Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why do Jews separate themselves from the rest of society?


Once, after a business meeting I was asked this question by a Muslim engineer. A well-educated and highly intelligent person, he contributed his talents and knowledge to the common good of our society. His question was, I guess, common among non-Jews who live with us in the same neighborhoods and cities.
“Why do you Jews separate yourselves from the rest of us? Do you think you are somehow better than we are?"
B-H I did have an answer for him, and that answer I would like to share now with my readers.
Among the nations of the world, there are countless narratives about the creation of the universe and the beginnings of man. According to those accounts, creation of the world involved a whole assortment of different elements ranging from fighting gods to gigantic eggs, turtles, elephants and more. All of those fanciful stories describe different ways that the world supposedly came to be, and how humanity was first recognized as a people.
Lehavdil, the story recounted in the Torah, although for some scoffers may look equally fantastic, is in many ways different from the various other interpretations of creation. I will not dwell on the topic of briyas haolam – Creation itself in this essay; I will focus rather on one specific aspect of the Biblical account.
When you ask any Jewish kid attending a religious school the question: Which precept of the Torah is the most important of them all? He will probably answer, or even sing to you the song: "Umar rabbi Akiva, umar rabbi Akiva… Rabbi Akiva said: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' This is a great principle of the Torah.”
Well, it is impossible to disagree with such a statement. Love, or at least mutual respect, is the most highly admirable and desired characteristic for any G-d-fearing person in the world. I can safely say it is the most fundamental dogma in almost every modern religion. This so-called 'golden rule' became the foundation of human civilization and the tenet of most societies, not only in theory but surely also to a certain extent in practice. These days, relatively fewer people are being killed by other human beings than in times prior. (Although, on the other hand, today there are some men in possession of weapons with the ability to annihilate masses of people, and bring an unprecedented death toll upon the world.)
But…Talmud Yerushalmi, (Nedurim) brings a different opinion about which precept in the Torah is most important:  "Ben Azzai disagreed. The verse 'This is the book of the descendants of Adam, whom G-d made in His likeness' (Genesis 5:1). This principle is even greater."
This is just a sampling of the sweet taste of our beloved Talmud. Rabbi Akiva tells us to love our neighbor, our brother, our friend. But is this dictum really an unshakeable statement? Indeed, someone might ask: Who is this neighbor that we should honor; who is this brother that we should love? According to some foreign beliefs, the answers to that question can vary. After all, if we all evolved from different chimpanzees, hatched from different eggs, or were born from different battling gods, then we don't really have that much in common with one another. We're not exactly brothers, are we? We're more like individual entities that happen to coexist on earth together.
But then came Rabbi Ben Azzai with his proposition.
All people are descendants of a single pair of parents. We were not created from different fighting gods who were ripped to pieces, as the Mesopotamian mythology describes. They were not built from different physical materials. We didn’t evolve from different species of monkeys under disparate trees. We are all children of one human, created by One G-d in His likeness.
How exceptional is this message!? How different from anything conceived by the ancient world.
In today’s reality, everybody claims the truth of brotherly love as his own. Christians, Muslims, and even members of religious movements that didn’t sprout from the Jewish root are proud of spreading this memorandum. However, it is the Jewish Torah which, as the first written sours in human history, teaches equality for all human beings with the narrative of Hashem's creation of Adam, the first father of humanity, from clay.  The same clay was used in the birth of one man, and all of mankind. It is Jewish Talmud which places this precept as the most important of all verses in the Torah. And it is the Jewish nation to whom this Torah was entrusted.
Yes, we hold ourselves separate from the other nations and societies.
We work together with them. We live together with them. We have great interest in politics and other events concerning the countries in which we live. We are electing and sometimes we are elected. We pay what we owe to support a common goal. We engage in various projects which bring progress and prosperity to a broad society.
However, we have rules and regulation which do not allow us to be completely integrated with other groups of people in certain areas of life. And the reason for our separation is precisely this one: to upkeep this ancient Jewish teaching, that all people of the earth are descendants of the same parents. We are all brothers and sisters. Brotherhood is the reality for which we all wait, and for which we have a prophetic promise that will someday come true. It will come, however, only when we remember that this is what G-d entrusted to us.

If we wouldn't keep ourselves separate? If we wouldn't detach ourselves as a nation, from all the other societies, religions and civilizations in the world, then our story of truth; our message of morality; our belief in the oneness of creation would be lost. Without the Jews standing as pillars of the past, the future would soon be forgotten.
Matys Weiser

Saturday, March 22, 2014

After Purim reflections from Monsey and Brooklyn.


The week before Purim, somewhere in the west, I tried to convince a fellow Jew to visit one of the Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn on his trip to NY, which coincided with the day of Purim. I told him, "No matter how much I may try to explain the festivity on the streets of Boro Park or Williamsburg on Purim, there are just no adequate words to describe it."
Many of the Jews from the west never saw a Hasidic person in their lives altogether. For some of them I was the first, which is really an ironic fact. Some of my fellow Jews visited the Holy Land and encountered Hasidim or other Haredim there, but it was rather like a tourist–aborigine type of experience. To fully immerse oneself and participate in the Festival of Purim on the streets or in the better homes and Butei Medrushim in the areas most populated by Haredim in our country, is exceptional. Whoever wants can still find lots of pictures online, but well… it's like seeing the Grand Canyon in a 2-dimensional photo. Haredi neighborhoods are spiritual wonders of the world, and this alone makes them greater than even the most riveting panoramic beauty which, by the way, provides my means of livelihood as I make a living by giving tours to people through the Canyons in the Mountains. But although I love to travel, my family, friends, neighbors and just random fellow Yiden are sorely missed during my time away.
The morning after my arrival in New York I joined a minyan which, when I travel, is rather a luxury for me. In one of mid-sized Hasidic synagogues I davened (prayed) with a ten o’clock minyan, which in this particular synagogue is scheduled every half hour from morning until ten men can no longer be found for a minyan. When a quorum of ten men is no longer available at that location, everyone knows where there are other minyanim just a few streets away. In some other places the morning prayers are conducted all the way to Hatzois – midday or, with shame I have to admit, even after that hour. With shame; for it is prohibited by Shulchan Aruch – the Codex of Jewish Law - to say morning prayers after midday. But in the Hasidishe Velt people have all kinds of life situations and they sometimes break the law in such instances, praying after the prescribed time.
I was there still well before that time but as I said, it was not one of the big Butei Medrushim - maybe two hundred seats in two rooms separated by a removable wall. We got our minyan easily for there were still plenty of individuals and Havrusos – men learning in pairs. To pray with a minyan we need ten men older than bar mitzvah (13) but four of them can be counted even if they are not participating in the prayers. Six must be part of the actual praying group. A few minutes later we got well above the required quorum.
Some of the Yiden who finished a previous minyan sat around the table where they delighted in consuming a big loaf of marble cake while shmoozing – chattering about everything that Hasidim chat about – their Rebbes, work, world politics, etc.
Probably due to the Yom Tov Purim there were more men than usual in that place at the time, including Bucherim – unmarried Yeshiva students. They probably came home from out-of-town Yeshivos and now enjoyed not only the cake and herring with shnapps, but also the exchange of news with their peers from various Yeshivos. On one side of table, an older Hasid in his late thirties was sharing memories from his Yeshiva days with a few Bucherim. Apparently, some of the young students where learning under the guidance of the same Rabbis that he once learned from. The man visibly enjoyed the shmooze with the Bucherim, but he soon departed for whatever occupation he keeps.
We finished our prayers as others were learning or chattering in different spots of the Bais Medrash. I packed my Tallis and Tefilin and walked out to the cold streets of Brooklyn. Around the corner three little girls with their Pushkes were collecting Tzeduka – money for the financially impoverished, or to support their schools. I didn’t read what the purpose of their collection was, as it is usually written on the Tzeduka Pushke – the can with the opening for the money on the top of it. The view of those girls, the oldest not more than perhaps 9 or 10, in the cold and moist weather of NY, melted my heart. Whatever they collected for, it must be worth supporting.
The days around Purim are especially filled with boys and girls collecting everywhere - on the streets, from home to home, in the stores and in synagogues. I mean everywhere, of course, in Jewish neighborhoods. And so, on the day of Purim itself millions of dollars are transferred from hand to hand, from pocket to pocket - and this is only one of the major periods of the Jewish year when money for the needy is given even by those who are themselves less privileged, in even extra amounts, regardless of the routine Tzeduka they give all year round. And then Pesach is yet another occasion to give. Elul – the whole month of Elul. And then Chanukah gelt! These are just a few times that are worthy of mention.
Baruch Hashem I spent a few days with my children and granddaughters. I visited my Rav and participated in a private Seuda – a meal in his house, where we always have arch and interesting discussions with him and his sons and sons in law who are all Magidei Shiur – Teachers of Talmud and Mashgiahim – supervisors of spiritual growth in various Hasidic Yeshivos. Besides some basic hashkafa – life philosophy and current issues which we talked about, I got another glimpse into the present stage of Haredi education in general.
I had a few short hours to take care of some other issues that life on this earth required, but somehow a few of my closest friends managed to get together with me for a meal. This meal was not connected to the festival of Purim as it took place on the evening after Shushan Purim. They caught up with me in my Monsey Shul – synagogue - and convinced me to wash (to eat a meal with bread) to celebrate the occasion of my arrival.
There are not enough words to convey my appreciation for their devotion as they left their various occupations just to shmooze with their old friend. They do it every time I come, but usually they know in advance when I am coming and there are more of my haverim and havrusos – friends and learning partners. This time I called last minute and there were only four of us, not including my host’s boys and girls.
Reb Aizyk the Soifer – scribe was my host. He is one of the greatest people I have ever met. He and his rebetzin and kein ain hara their sixteen children and unspecified number of grandchildren are all amazing individuals. Reb Aizyk can sometimes give two kidushim – meals in the Bais Medrash for the occasion of the birth of a new granddaughter, or attend two brisen - circumcisions of his grandsons, just a few days apart.
His wisdom guided me countless times in life. His way of giving me mussar – ethical instruction - doesn’t sound anything close to criticism or censure. Always dressed in some Mushal – a parable - he makes my brain work intensely to figure out if this is really the reproof I think it is. Not because the message is unclear, but because it is so softly hidden behind the delicate veil of his kind words.
Then there is Reb Mendel. He used to be a Dayan – a judge of rabbinical court in one of the major Hasidic groups of the east coast. He gave up this occupation as his delicate soul couldn’t deal with some of the problems and issues of the world. He knows Talmud by heart but he claims that for this position one must also have extraordinary Koichos – strength.
To give you a glimpse of my friend’s holiness; he is my age, a grandpa already, who grew up here in America. He only just learned from me a few months ago that there are such places as pubs and bars and what people do in those places. You don't believe me? I don’t blame you. But there are people on a level of holiness which most of us cannot even imagine! Like this man, my Rabbi and my friend, who spends his days only involved in learning and doing good deeds of all kinds for his fellow people, supporting his family mostly by tutoring. I consult with him about most of the ideas which I later publicize on this blog and in other places. Of the three friends listed here, it is Reb Mendel's opinion that I take most into consideration, for many reasons. He also sometimes likes to share his thoughts or Hidushim – Torah novelties with me and then tells me "You can use that on your thing on the Internet."
The youngest among us was Reb Yankel, my Tanya havruso from the time when I still resided more in Monsey than anywhere else. Although he never learned English in his school, as it was not allowed for reasons of moral purity in his Moisad – the faction which is led by his father, he was nevertheless able to fluently explain to me the depths of this beautiful Sefer Tanya – (I think 'good book' would be the best translation of the word ‘sefer’) in English rather than in Yiddish, as my articulacy is limited in that language. He is in his early thirties with a few children running around in his house, and yet he is still learning in Kollel – a learning institution for married men. I hope that his brilliant mind will one day serve our people in a much broader sphere.

These are just a few words about the friends whom I met during my visit home. There are still others whom I couldn’t manage to meet, but who are also extraordinary people. What they all have in common is that each of them is struggling toward the same singular goal: to live a life according to the will of their Creator and to ultimately be a better person tomorrow, than they are today.
Matys Weiser

Sunday, March 9, 2014

4th of July, Purim and Amulek

4th of July, Purim and Amulek

Yeah! I agree that this title is at least a little strange, but well… this blog is about a stranger’s views, isn’t it?
When I wrote this essay I didn’t think about Purim. I thought about the Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution, and their authors' influences on the world today. And I wanted to divide the ten pages of my thoughts so that the last installment will be posted the week before July 4th. I know it's a long span of time, but I have a few other essays ready to be posted and I-H they will appear periodically among the continuing episodes, breaking up the monotony somewhere between today's installment, and the one before July 4th.
So, what does the 4th of July have to do with Purim? Read below to find out…

4th of July

My strong desire was to post this essay on the Fourth of July… last year. Instead I wrote it on the Fourth of July, 2013. Another small contribution to the prove Yiddish saying “Mentch tracht G-d lacht.” B”H, I finally found some time free of my other occupations and responsibilities to sit down and share with my readers the ideas which have been lingering in my mind for a while already.
I write this essay in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosted by Chabad shliach Rabbi Berel Levertov. Here in Santa Fe, one of the ways to celebrate the fourth of July is a huge gathering in the town’s plaza, sharing pancakes in warm, family-like atmosphere with other townspeople and visitors coming to this popular tourist destination.
All over the country, its millions of citizens and not-citizens are celebrating the holiday in a similarly joyous atmosphere, placing their portable chairs and tables in the large spaces in the towns to watch fireworks or placing their seats on the side of the main street of almost every town of this country to see the 4th of July parade. I don’t have to describe more of the details of those celebrations to most Americans, but there are some enclaves where you will not hear loud music and the clatter of hundreds of people on the street. Towns where citizens considering themselves no less American than any other Americans do not celebrate Independence Day in the way so common all over the country.
Why it this so? Do they have no love – or at least appreciation – for the freedom which they experience in this land? Do they not recognize that this freedom is guaranteed to them by the document celebrated on this very day, The Declaration of Independence? Do they separate themselves from the rest of the country’s citizens due to a lack of patriotic sentiment?
In towns like Monsey, New Square, Kirias Joel or Lakewood you will also see loud crowds dancing and celebrating on the street, adults and children singing and playing music in almost ecstatic festivity. But this is not necessarily happening on the Fourth of July. This celebration may take place at almost any day of the year, and it is called Hachnasas Sefer Torah, the Jewish celebration of completing a hand- written Torah scroll and placing it in the synagogue or Bais Hamidrash, the hall of study. This way, Jews celebrate the Source – for us, Torah is the Source of everything, but for rest of our fellow citizens it should be known that this very scroll so celebrated by us is the source of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. How is this so?

I heard this idea first from my Rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Bruzda, soon after I settled in this land that welcomes refugees like me. “When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he kept the Bible on his lap,” he used to say, the simple meaning of  which is that this document – perhaps the most important document in American history – was influenced by ideas whose roots are in Jewish Scriptures. But was the Bible in fact  laying on the lap or desk of Thomas Jefferson, and if yes, how did he derive those lofty ideas contained in this document from the Book from which some other people, with their criminal minds, can find justification for mass murder and other crimes of all sorts?
In this essay, be'ezras Hashem, I will try to follow at least one of perhaps many links leading from the Torah to the Declaration of Independence and the ideological foundations of American Constitution.
To keep the facts straight: Jefferson was not a Jew-lover and neither, were the individuals and groups which influenced him. Since the split of the Notzrim – the sect which later became the religion known as Christianity – from rabbinic Judaism, its growth was fed and fertilized by hatred toward Jews. The gentiles adopting the ideas and ideals derived from Jewish scriptures saw it perfectly fitting to build their civilization on the Jewish scriptures and at the same time despise the Jews. (It is beyond the scope of this work to explain how this could happen; IY”H, this may be a topic of a future essay.)
Nevertheless, our sages agree that two “offshoots” of our religion– namely, Christianity and Islam – are preparatory stages for the arrival of the Messiah and recognition of the Almighty's rulership by whole of humanity. Rav Hirsch, for example, in his commentary on Chumash, goes so far in the case of Islam as to call Muslims “half-Jewish.” Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal of Prague, explains along similar lines our recognition of Muslims as Bnei Noach,  people with the halachic status of ger toshav, a gentile of full social rights among Jewish people. However, since he was writing in a Christian country, he abruptly cut his explanation of the status of Christians due to belief of the Christians in shituf, the type of idol worship where the object is considered a partner with G-d.
To further understand the history described in this essay, we must recognize that there are some Christian minorities who do not believe in the dogma of the Trinity coined in the fourth century. And I will write some information about them, but before that we will have to go back in time all the way to the era soon after the Mabul, the flood of Noach, or even before that.

Not one of the ideas which I will write below is my own unless declared so. The Almighty’s providence has put the right teachers and right books on my life path. With His help, I will try to put in perspective the development of human thought, which led part of humanity to accept upon them a government “from the people by the people and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address.
Needles to say, the connection between Jewish thought and the Declaration of Independence is not exclusive, as there are many traces of different influences over various individuals which led to the creation of the American form of government. However, thanks to my individual path of life and spiritual development, I was able to put the following facts together.

Two modes of civilization
After the sin of the first man and the act of killing of his first son, the moral behavior of humanity deteriorated to the stage that any repair, any tikkun, any restoration of humanity's ties with the Creator was impossible. The catharsis of Noach's flood was supposed to serve for the human race as a new start for developing recognition of Almighty and His laws of morality. Instead, the age of “nothingness” as the Talmud calls it in mesechtas Avodah Zarah, continued for another several hundred years.
Between the Great Flood and the recognition of Creator by Abraham, humanity got an opportunity to build a new civilization of free individuals, families and societies. This new development was expected to be based on mutual tolerance, understanding and love between human and human, family and family, and tribe and tribe. Unfortunately, the two individuals who thought about G-d and his will for humanity were not listened to. Shaim, the son of Noach, and his grandson Aiver were trying to influence humanity from their yeshiva, a learning center located on the hill of the Holy Land, toward service of G-d. But far away, in the plains of Bavel, a different center of thought and social philosophy was developing, and I do not speak now about our father Abraham, not yet.
Nimrod called upon his people to build a tower, a project, in order to establish a name for themselves.  According to the Scripture, he was the first to build a city. According to Chazal, the Sages of blessed memory, he was the first to establish a government.
“I will offer you protection,” he said to people whom he made his subjects, “ and the price will be not high: some of your freedom, some of your dignity and some kavod - recognition - for me; we'll make a deal.”

So the history of oppressive government began.

Abraham was born in Nimrod’s idolatrous kingdom. When he came to recognition of the Creator as the sole independent ruling power, Nimrod’s ideology was severely undermined. The idea of G-d and his Law ruling the people, and an independent and free people developing their own relationship with Almighty, was an obstacle to his political and social philosophy. E pluribus unum was a strange idea to Nimrod. He wanted unity, but centralized under the banner of the Babylonian Empire, of which he made himself  king. His insignia was the beged,  the clothing, of the first man Adam, which Nimrod possessed and which he believed had magical powers. He didn’t know that those garments were garments of separation from the Creator, which He Himself crafted for the first man after his sin. The Midrash tells us that Nimrod saw the possession of those clothes as the symbol of his authority.

One of the grandsons of Abraham was hungry for more than the spiritual powers which were being developed in Abraham’s family for two generations already. Eisav  wanted both spiritual and physical greatness, which wouldn’t be wrong if the physical would be in service of the spiritual, as  was the desire of his father Yitzchak and grandfather Abraham, and by extension, the Creator Himself. Eisav, on the other hand, saw  spirituality at best as  subservient to the somatic, and at worst as an obstacle to indulging in total admiration, submission and service of the body and its desires. Eisav wanted to combine his ideas with ideology of Nimrod by taking into his possession the garment of Adam which was in Nimrod’s hands. The only way to do this was by killing  Nimrod — and he did.  
On  the very day his grandfather Abraham passed away, Eisav disregarded his right to be the continuation of the faith and life philosophy implanted within the family of Abraham. Perhaps from this very day, the two modes of civilization have been struggling for domination over the human race.
On one side it is the civilization of Yaakov –Yisroel, the civilization which developed from Shaim son of Noah, who was also called Malchitzedek – the king of justice.  Malchitzedek was the king of Shalem, the city of peace that would eventually become Yerushalayim.
It is he who Avraham visits after winning in battle over the four kings and to whom he gives his contributions. It is Malchitzedek to whom Rivka turns for advice about her pregnancy of Yaakov and Esav. It is Yeshiva of Shaim and Aiver where our father Yaakov learns the ways of G-d for 17 years nonstop, without taking any sleep. But the revolution started by Abraham perfected and brought to the new level the teachings of Shaim and Aiver.
In the person of Yaakov and his family the civilization of ‘voice’ — teaching, idea and ideology, justice, freedom, recognition of independence and Godliness of every human being, a civilization of peace — plants its seed among  mankind.
On the other side is the anti-Shaim, anti-Semitic Nimrod-Esav-Amalek civilization. This civilization is based on 'hands- – submission, servitude, conquest, war, militarism, domination, occupation, control, destruction, sword – the use of physical power.

See all of the essays on this blog where I just posted Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s writings in reference to this distinction between the two modes of civilization. Needless to say, it was not his invention to see the history of mankind in this way; rather, this view is the core of the self-understanding of the Jewish mission in history by all our sages of blessed memory.

We will skip a big part of the human record to speed up to 1776, but two more issues have to be discussed in short: the revelation of Torah on Sinai and the creation of the Jewish nation, and lehavdil, direct sources which influenced political thought in the 16th  and 17th  centuries. The connecting link between Judaism and its ideas being spread among the rest of humanity in the last two thousand years have been mentioned earlier in this essay. 

Matys Weiser

Monday, February 24, 2014


It is a difficult place. In both the Russian and Polish languages, it means "The place on the edge, at the border, near the end." Ukrainians developed their distinctive nationality later than most of the Slavonic nations. They made their capital in the city which was first capital to Russia, which cast its influenced over thousands of years. First conquered by Vikings from the north, Kiev became the seat of Russian power with the establishment of the first Tsar Dynasty – the Ruriks.
Then came the Mongols and Tatars, as Russia moved northward. After Asian withdrawal the land became part of the Polish Lithuanian commonwealth for several hundred years. Krai was at the edge of the biggest country in Europe at the time.
We will always remember what happened to our brothers and sisters in this land, when Chmielnitzki Y-Sh with his Cossaks murdered thousands of Jews there. He considered them an influential tool in the hands of the Polish government, to control 'Krai'.
A few millennia have passed since then, and the Ukrainians currently aspire to joint nations, which they view as free and independent.
By now most of us have seen horrible pictures from the newest chapter in the book of nations, as they try to overthrow their corrupted regimes. It causes pain to every human being who has a heart in his chest, to watch those scenes coming from Ukraine - regardless of the difficult past that Yidden endured there. We Jews will always see events in a different light from the rest of the world. To Ukrainians, Chmielnitzki will always be a hero who fought the oppressive Polish government; while for us, he will always be a cruel murderer, listed alongside Haman and Hitler Y-Sh.
Ten years ago, the Ukrainians tried to gain independence through their bloodless Orange Revolution, bringing some hope to this desperate nation. In those days, I spoke with my Ukrainian workers every day about the situation in their country, about their families, about their hopes and fears. I knew Ukraine firsthand from the years when I went there every few months to visit my friend, to preach, and to hopefully generate some business while I was still living in Poland. I knew this rich land with ambitious people who were constricted by the then post-Communist web of corruption.
I wished them the best and hoped they would win the Orange Revolution, in order to build a free and democratic society. Ten years later we see bloody war on the streets of Kiev as people are once again trying to get rid of corruption, this time as established by the oligarch Eastern-style ruling class.
Those scenes remind me of my own youth, when I was part of a similar revolution. I remember building barricades, throwing stones, running from the shots of the police forces in my then-Communist country. At least the Polish Communists didn’t allow the use of sharp ammunition in most cases. Nevertheless, police forces aimed small canons of tear gas at the running protesters. Many of those burning containers flew next to my head and fell at my feet while I ran hard so as not to get knocked out.
I was sixteen and that was a crucial year for me - one which shaped my entire future. I read intensively at the time: philosophy, religion, history. That was the year when I came to the conclusion about the futility of my own, and my countrymen's actions. I believe that it was more a result of my prayers than my reading, but both prayers and books were necessary to shape my views which, in foundation, have never changed since. Through my joining the People of The Book – the Nation of Torah, my views have crystallized and gained solid structure. What once came only from my kishkes, my understanding and my intellect, I found evidenced in a revelation of the Creators’s message to His nation in particular, and to humanity in general.
So many times in the history of mankind, nations and citizens overthrew some Nimrod who brutally turned them in to his subjects, in order to establish Eisav as their leader in his stead.
Eisav is smarter than Nimrod. Nimrod rules with cruelty, while Eisav works with cunning. Eisav may take away Nimrod's power, but his intentions are also not altruistic. Eisav recognizes the idea of freedom and independence, because he grew up in the house of Abraham. So rather than dictatorship, Eisav uses sly methods of controlling the masses by fooling them. But if his wiles don't work, he is always ready to use Nimrod's means of governance.
I know, the last few lines I wrote are very cryptic, but I-H I will write more about Nimrod, Eisav and lehavdil Yaakov in the coming months.
In those coming essays I will write about a part of human history and its struggle toward creating a free society - which was always the wish and the intention of the Creator. This is described in the Torah, which was written at a time when there were no other books and no other nations to write them.

As to contemporary Egyptians; when they struggled to break the chain of dictatorship, so too did the Ukrainians. I wish them a speedy end to the bloodshed and a speedy beginning to the rebuilding of their country in a way that will serve all its citizens well, giving them equal opportunity to develop as human beings and not the subjects. But watch out for Eisav.
Matys Weiser

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bill Nye v Ken Ham


Driving across the continent, I was not able to see this three-hour debate live. But finally I got time due to blizzard conditions somewhere in the Columbia River Gorge, where further driving became completely impossible.
For those who don’t know the persons involved in this highly anticipated debate, I will shortly introduce Mr. Bill Nye and Mr. Ken Ham.
Americans like to have different guys explain different subjects to them, from politics to sports to the meaning of life. And after such well-thought-out and rehashed explanations, they can intone at the Thanksgiving Table with full authority that: Well… Dr. Gupta says so. Or Mr. Tyson was interviewed and in his opinion…
Not Mike Tyson, of course, but Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The specie of human that in the past was called a ‘sage’ is extinct in this country and this civilization. But these are the people who Americans see as the closest to bearing that title.
Mr. Nye is America’s science guy. With his Egghead facial features and bowtie, he looks like a quiet, stereotypical scientist with his whole being. It is hard to deny his passion for what he does and his broad knowledge in several subjects.
Mr. Ham is President of the Museum of Creations and one of the leading young earth creationists in the country. He's a devoted Christian preacher, scientist, and perhaps most importantly, a family man.
It is not hard to understand my interest in this debate, as I was expecting that the subject of my own interest and research, the Grand Canyon, would be called as a witness. As I wrote many times before, understanding of the Grand Canyon is a key to comprehending the past of our planet.
For evolutionists, the strata and fossils visible in Grand Canyon prove the old age of the planet. For creationists, Grand Canyon is the exposure of many layers of cemented mud brought on by Noah’s flood and the fossils show that the solidified organisms were cased in the stone during the same catastrophic event.
Myself, I went through my own quiet evolution from the evolutionist position, which was imposed on me in the public school system of a Communist country. Deep contemplation brought me to young earth creationist recognition, based on revision of my scientific knowledge on this topic.
Some may ask the question – do I need it? As a Charedi Jew, is it imperative for a person practicing the commandments of Torah on a daily basis to acquire this knowledge at all?
B-H I will came back to this question later. For now I will focus on the debate itself.
It is impossible to describe the almost three hours of discussion in the short essay which I intend this to be, but I will share with my reader some of the impressions from this arch and interesting debate.
Mr. Nye was asked before the debate about the necessity of any conversation with creationists, as in the opinion of secular scientists, creationists are officially considered unworthy of their time.
Mr. Nye probably calculated that this debate would bring him some more popularity, which he seems to crave in recent years. He also probably assumed it would be a piece of cake to debate those backward creationists in their secluded, insolated-from-the-outside-world den.
Unfortunately for him, any knowledge about creationism and creationists in general Mr. Nye probably learned from popular TV shows in which the idea of Intelligent Design is frequently ridiculed. He didn't know that those shows deliver a highly distorted picture of creationism, and that ridiculing serves nothing more than a broader moral relativism agenda.
In Mr. Ham, Mr Nye met a knowledgeable and well-prepared person who by any means doesn’t live in some Kentucky Appalachian village. He didn't preach some primitive understanding of The Book from a mouth that had missing dental work and, if I understood Mr. Nye correctly (he repeated it a few times), that very Book was translated to American English within the last three thousand years.
A few times in his conversation Mr Nye tried to describe the Creation Museum and its research institute as insulated from any outside ‘scientific’ world reality. Mr. Nye already previously expressed the belief that creationists, because they believe in Biblical Creation, are people who avoid technology. He was probably mixing them up with Amish people.
He was unable, however, to hide his surprise when Mr. Ham presented video clip statements from creationist inventors and scientists with degrees from so-called mainstream scientific institutions, who are still publishing in known scientific periodicals.
Mr. Nye was visibly surprised by the fact that creationists study and know the history of Darwinian Theory of Evolution probably better than most people, including scientists who believe in this theory of evolution.
Well, this is what, in my understanding, the various Creationist and Intelligent Design institutions do on a daily basis. One of the matters of their research is how materialistic theory of evolution became so popular and by what means of propagation.
I wish Mr. Ham had more time addressing Mr. Nye’s questions. Specifically, I wish he had thoroughly discussed the issue of trees bearing more yearly rings than the actual number of years in their lifetime. Or the issue of ice core drilling and what appears to be the longtime existence of the ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctica. I wish Mr. Ham had shared some more details or made it easier for the average observer of the debate to understand the huge problem with dating methods used by geologists. He asked the public to go to the Museum’s website to get some education on the topic, but from the debate point of view it was an insufficient argument.
Without question I give due respect to Mr. Nye, for our Sages tell us to make a blessing on the view of a knowledgeable man and Mr. Nye is, without a doubt, a man of knowledge. He is just on the wrong side ideologically.
So I do respect Mr. Ham whom, aside from his knowledge, I honor for his moral standing and family values, which we undoubtedly share.
For a Jewish viewer of the debate, it will be striking how many times Mr. Ham supports his belief of young earth creation with biblical teachings and his Christian faith. Of course as Jews we cannot share this part of his belief. There is a huge theological gap between Jewish and Christian beliefs, which cannot be bridged. The gap can not and should not be bridged, for we Jews have a different calling and a different mission in the world. But I have to admit that Mr. Ham’s stand, his statement of faith in a world where faith and belief is ridiculed on a daily basis, greatly impressed me.
His expression of faith is not strange to me. As a former Christian preacher, I recall my own past. My father-in-law was a builder of, and the head of, a community of Christian fundamentalists. My brother-in-law is leading this community even now. I always admired them and respected their faith, even when I myself understood that for me there was no spiritual progress possible anymore within the Christian faith framework.
I left their community and became a Jew. Since then, to use borrowed language, I praise the L-rd every day, every minute of my life, that He brought me to salvation.
I thank Hakuoish Burich He for allowing me to recognize and learn from the source – from the Torah – the source of life and life itself. He allows me to grasp that the Genesis or Bereishis or Maasey Bereishis is not just the story of how the Creator of the Universe brought to existence what we, with our limited perception, are calling home. He allowed me to see Bereishis as the portal to understand the essence of our existence, which lays in the fulfillment of the commandments of the Creator, reflecting His very essence.
There is no way to come to this level without becoming a member of the Bris. There is no other way than leaving silly things behind and diving into the ocean of Talmud and Mitzvois.
And this is what this debate showed me one more time.
Now, once more, I will bring up the question about my interest with Noah’s Flood – Mabul - and its souvenirs, which are visible everywhere I travel or stay.
Is it necessary for a Charedi Jew like me to put my time into a topic that seems to be irreverent for most of my coreligionists? It is indeed irreverent for most, but not for all. There are people who like to know more on various topics and the Mabul event described in our History books is one of the most important in the history of mankind and this planet. Without question, most fundamental is the moral, didactic side of it. But how many of us went to see Titus Arch or Coliseum Falvianum? How many of us went to Spain, Morocco, Poland or Ukraine to see the houses and synagogues of our ancestors? How many of us visited the Living Torah Museum in Boro Park?
Mabul is just another historical event about which, unfortunately, there is almost nobody in our environment who takes an interest. There is even some fear when it comes to the topic of dinosaurs and fossils. Many of us struggle with answers when our kids ask questions, or shove the whole thing with an Emuna Pshuta kind of answer.
There is no reason to dismiss those questions. There are books and websites discussing the topic in tremendous detail. Most important however, there are statements from Chazal shedding light on the topic. We only have to know where to look for those shards of light, and dare to explore them.
B'ezras Hashem, I dare.

Matys Weiser

Three years of blogging


Three years just passed, last week, since I began to blog. Almost eight months since my last post. I just realized some empty banners on the side of my blog, hanging there like those abandoned signs on the side of the road at ghost towns in the west.
I haven't stopped writing, and there is still some material written in the past which I never had a chance to publish.
Beyond that, when I opened my blog statistics after a few months of failing to do so, I discovered that not only are my old post still being read, but some days there are more people opening my blog than in the days when I was more active. And that’s besides all the “visitors” from the People's Republic of China and the Russian Commonwealth, who are looking for opportunities to spam. Americans, Canadians, Europeans and citizens of some other far away countries are opening and reading my essays!
Why, then, does my blog seem to be neglected if not completely dead?
Usually I don’t write on public forum about my private issues and I will not do it now either. But I have to admit that my life is on a huge curve and right now, that curve is caving downward into a tunnel from which there seems to be no light visible anywhere.
That’s a huge confession for somebody who twice changed his religion, witnessed the collapse of a political and military system, and moved to another continent.
Yes, this curve, or rather this rollercoaster plunge, is an even deeper descent than all the life-altering rides I have taken and listed above. I will ask for forgiveness for not revealing more details regarding the nature of this revolutionary change in my life, as there is enough pain without it.
One of the side effects of this recent journey is that I stopped selling and promoting my book, of which this blog, in its conception, was just a small part of the bigger project. The remainder of copies of the book in my possession will be destroyed and I don’t see any possibility to explain this step in the near future.
B'ezras Hashem Yisburach, I will continue to post on this blog, however. Besides seeing interest from the public, I also got a lot of encouragement from my friends and relatives.
As I said before, I still have the material I wrote in the past, along with a ready-to-publish essay about Biblical influences on the American political system. This last essay is rather long and I will try to divide it into smaller portions and post it in that way. The last installment should appear sometime before the 4th of July.
Meanwhile, I will post some older material and with Hashem’s help will write some essays on the go, as going is what I do mostly these days.
In the past year there were many events that I wanted to share my view on, with my readers. Some of the topics were already touched upon by me in the past, such as the continuous attack on the Hareidi community in the Holy Land and now in America; the Egyptian Revolution and the so-called Arab Spring; the passing away of one of the people whom I admired – Mr. Nelson Mandela, and many more issues on which I wanted to voice my opinion.
Now, since I know that people are still reading this blog, I can say with assurance that yes, there are people out there who are interested in my opinions and sentiments. So… look out for my imminent posts for the beginning of the fourth year!

Matys Weiser

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book of gerim

Not too often do I write a review of a book, but the book which I want to recommend for my readers is special. It was published already more than half a year ago, but in the case of this book, if a review were to be written even ten or fifty years later it would still be relevant, for a book like this has not been written for at least a few hundred years—if ever.
“Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha – Gerim in Chassidic Thought,” by Dov ben Avraham, is a milestone in the topic of Jewish converts. It includes the best compendium of the writings of Chazal and Chassidic comments on those writings, and some contemporary stories of gerim, some of whom I have the privilege of knowing in person.
However, the title of the book may be somehow misleading, for as I wrote already, the sefer contains not only Chassidic thoughts on the topic of gerim, but also quotations from Tanach – scriptures, Talmud and later rabbinic authorities. While the Chassidic  interpretation of those earlier passages may give some fresh or alternative enrichment to the classic statements on the topic that have been known to people of Torah for generations, to see those old verses in one book is equally refreshing.
Without a doubt, the first part of Jewish society profiting from this book will be gerim themselves, as they can see their true position within Klal Yisroel and see themselves without either unnecessary complexes or overflowing pride. As always, the holy writings of the true leaders of People of Hashem put things in their right place. In his sefer, Rabbi Dov ben Avraham does everything to bring all the necessary information to achieve this goal, and as long as I know many other gerim than myself, it will help them to understand who they are and what their particular mission in the world is.
While I can imagine multitudes of gerim reaching for this unique sefer for the reasons described above, I strongly believe that there is another group among us who need this sefer even more than gerim – namely, all of the rest of the yidden.
I have to state it one more time: I believe with my whole heart that I joined the most morally advanced society; however, it is not a perfect society.
If someone thinks that the mitzvah of ahavas gerim – the proper relation to converts – was repeated 24 times in the Torah, or according to some other authorities, 36, without reason, a person like this is an apikores. No word, not a letter, not a dot or crown was written in the Torah without a reason, certainly not this most repeated mitzvah of all. While I have some thoughts which are still developing and which I would like IY”H to share in the future as to why this mitzvah is so discussed, I will not go to details in this essay. It shouldn’t be doubtful for anybody that there is something extraordinary about accepting the other—the different—and showing him or her special feeling and sensitivity.
I personally experienced, and I know  from my other gerim friends, that there is a huge number of religious Jews who will make an extraordinary effort to fulfill the earthly, social and spiritual needs of the ger. However, even many of them – the people with all good intentions  --  are operating on a rather superficial level, without a deeper understanding of what they are doing; thus sometimes their help, while initiated from positive feeling and need to fulfill the mitzvah, could turn into something completely the opposite, bringing sometimes deplorable results.
While loving the ger is a mitzvah like tefilin or lulav and esrog, if we do, G-d forbid, something wrong while doing those mitzvos, the damage is rather limited. But if the mitzvah of ahavas gerim is performed superficially and without understanding, the damage could be tragic. To those who, reading these words, will decide to restrain from doing this mitzvah to not cause harm, please know that making you aware of the problem doesn’t mean that you should stop doing good, rather that you should learn and do it the right way.
After writing all the above, I have to admit with sorrow that even among frum society there is plenty of nothing else than what I would describe as an anti-gerism. I will not attempt to prove my point here by bringing some of the stories which I and my family and many friends experienced. I would like not to make them public, but please take into consideration the fact that if such a lover of the chosen people as me issues such a statement, there is something in it. Once more – I joined the best, but not perfect, society.
While I don’t believe that this sefer possesses all the measures to repair this problem, I strongly believe that it can be a huge step for all who will read it.
The only question is whether will they consider it among all the political fiction or even lehavdil some classic positions in Jewish literature, which are without a doubt necessary, but no one is treating this specific topic as deeply as “Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha.”

Matys Weiser

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Toys for Dogs

I have to confess that the writer of this essay is a person who has certain difficulties in choosing the right presents even for his loved ones. A few weeks ago, when I was visiting my home and being visited by my children, I took my two and half year granddaughter to the store so she should have the opportunity to choose something for herself. It is not the first time we have done this together, and as one of the Weisers she seems to have a quiet, mature mindset and she knows what she wants, at least when comes to toys. Part of this mindset is the opposite of it: she certainly knows what she doesn’t want.
We were going from aisle to aisle picking and trying all kinds of toys, but nothing was satisfying my sweet little one. Finally, in one of the department stores which we visited in our search, she picked up a toy like she was actually looking for it. Her decision was made, and even though I still tried to convince her to get something else that looked better to me, she refused everything and stubbornly schlepped the small toy shopping cart for a whole eight American dollars. I gave up, and after choosing a toy for her younger sister, we returned home.
A few days later I was back in the West, but still having the feeling that my granddaughter deserved something more than this, that the shopping cart must be filled with something else.
While traveling (and not only then), I do a lot of my shopping at Costco; even for some smaller items or vegetables, it pays for me to buy there for the quality and price, even if I sometimes have to buy more than I need at the moment.
When I entered the Costco in Albuquerque, New Mexico, right near the door I saw a fantastic basket filled with some plush toys. The most visible were a small teddy bear, a red-and-blue parrot and then three other toys. All five toys were a decent price and the size I imagined would fit in one of the flat rate boxes offered in the post office.
An incredible deal, I thought to myself: within my budget I can make my granddaughter happy by adding something to this cheap shopping cart.
The next day I went to the post office. Unfortunately, the basket with the writing on it saying “My Toys” couldn’t fit in the box. I decided to take the toys out and squish them inside the box. Without the basket they fit perfectly.
A few days later I got this picture and this text message from my son:
Ok, I don’t want you to get a heart attack but why did you send DOG TOYS for your human grandkids?
Recognizing the parrot from the toy set and yet not believing my eyes, I began to laugh almost hysterically. I felt stupid, but at the same time, I was already imagining my great- grandchildren telling the story about how zeidy Matys bought dog toys for his granddaughters. I was seeing the laughter a few generations ahead, and I was fully aware that this is exactly what I deserved for overlooking the white-on-red words: ‘dog toys’ which somehow I unnoticed.
Then slowly my laughter slowed down as I started to think – who got crazy over here, me or the rest of the world?
DOG TOYS? Since when do dogs need something more sophisticated than a stick or something round to play with? Do those countless owners of canine ‘friends’ really believe that their dog appreciates playing with the teddy bear? Do they really believe that they – the owners – are nothing more than friends to their domesticated wolves? Are they aware that ‘appreciation’ is the action of abstract mind which those animals are lacking?
Slowly I felt my heart picking up in my head and back, as I was going through one of those experiences when extreme surprise could cause such a reaction in your body.
Toys for animals… people actually spending their sometimes hard-earned resources on animals. Again, I don’t say to appease their animals because appeasement is a human feeling and cannot be applied to animals.
We, humanity, have a huge problem. I wouldn’t blame only the Darwinian view of the human being for this state of mind, as zoophilia was not something unknown before Darwin, but perhaps more than ever, people think about animals as humans and about themselves as animals. Well… if they think so...
I personally don’t keep or have ever kept any pets, as they give a bad smell and in general are very unhygienic. But I can have some understanding for those people who for some reason may need the company of a dog or another pet for their hobby. But what has happened to humanity if a human being must look for a companion in the form of an animal? Where are the children and grandchildren of those elderly citizens who can talk only to their dogs or cats? Are some of those young people fighting perhaps for animal ‘rights’? What has happened to humanity where some are spending millions of dollars and a great chunk of their human lives on fighting for animals? Somewhere in their country or even in other countries, people – human children – are dying from hunger or an epidemic, lacking basic human living conditions, while some of those animal defenders call their effort 'humanism’.
Sure – adopting a human child may not be more expensive than buying food, medicine, and TOYS for DOGS, but it does require some greater responsibility. But what about spending the same money by giving it to some legitimate charity helping under-developed human societies to survive or even to develop? Why do dogs deserve better in their minds, and why do those people see themselves as more humane than others? I’m sure that if they would look harder they would find some fellow human beings in need on their street, around the corner, somewhere in a close neighborhood. How crocked is a society that spends billions of dollars a year for treating animals better than humans? Is there any hope?

Let me tell you a story about one of my favorite presidents, President Lincoln himself.
While without a doubt he was a man of higher conscience, my story will illustrate something that the Tanya describes in one of its chapters – go and see.
President Lincoln was traveling in a horse and wagon through heavy rain. The road was muddy and streams of water and mud were flowing from the hill on the side of the road. He spotted a sow trying to help her piglet to climb up the small mound, but every time the piglet was pushed up by his mother it would slide down on the liquid mud. President Lincoln jumped out of the wagon and ran through the rain,  picked up the piglet and put it on the top of the hill.
When he returned to his wagon he was asked by the driver of the wagon –
-         Mr. President, you must be a very altruistic person to do such a thing for that animal, especially in such harsh conditions.
-         No – answered President Lincoln – not in this case at least; I did it for myself. I couldn’t watch this struggling animal, and that’s why I did it.
This nice story shows us perhaps something greater about President Lincoln than most people can see in it. He admitted that it was HIS bad feeling which was discomforting him and not exactly caring about animal.
This story happened around the time when Charles Darwin, with his book “Origin of Species,” initiated a new epoch in the history of mankind – an epoch when people began to think about animals as humans and themselves as animals. This time the idea was not part of some morally declined animistic culture or religion, but a part of society considering themselves the leading moral force of humanity, coming, however, with nothing more than a self-pleasing, egocentric approach. Since then it only became worst.

Matys Weiser

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jewish Butchers


A butcher according to the dictionary:
- A person who slaughters certain animals, or who dresses the flesh of animals, fish, or poultry, for food or market.
- A person guilty of brutal or indiscriminate slaughter or murder.
It is self-understood that the second definition comes from the first one, as both definitions are associated with the spill of blood. But there is something more about it, I believe: in all languages in which I communicate, butcher is synonymous with a rough, uncultured, almost primitive individual. Perhaps because that’s the type of man butchers are usually recruited from? Well… as I remember from my youth, most of the butchers working in the meat plant were convicts. I don’t say all and I don’t say everywhere, but that was the situation back then.

In my traveling I meet all kinds of people, but I always look especially for fellow Jews. I have spent Shabbosim in many towns, cities and types of communities. Most of what I see and experience teaches me humility, as I see Jewish children struggle for their Yiddishkeit in a way unknown to most of us Monsey-ers or Boro-Parkers.
Not that long ago, I got halfway between big cities with organized Jewish communities and had to spend Shabbos with Shochtim – in Hebrew, people occupied with slaughter of certain animals, who also dress the flesh of animals for food.
I got the phone number from my office, and on Friday I called to ask for directions and when it would be good to come. I also asked if there was a minyan and a sefer Torah. The answer for the last questions was negative, but nevertheless I was happy to see at the end of the week some yidishe punim – my fellow Jews.
The yid on the other side of the line told me in a characteristically “hasidishe” way how to get to him:
- You get out of the highway and after a mile or so you will see the gas station on the left, and soon after on your right there is a company of such-and-such a name. You will make a right and I will wait for you at the back of the building.
Regrettably I couldn’t put anything in my GPS, so I began to follow his directions, which I had already put on a piece of paper.
Soon I encountered the yid, with a white helmet and galoshes all the way to his knees. A bloodstained white apron complemented the picture. But, like mine, the big smile expressing his happiness from seeing another Jew in this remote place was one of the warmest I have seen for a long time.
He told me how to get to his apartment, which was not so far away, and that he had left it open for me and I could use it as my own, as he still had to finish some work in the plant.
In fact, there were five yidden working in the plant, and soon after Shabbos began I met them all: two Hasidim, two Litvaks and one modern.
After davening we came to hear kiddush from the eldest, who happened to be not only a shochet, but also a rabbi ( not a convert himself) who wrote commentaries on , well…Targum Onkelos in few volumes.
Surprisingly the flat challah baked by one of the men was tasty and soft. We enjoyed the rest of the food as well, which was all prepared by my hosts with meat from their own shechita. It was fantastic to find well-prepared and nicer dishes in a place where I hadn’t expected anything sophisticated.
But soon after the fish they began to discuss what yidden are made for – the Torah. It started with Chumash, but soon they were discussing mishnayos with some early commentaries, and not that much later it was the Zohar itself which was used to explain certain higher ideas from the parsha. I could only listen and try to follow, as the discussion was way above my level of knowledge or understanding.
It was fascinating to see those butchers engage in discussions which you can maybe hear somewhere in Lakewood, but not here in the plains. Soon I found that indeed Lakewood was the place where their Torah had originated, at least for some of them. On the other side of the table, however, we had Chassidim, and the least I can say is that they were not am-ha'aretzim at all. The discussion went high, and the dialectics of the discussed Gemaras was on the level which Hegel may have only dreamed about (dialectics not Gemara of course :) ).
Here, in a cheap neighborhood, by a PVC table covered with a white plastic sheet, a few butchers were bringing the heavenly realm down to earth, while taking the physical realm of fish, fleish and shnapps to the heavenly realm.
Soon the Chasidim had had a few too many shnapps, and the Litvishe Rav declared that at that moment we could discuss everything but halachic issues, the matters of the Jewish law. That’s how the rest of the evening went.
Later I heard them talking about some fascinating details of their profession and how they were making sure that their Kabbalah – the tradition which they learned from their teachers regarding shechita – was being kept to the last detail. After Shabbos  they showed me some of the chalafim, the huge knives, some of them hundreds of years old and valued at thousands of dollars. Even the sharpening stones can have a value of half a thousand or so if they are made from a unique stone. Language, law, philosophy, spirituality and psychology were discussed by those butchers, occupied all week long with making sure that rest of klal Yisroel, the Jewish people, have on their tables kosher meat from animals slaughtered according to 3300-year-old regulations and traditions.
If we have butchers like this, what should the rest of us be like?
Matys Weiser

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Coincident - Coincident?

As was said in one of the previous essays, in order to meet the ends which are to short to meet just from my touring activity I travel around the west and selling some beautiful merchandise.
One Wednesday evening, I came with my product to some gift shop located in the valley somewhere close to the west coast of our country. Shop was selling stuff which didn't match anything what I have to offer but the company which product I sell, sold already in this place for few hundred dollars so I was hoping that maybe this time also they will buy enough to cover cost of my lodging or gas.
I entered the store and introduced myself to the older lady which she later told me she was born in NY in the family of Italian immigrants. The man who was helping her in the store was half Native American and descendant of the famous and proud chief Joseph.
I walked out of the store to bring my merchandise and when I was schlepping it in to the store some young fellows parked their small car at the front and entered with few cardboard boxes which were giving glassy noise. When I came to the store the husky blond fellow was presenting his product to the owner of the store. He was selling glass pipes which are smilingly popular in certain milieu as I saw it in many stores around the country. The young fellow claimed to manufacture pipes by himself.
The lady, owner of the store, apologized to them and asked if they can wait as I was first who came to the store. Seeing that the other guy has some two small boxes of pipes I proposed that she may go ached with picking his merchandise as my needs more attention i.e. time. We all agreed.
While the lady was picking glass pipes from the guy and his friend I began to converse with the salesman of the store, the grand son of Chief Joseph. At certain moment he asked me loud: Are you Jewish?
- Sure - I answered short and equally loud with my big smile on the face.
When I travel alone I usually hide my payos under the yarmulke and black cowboy heat, but I know that even if I would stay there whit my curled payos on the side of my face and wearing my lange rekel (long Hasidic coat) still such question may be asked in most of the places of this country. Most of the people are identifying us as kind of Amish rather than Jews.
When my identity became clear in the crowded back room of the store, the young guy who was selling pipes left the business to his friend and began to tell me the story of his family.
- You know – he said- my family escaped Russia during the communist revolution and via China came her to America. I’m the fourth generation American but I don’t know anything about my heritage.
Listening to him I was not sure what heritage is he talking about, is it Russian heritage which he is referring to, as I reviled somewhere during the conversation that I came from east part of Europe and I speak Russian, or is he referring to different heritage?
I asked him straight forward if his great grandparents were Jewish. He said almost the way as I did it before:
- Sure they were Jewish; they are coming from my mother side.
I asked if his mother was Jewish which I told him it would mean that he is also Jewish.
He answered – I’m hundred percent Jewish but as I told you, I don’t know anything about our heritage. I wanted to know something but I don’t know anybody and there is no Jewish community in my town so I don’t know where to turn for information – he explained.
In further conversation I advised him to look for Jewish community in the capital of the state which I knew has few synagogues and even Kolel. Told him to try in Bays Chabad explaining to him that particularly this community is helping people like himself to rediscover lost treasure of belonging to spiritual elite of humanity.
His friend concluded his sell and they were leaving, so quickly that I forgot to ask my new friend of his name. It was Halloween night and his other friends dressed accordingly were already inpatient with his prolonging conversation.
They left and I began my sell.
The sell went the way that the next morning I asked the office of the company which I working for not to send anybody ever to this place. Took hours of picking and re picking and than triple selection, so by the end, the sell didn't even cover gas which my car burned to come to this place. More than that, while I looked around the store I found that our merchandise completely doesn't match to what the store is selling otherwise.
The very next morning I have to drive four hours trough the mountains to the town located on the beautiful Pacific coast. I knew this part of the coast from our trips with my family in the past but it is always exiting to came one more time and scream the bruche ‘Oseh Maseh Bereishis’ (blessing for the Creator) trying to be louder than mighty waves of the Ocean.
On appointed time I parked my car on the front of up class antique store. While I was preparing to exit my car some SUV parked in the front of me. I noticed four or so inches big star of David above registration plate. It is not common view in this part of the country but I have met already some Jews working in remote places like this in the past and I wouldn't wonder if this would be the case one more time.
Indeed the owner of the store was a Jew. Few minutes later to our conversation, while my merchandise was laying already on the table he began to tell me his family story.
- My grand parents – he told me – escape the Bolsheviks revolution in 1917. First they came to China and than they settled her on the west coast of United States.
Hearing this I scratched my yarmulke and told him:
- Interesting, you know just last evening, four hours of drive from her, I met a young fellow who told me very similar story of his family escape.
- O! Really? - He asked.
- Yeah, he was selling glass pipes in the store where I have had my last appointment yesterday.
- I have a nephew who is making glass pipes but could it be it was him? - He asked.
- I don’t know… but I wonder how many Jewish kids with this kind of family story is making and selling glass pipes in entire country?
After I gave more description of the young fellow, his uncle didn't have any more doubts that indeed it was his nephew Nate whom I met night before.
This was not the end of Jewish topics in our few hours’ conversation while selling my beautiful merchandise.

But it was not the end of ‘coincident’ which experienced in this week.
Thursday afternoon I got the email with the address of the place where my office made arrangement for me to spent Shabes.
I was surprised that in this town there was Jewish community, and more surprised that Jewish population in the town is estimated for few thousand neshumois.
Unfortunately two orthodox shuls in town are struggling for minian and only chance to daven with minian is Shabes morning.
I was sitting in the Bays medrysh in my usual shabes attire together with my fellow Jews of mostly rather older age. Without surprise I was a major attraction for them and with few of them I have longer conversations after the services, including ex NY Times journalist who settled there on the west coast after writing articles for the paper including tree interviews of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shnerson – the last Lubavicher rebbe. I got some insights of those interviews which dint go to the press.
Later at local rabbi’s house we sated to eat the seauda when other older Jew came to the room invited by rebetzin to taste at least the some of the delicious salad.
He sat across the table from me and unsurprisingly began to ask me the questions. Everything from the way how I dress to the bestial murder of Layby Kletzky who was a grandson of my friend and accountant.
I have to explain that murderer was not Chasidic Jew as some of the press have described him including not so sympathetic to Chasidim Jewish magazines.
I learned that the Jew whom I talking to, was attending afternoon Cheder in his youth but quitted yidishkeit soon after his bar Mitzva after traumatic experience of how he described it, being suffocated by his rebbe who himself, he learned it after the event, was Auschwitz survivor.
Nevertheless most of his life he spent leaving as not Jewish only now getting interest in Yidishkeit. After being turned off by lack of knowledge in reform institution in his town he began to attend orthodox synagogue and ask orthodox rabbi the questions which was turned away by reform clergy person.
At certain moment during our interesting discussion he mentioned Heidegger and was surprised that I know who was Heidegger. He almost jumped out of his shoes when I told him about his teacher Huserl and his phenomenology branch of existentialism.  We spoke about his works, Edith Stein, Heidegger membership in NSDAP and hidden anti-Semitism of Huserl and Karl Joung.
I learned from him that he is working on the book on phenomenology and later from the rabbi that our fellow Jew is recognized psychologist.
At the end of our ‘accidental’ meeting he reviled to me that he tried in the other places to learn about his lost Judaism but only her he was allowed to ask the questions but more than that he was happy with the answers. Which I answered to him, that what I saying to him is only what I learned from my leaving and past away rabbis, and with my very limited knowledge and skills, just trying to share with him.
Hmm… coincident.

Matys  Weiser