Sunday, March 29, 2020


So, it happened. 
At the age of 97 Cheshanover alte rebetzin passed away.
I knew this day would come.  Thinking so many times, how will I get to New York for the levaya, as I am so often on the west coast. I Couldn’t imagine not to be there at the funeral which according to the Jewish law, must happen within a day of passing.
For me, a person that is away a big part of year, half of a day of driving from the closest airport with direct flights to NY, it may be a matter of concern – how will I do it. And there are those places where I go, which are almost day from the airport.
HBH decided to take her away when I’m just two hours away from the place of the levaya and I cannot attend it due to the Corona pandemic restrictions.
Now, at the hour of the levaya, I sat to write this. I could not attend the funeral of my own mother who passed away in Poland four years ago, now I can’t listen to the words of hespaidim about a person who was like a mother to my family in the crucial years after our immigration to United States.
Thinking, making Cheshbon haneifesh – soul account. I don’t know. I don’t know.
That’s how she was – a mother not only to her family but mother to yesoymim who she found on the path of her life. I know that our family was not only the case.
She was born in Sadovne, Mazowsze (Mazovia) district of Poland just few years after Poland regained its independence after 130 years under the control of foreign kingdoms. Mazowsze was under Russian control and Polish and Jewish populations developed their own culture, distinctive to other parts of the Polish land.
There is a reason why we have Poilishe and Galitziane Hassidim, as well as Russishe and Hungarians.
Cuisine is only one of many aspects of cultural differences.
Rebetzin was at the entry to her life, just 16, when the darkest years of human history approached.
Somehow her mother with, I hope I know it correctly, four children, managed to escape to the Russian side of occupied Poland. As most Polish citizens they were considered by Sovyetska vlast (Soviets) - enemies of the people – burjuy. As such they were send to Siberia and trough seven years there, they were dumped from one labor camp to another. Rebetzin’s mother didn’t survive, giving her life in Janbul – Kazakhstan.
After the war, four siblings came back to Poland – three sisters and one brother.
The three sisters became three rebetzins – Sadovne, Cheshanove and Aleksander – Boro Park.
Only one of three got married to a Galitziane family, not a common mix before the WWII.
How did she fit in to the Rubin-Helbershtam family? I can humbly attest from my few years close to the family – she was one of them – perhaps most important, most influential in the decades after the passing of her husband and the father of my rebe.
Now I have to say few words about Cheshanov itself, and I will try to be restrained in my words for two reasons – you never know what can be offensive to others; and I know, I can be if not controversial personality at least inconvenient for some so I will try my best.
Cheshanov comes from the straight line of descendants of Santzer dynasty. And it can be heard and felt there in many aspects. But probably even more that Santz – Nowy Sacz, it is the spirit of Shinov – Sieniawa, which is dominant in Hasidic life philosophy of Cheshanov, than any other influence.
It is not only because every third man or boy in the Shul is Yechezkiel Shraga for this name is used in the family for generations after the original Yechezkiel Shraga of Shinov.
He was a son of Santzer Rebe, probably the most influential among his other siblings, even he did not continue in the place of his father in Santz.
He took a post of the Rav and at this time in Galitzia it was also the post of the Rebe, in Shinov in 1855.
When the “whole town” came to listen to his Third Meal derusha – Torah Comentry at the end of Shabes, which in Hasidic custom is the moment when position of Rav takes effect; the new Shinover Rav opened the Chumash and red from the Parsha – Torah portion of the week.
In his later years in Shinov, he began to deliver customary sedua shides derusha but the way how he approached some Minhagim was symptomatic to his general approach to Hasidus.
This Derech – path, was expressed probably the best way by the Satmar Ruv Reb Yoel Taitelbaum – Derch Baal Shem Tov is lost, and we don’t understand it. This is what I heard from his Talmidim – students.
It was controversial a few decades ago, and even if at the time of the Shinover Ruv it was only a little taste of this approach, it should be self-understood, that it was not popular among other Hasidim.
It is not the place perhaps, but it must be mentioned that in the following centuries after the Ball Shem Tov, different Hasidic groups developed distinctive cultures, life philosophies and minchagim which are not necessarily rooted in the teachings of the first master of Hasidus. Some of them seemingly expressing philosophy in direct opposition to the original Hassidic teachings.
Cheshanov respects minhagim, recognize the power of the Hasidic movement, teach great thoughts of Hasidic masters from different streams of this philosophy, but – all of this with feet strongly standing on the ground, with a square head and skepticism famous among other Hassidim.
Cheshanover Rebetzin was a small postured person, especially among her sons and grandsons of six feet and more, but she was great in precisely this kind of approach to life and yidishkeit so characteristic for this place.
She was a champion of self-sufficiency; man has to work to support his family.
She was a hard-working woman, cooking the best kugels already from the beginning of the week, some of this food she delivered to lonely persons just hours before Shabes.
I have to mention the parve cholent. It was best parve cholent in the Universe, parve because in 1950ties, some Singers and other vegetarians use to come from Manhattan to visit family in Boro Park. Yes, those Singers – Yitschak Bashevis and Yisrael Yehoshua.
Rebetzin’s Shabes fish – you can smell the town of Belz in that fish – she told me that she learned the recipe from her mother in law, daughter of the Belzer rebbe.
But the most important mida - trait which I observed in the years as a neighbor, was yashrus -straightforwardness.
She used to say – “Good thing you should learn from the pastuch – a simpleton, the bad thing you should not learn from the rebe.”
She didn’t hesitate to call some of the rabbis – ‘’galuch”.
Well…not the most pleasing name or description of some leaders in our own fold. Mildly translated, galuch is the person making a living from spiritual services. But to really understand the word you should ask Yiddish speaking children.
I have a great privilege to befriend some of her grandchildren and of course consider her son as my personal Rav.
I understand how atypical person I am in the Hasidic world in general and in Cheshanov in particular.
But I don’t have to hide or play someone else, there is no inconvenient mold which I have to push in to.
Thanks to that yashrus which she implemented in to the following generations I feel at home.
She was the one who asked me almost quarter of century ago to come and open the door.
Rebetzin with her clear head and straight understanding of life and human characters was Cheshanover as rest of Cheshanov – she was just Cheshanov

Monday, March 23, 2020

Freedom of individual

I can’t believe that it’s been already year since I posted last time.
I wrote few essays since then and this is one of them. I titled it “Freedom of individual” as B-H I hope to write separate essay on topic of Personal Freedom – the Freedom achievable only by progressing control over our body and heart, guided by commandments of Torah.
Below some words about Freedom of Individual or citizen if you will.

A street of a European city, could be day, could be after dusk. Four or five story buildings, some trees on the edge of the sidewalk. Streets paved with cobblestones, sometimes smooth on the surface sometimes corrugated as they came straight from the riverbed.
And then the steps. First quiet but then louder and louder as the somebody walking on the sidewalk progresses quietly closer toward a rhythmic sound. He can’t turn back, he knows, this would put him in danger. Now we see the boots and then persons marching with weapons on their shoulders.
Then loud command – Ausweis bytte, Papiren.
Man and woman are showing ID’s, but it doesn’t end there.
One of the soldiers or policemen are sniffing trough the belongings of the person who a minute ago was walking minding his or her own business but now he/she is a suspect. For a petty crime, it can end with a jail sentence or even worse.
This is a common scene from many movies that I remember watching as a child depicting the Nazi occupation of Poland. This is how it was described to us, born a few decades after the war.
Millions of people were still around who remembered those years of the German fascist invasion.
When in December 1981 the Polish communist government instituted a State of War up on Polish the population, these scenes came to our lives as a generational Deja Vue.
There was no doubt in our mind that we had a Nazi like regime reincarnated and now dressed in the Polish uniforms, asking for our ID in our native language, just as original Nazis sniffing through our belongings.
After major riots in the cities, patrols were walking in groups no less the five, two police and three soldiers, in fear of their own population.
I will never forget the scene which I observed from the city bus on the way back from school.
The bus stopped to pick up some passengers, and in the tall grass separating the road from the sidewalk, a few boys, aged less than ten, were shooting from their sticks toward such patrol.
The whole bus, the whole street burst with laughter. But in less than minute it was in the air, people felt sorry for the young officers protecting the regime from the hate of the population. Kind of a hate – pity situation.
Seventeen days after the Nazis entered Poland from the west, the Red Army took the entire eastern Poland as it was agreed between Hitler’s and Stalin’s diplomats.
Lvov was a capital of eastern Galitzia and now become a Soviet city.
Under communist rule every citizen is supposes to work, not necessarily in the profession acquired or practiced in the past. Rabbis definitely didn’t have it easy under an atheist government, so they got a profession which was fitting them somehow or if they got some ‘protektzia’ then some easier job.
Rabbi Shlomo Helbershtam, son of Bobover rebbe and after the WWII Bobover rebbe himself, got that kind of easy profession – a factory guard. His job was to check workers ID as they were entering the factory as it is a practice in many large businesses until today.
Soon, the local population learned the soviet ways of life, stealing became a widespread practice, including stealing from the factories and places of work.
Reb Shloime was asked by his supervisors to check the belongings of some workers leaving the premises of the factory after work hours. The Bobover rebbe refused as he saw such behavior humiliating and inhumane.
He didn’t learn this idea from Voltaire or Kant, it was not a “humanism” where he was rooted in his ethics.
It was the Toira which he learned from his father and grandfather and all the way to the Moishe and Avruchom.
Freedom and personal dignity is a fundamental Jewish value, indispensable and equal for all G-ds creations. It is a first condition to even think about service of the Creator as a Jew and as a Goy.
We will not dwell in this place about chalachic ramifications of basic minimums given in historic environment. We are talking about the idea given first at the time of creation, and then again as an introduction to Atzeres Hadibres – The Ten Commandments.
The idea of personal freedom and human dignity was obvious for the Bobever rebbe, for some – this backward Jew from a small town in an even more backward Galitzia, Poland.
Not long ago, I was sitting by a table with bunch of my fellow Americans talking all the things Americans talk about. I still don’t know much about Baseball or Football, but I was always hoping that on the other hand, sharing ideas of American political and social system written in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution will do.
Then topics switched to security, and as I was quiet before for lack of knowledge about sports, now I was just stunned listening where we hold as a society.
For my fellow Americans it was fine when the police stop and frisk… as long as this is not one looking like one of us. It was ok to look in your pockets when you enter an office building, because who knows.
It was ok to take the belt off of your pants in the middle of airport, because…I don’t even know!
I was horrified that no one is even hinting how to build a society where no one is in need of ‘protection’.
No one analyzed why do we need this ‘protection’, everybody just knew from whom do we need it – from enemies of our freedom.
You don’t have a freedom when security government can listen to your conversations and look in to your correspondence.
Communists in Poland under the Martial law were at least informing us that your conversations are under surveillance. Here, the person who informed us about surveillance became a political refugee!
You don’t have freedom if the cops can look in your pockets!
You don’t have freedom if TSA can put you in situation where you don’t know what to hold, your falling pants or your suitcase that is soon to be checked.
You don’t have freedom if you deny the same privilege to people living in your or other countries.
And no! They don’t hate us for our freedom, they hate us because we normalize taking their freedom away.
I will even go further.
There is no freedom if we can’t protect the wellbeing of our citizens, and by wellbeing, I mean their health and sometimes lives.
We don’t have a freedom if we can’t educate our children to prepare them to be contributing members of society, there is no freedom if we cannot do it using our school taxes in the way we wish.
And no, no parent will send a kid to the school teaching anything against the wellbeing of the general society, be it a religious or secular school.
There is no freedom of an individual or a society, if work of the government is not reflecting wishes of “we the people”. Instead every politician on every level of government is only looking how to appease the donor class which by Darwinian nature, protects only their own interest.
No freedom there.
Instead I was sitting there with my fellow Americans listening to ideas of betterment of methods of security.
Only… what is there to protect and secure?