayers are supposed to go up but the way you are davening is making everything go down because you are davening so fast.' And he was crying. ‘Yiddelach’, he says, ‘maybe this is the last Shabbos we will have in our lives. Is this the way to say Nishmas Kol Chai?
So the chazzan said, ‘I don’t know any better’.
I’ll remember it till Mashiach is coming. Moishele walks to the amud.
He started singing: Nishmas Kol Chai Tevarech Es Shimcha Hashem Elokeinu Veru'ach Kol Basar Tefa'er Useromem... and he was using the same tune he walked into the house singing.
But you know friends, he davened the whole davening with this niggun. The repetition, kedushah, everything. Then they read the Torah, and by that time it was already 10:30but nobody mamesh cared. Moishele mamesh lifted up everyone, nobody had fear anymore.
Finally the davening was over at around 11 and my mother brought in wine to make Kiddush. Now I want you to know, the windows were always closed and the shades were down. Moishele says, ‘when you make Kiddush, you have to open the windows. You have to say Kiddush for the whole world’.
People started saying ‘Moishele, this is just too much. The people in the street want to kill us’.
‘Who are they’ Moishele says, ‘the children of Esav? they are our cousins. You know why Esav is Esav? Because he forgot what Shabbos is. Maybe if some Yid would scream V’shamru B’Nei Yisrael Es Hashabbos, maybe Esav will remember what he learned by his father Yitzchak’.
He opened the windows and Moishele was standing by the window. You could mamesh see the Germans walking up and down the street. He mamesh had the wine outside of the window and he was singing with the same melody:
“V’shamru B’nei Yisroel Ess haShabbos…..”
After davening my parents invited him to eat with us and Moishele began telling us his story, with so much tzniy’us and anava (modesty), half telling half not telling. ‘I want you to know’ he says, ‘I am on the black list of the Germans’. It was then that my family realizes that we recognized Moishele. His picture was on every street corner. It said 'the most wanted Jew by the Furor.' What was his crime? If you remember, thousands of Yidden were arrested and nebech, their wives and children were dying from hunger. Moishele was up all night carrying food to every house.
This was Parshas Bamidbar, and on Pesach (approximately two months prior) he brought matza to two thousand families in Vienna.
He told us that one night they caught him and hit him over the head but at the last moment, he said that the Ribbono Shel Olam gave him strength and somehow managed to turn away and run off. ‘So during the day I cannot walk on the street, so I’ll stay here till Shabbos goes out’.
Before he left he turned to us and said ‘I want to come again, most probably I’ll come Wednesday night’. Now friends, I want you to know how shabbosdik he was. He says ‘I’ll come Wednesday night and it will be around 4 o’clock in the morning and I will knock on the door seven times l’Kovod Shabbos (in honor of Shabbos) and you will know it's me’.
Wednesday night came and I mamesh could not sleep all night, waiting for Moishele Good Shabbos to come.
At around 4:30 we hear mamesh a subtle knock, seven times. We open the door and Moishele is standing by the door singing:
Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos
We asked him where is this niggun from. Moishele told us that he was in Lublin on Rosh Hashana, davening with the Breslover chassidim. He heard this Niggun from the old chassidim who told him this was the niggun which Reb Nachman himself davened too. It was the first time we ever heard of Reb Nachman.
He stayed in our house all night long singing. That was the last time I saw him.
We left for America and my brother I went to Mesivtah Toras VaDa'as. Everyone that came to the Mesivtah … we mamesh taught them Moishele’s Niggun.
Later on I had the privilege of meeting so many young people, especially in San Francisco. I had the house of love and prayer, it was a gevalt. I want you to know, this niggun turned on hundreds of thousands of people to Shabbos. Not to be believed.
The most important thing is that I taught all those kids that even on Wednesday night we say good Shabbos. We are living in an age before Mashiach, we cannot wait till Shabbos to say good Shabbos. You can say good Shabbos all the time.
Anyway, this all took place 1938, and in the meantime, time is flying. And I don’t want to tell you bad things but just open your hearts. A few years ago I was walking on the street in Tel Aviv on Ben Yehuda by street, by the Yarkon river. Suddenly a Yiddele from Vienna see me. ‘Aren’t you Shlomo Carlebach’, and I said ‘yes’. 'Do you remember Moishele, you know, Moishele from Vienna?'
Somehow it struck me and I said, ‘you mean Moishele Good Shabbos? Is he still alive?’
He says to me, ‘there’s a little park by the river, let’s walk down there and I’ll tell you the story.
I want you to know, I was one the closest friends of Moishele good Shabbos.
(By the way, I thought my brother and I were the only ones who called him Moishele good Shabbos. Obviously everyone called him that. All of Vienna called him Moishele good Shabbos)
Moishele finally got himself a false passport, an English passport. Moishele had two children, a little boy and a little girl. He, his wife and two children were sitting on the train leaving Austria, with a passport to go to London. And this yidele says 'I was there on the train'. His wife kept on begging him Moishele, ‘please don’t sing’, and he was singing this niggun nonstop. ‘Please’, she said, ‘don’t make any noise. Wait until we go out of the border’.
The train is slowly leaving, but Moishele couldn’t hold back. ‘I have to sing Good Shabbos one more time to say so long to Vienna, I have to say goodbye to the city where my family had so many high moments on Shabbos’. He opened the window and started singing one last time ‘Good Shabbos Good Shabbos Good Shabbos Good Shabbos’.
The most heartbreaking thing happened. Since his picture was all over the city, one of the people on the train recognized him and called over one of the Germans. They stopped the train and dragged off Moishele. ‘And I swear to you’, this yidele told me. ‘Moishele didn’t stop singing Good Shabbos till that final whip which killed him’.
Now I want you to know something incredible.
A few years later, I was supposed to go to do a concert in Manchester on Sunday. and the way to go to the concert was that I had to leave Tel Aviv Friday morning and I was thinking of going to London and then Sunday I would go to Manchester.
While we are flying, they announce that there is a gas strike in London and they are landing in Zürich. Anybody who wants to go to London when they get to Zürich - they would take care of it and it would be a minimum16 hour delay, on Friday afternoon.
So one Yid who was sitting next to me says ‘why don’t you got to Antwerp for Shabbos and from there, there will be a ship that leaves at six o’clock in the morning and gets to London at 12 and from there go to Manchester’. This Yid who is sitting next to me on the plane invites me for Shabbos and I say yes, so I end up in Antwerp.
It’s two hours before Shabbos, and I’m on the streets of Antwerp. Suddenly, someone walks up to me, I know this face, but I didn’t know who this person was. He was so sweet. He says to meet, ‘Shloime’le, come to my house for Shabbos’.
I told him ‘Thank you zise yidele, I’m already going to this Yiddele who I met on the plane but give me your telephone, if I have a Melaveh malka I’ll invite you’. So he writes down his name, Lazer Heschel.
After he left I said, I asked my host ‘who is this Heschel’. He said to me, ‘don’t you know, he’s the son of Moishe Heschel, Moishele Good Shabbos’.
Gevalt, I couldn’t believe it.
We have a Melaveh malka, and this Lazer Heschel shows up. I asked him, ‘do you know your tatty’s niggun?’
‘What niggun’ he says to me.
The most heartbreaking thing was that he was too small to remember. Suddenly it became so clear to me that the whole gas strike in London was only that I should be in Antwerp and I gave him over his father's niggun.
And then I remembered.
The last time I saw Moishele, before he walked out he was standing by the door for a long time and he sang with the his same niggun
“Tzur Yisroel Tzur Yisroel Kume Be'ezras Yisrael Ufdei Chinumecha Yehuda Veyisroel.…”
He looked at us and said ‘promise me you will teach this Niggun to everyone you meet. Teach your children’, and then he said ‘teach my children’.
What do we know friends?
Back to 2010.
We were invited to the wedding of dear friends which took place in the outskirts of Beit Shemesh.
The wedding was awesome. The colorful range of Shtreimels and hippies singing and dancing together was .
Our dear friend and teacher, R' Sholom Brodt had the zchus to marry off the couple.
After the chuppa, a young chassidishe yid, a princely looking chassid came up to R Sholom asking him if he was using the tune of Moishele Good Shabbos for the brachas under the chuppa. R Sholom said yes and asked him why he is asking.
'I am Moishele great-grandson, it's my great-grandfather's Niggun, how do you know this niggun' replied this yid.
We all began to come up to this very young, shy and humbled yid. We couldn’t believe it… we felt we were all part of the story. One by one, we came up to him, bursting with utter simcha and total amazement. This chassid never saw anything like this, and hinted to me that this was very overwhelming for him.
How do I begin to explain to him who his great-grandfather is to us, and to thousands and thousands more? How do I begin to explain to him that thousands of yiddelach daven to his great-grandfather's niggun every day, every Shabbos, every holiday? How do I begin to give over to him who his great-grandfather was to our Rebbe?
He approached me a few minutes later and asked me if I was driving back home, and if I had room in the car for him, his wife and two children. Crazily enough, he only lives 15 minutes away from us. I was humbled beyond belief by the thought of driving him and his family home.
As we closed the door of the car, and a 25 minute ride approaching us, I began to seriously feel Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succos, all at once. It was so beyond my wife and myself.
But then, thank G-d I remembered I had the audio of Reb Shlomo telling over the whole story of Moishele Good Shabbos. We put it on - and literally felt that we were being part of witnessing the past, present and future all meet in holy oneness.
This chassid, whose name is Eliezer Heshel, the son of Moshe Heshel, the son of Eliezer Heshel, the son of Moishele Heshel – thee Moishele good Shabbos… he had never heard the story before. He knew some facts and some stories about his great grandfather, but other than being familiar with the tune… he didn’t know much more.
He sat behind me, and all I could hear while Reb Shlomo ztz'l was davening away in the backround, was Moishele's great-grandson's amazement. Pshhhh…psssss. He was literally going out of his mind.
His wife (who is related to the kalla of the wedding we were at) gave me their home number. Eliezer told me that they have a picture in an old family picture album… one picture of their great-grandfather. He is going to dig it out of the storage in his parents house, and get it to us.
As he got out of the car and was about to walk into his home, he turned to me and said 'May the zchus of my great-grandfather Moishele stand for you, your family and your friends forever.'
I spoke to him a few nights later, and he told me that all they know is that Moishele's ashes are buried somewhere in Vienna. He then told me that Moishele's yahrtzeit is coming up, the tenth of Cheshvan, just six days before our Rebbe's yahzrteit.
‘Come by, I think I found something for you’.
I drove to his house with utmost excitement, wondering what he found.
The picture attached is what he gave me, a picture of his great-grandfather, Moishele Good Shabbos.
The eyes say it all.
Good Shabbos Good Shabbos
Shlomo & Bina Katz
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
So what am I missing? Simply to be a Jew. I see myself as a self portrait...Just one thing is missing: the soul.
God! Master of the World, Who sees my innermost secrets! Before You I confess. You I beseech! I feel so cast aside and distanced from You and from Your holy Presence! Help me - I want to become a simple Jew!
God! Save me from wasting the rest of my years and chasing the illusions of life! Draw me closer and bring me into Your innermost Presence! Bind me to You forever and ever in wealth of spirit and soul! - Rav Kalonymous Kalman, Tzav v'ZiruzOh, Rebbe...
How is it that every word of your holy writings seems to speak directly to my core, the root of my neshama? No matter what my situation is at the moment I can find relevance in your wisdom.
I, too, want to be a Jew.
Unlike you, I am far from perfect, if not drastically so. So much so that I hesitate to look to you, to bind myself to your teachings and legacy, so as not to sully your reputation and zchuyot by association.
In honor of your yahrtzeit, I wanted to do something different, to separate this day from other days. But even that was a challenge that I struggled to surpass. So instead I decided to serve HaShem with simplicity today. To just pray to Him as I am. To be as real and honest as possible - accepting where I am but not resigned to the position - so that I can look forward, seek beyond the sky and clouds, and get a glimpse of the Throne of Glory and the Almighty King.
And maybe, you'll be sitting there as well, basking in the Divine. And you'll have some nachas from me...
Behold, I attach myself in my prayers, to all the true tzadikim in our generation, as well as to all the holy tzadikim who rest in the earth. -- And specifically, to my holy Rebbe, the Sacred Fire Rav Kalonymous Kalman ben R' Eliezer and Chana Bracha, may his memory shield us, may God avenge his blood.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
Gaisin (who may be familiar to readers as half of the creative team behind JudaBlue) has demonstrated considerable growth as a vocalist. His soulful crooning has a transcendent effect as the tracks progress from a simple setup into a melodical exploration that almost begs the listener to sway along with the music. Most of the tracks are niggunim, wordless meditations that provide a tapestry upon which the listener can project his own personal meaning. My only real criticism at this point is directed toward the three tracks that have lyrics: while the music/lyrical content are indeed complementary, I always struggle when I hear the same verses/lyrics used time and again (the second track "Peace" uses the oft-repeated expression of Rebbe Nachman Ein yi'ush b'Olam b'chlal as one example). I recognize that the causal link is because there is something significant about those particular expressions, but it can also be indicative of a superficial familiarity with the source material. But I digress - young musicians becoming drawn in to the world of chassidut is a good thing, and I choose to view this as an expression of neophyte excitement.
"Yoel's Niggun" evoked strong feelings that continued long after the initial listen; the best way to describe it is hirhurei Teshuva, making me glad I heard it before Hoshana Rabbah. The final track "Tzion" is a personal favorite; the a capella version below is only a taste a what it is.
One last comment: the band's bio describes them as neo-Chassidic, which is more often a term used to describe groups in the Renewal movement and other groups outside of Orthodoxy. Association is a strong thing, and I don't identify with the need to distinguish myself as a neo-Chassid. Just an observation.
Overall, the debut EP is a strong offering, and I'm looking forward to see what the group does after their tour following the release.