Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Prodigal Son (and Daughter)

Scribblers the world over, just like rabbis, utilise the intersection of the outgoing and incoming year to provide a stock-take of where we are and some analysis on where we may be heading and so let me not shirk in my duty and I'll get straight to the point.

The greatest issue facing our communities is not housing benefit cuts or Ofsted school inspections in the UK, education challenges to yeshives and metzitze be'peh in the US or coalition shenanigans and the compulsory draft in Israel. The greatest challenge is our youth that has given up any hope on our intractable and blinkered system and is voting with its feet in increasing and confident numbers. Technology is neither the symptom nor its cause though it suits our leaders to blame everyone but themselves for the state we are in.

The world around us is changing and rapidly so. Our model of bringing up boys in total ignorance to be supported by a mixture of state beneficence for the majority and inherited wealth for the lucky few is broke. Bringing up girls as breeders and feeders, with or without some perfunctory grades, is no longer viable either. And our superglue of bringing the ignorant and the fertile together in blissful marital union while in their clueless teens is also coming rapidly unstuck and horribly so.

I know the clever ripostes and well-rehearsed responses to these charges because they once formed the stuff of my weltanschauung. We've been doing it for 2000 years, we will say, people like me have been predicting our downfall over and over again and we've survived them and we'll survive this too. One columnist even enlightened his readers by opining that having a child 'go off' is the comeuppance  for denigrating da'as torah, which is the best example, should any be needed, of our total oblivion to the world orbiting right in front of our collective blindfold.

This comfort food may fool the gullible and trick the ignorant who know of little beyond our ghetto walls but I'm awfully afraid to disabuse you. The evidence is there in your family, your neighbours and wherever your care to look.

Let me spell out clearly what I am on about. We, that is Chareidi Jewry, are facing a brain drain. We can breed as much as our 3'3" beds will permit us, we can retain as many of our offspring that care to stay and we can flex all the political muscle that our numbers can muster but we can no longer prevent our brightest and most intelligent from leaving and it is they who are scrambling for the exit.

Once again some will retort and highlight the druggies and alcoholics and a variety of life's detritus amongst the leavers to try and prove the point that a life outside benefits' dependency is bound to fail. Torah equals life, we will gloat, and so it must follow like gemore follows mishnyayos that if you leave Torah you simultaneously forfeit any vestige of a civilised life.

But there is another side to it and one which is developing before our eyes. Those brave individuals who are unable to face a closeted life where intelligence is measured by the disingenuity employed to defeat reason and where Torah has become a means to stifle rather than excite intellectual curiosity. These young men and women have been brought up in the same world as ours and face the same challenges in adapting to a world that has been shunned on their behalf from birth. Yet despite these obstacles, which are indeed insurmountable to some, and in the relatively short period that the OTD movement has been gathering momentum, they have been making an enormous mark.

Chareidi Jews are still a small minority of Jews as a whole and of them the OTD community, if one can call it that, is still very small in number. Yet this tiny statistical nonentity and many of who had no secular primary or secondary education to speak of has gone on to produce in its relatively short lifespan Cambridge and Harvard graduates, many more Ivy League and red-brick alumni, a BBC journalist, published authors, artists, cartoonists, bloggers, a Fulbright Scholar and these are only the ones I know of.  Round the globe chareidim generally and chasidim in particular of all ages are waking up to a world of opportunity and are fascinated by what they find. Some unfortunately turn inwards with bitterness and spite at the life they were denied and are being prevented from offering to their children but many are able to shake off their shackles and grab the many opportunities life has to offer. You may not enjoy reading this but they are lapping up every minute of it.

And our response to this? Bemoan the brutality of the callous teens towards their grieving and shamed parents and tsk tsk for the spouses some of them spurn and the children they abandon. None of this supposed concern for the 'poor kids' is on show when rampant child abuse is covered up, nor is it there when boys are sent daily to decrepit buildings to sit for hours in front of decrepit rebbes chanting senselessly by rote texts which most of them will never master if even understand. For the bright ones who stay behind and are intrigued by words and ideas rather than by mammon there awaits a fascinating life of exploring bugs in lettuce, measuring the length of skirts and the density of hosiery and determining the appropriate pixelation of a 3 year old's face if it has the misfortune to be born into the wrong gender. Because such are the wonders of the Torah that it is the women who are less exposed to it who end up running most of the institutions round here that actually matter.

Our scaremongering is totally at odds with the world these young people encounter. They enter schools, universities, places of employment and entertainment and meet people who are welcoming, open to new ideas and alternative lifestyles and willing to share the fun and freedoms which they take for granted. Not your closeted stale world of saturated fats and sealed minds but one thriving with ideas, where difference is cherished and openness embraced.

Our idle threats and finger pointing at those unfortunates who fail to survive in the wider world also has no effect. In order to maintain our rotten edifices we set up our youth for failure. Should they then try and and scale those high walls we have constructed for them we dare them to jump and wish them to fall. And when our prayers are answered and they do exactly as we prescribed for them we wring our hands in despair and blame the web, the phone, the text, the street and practically anything but ourselves.

But that too is failing. Those who can will ask the questions and if our supposedly brilliant leaders cannot provide the answers they will seek them elsewhere. They will leave us to wallow and kvetch to our heart's delight while they migrate to places where questions are encouraged and replies carefully probed. And for every leaver there are numerous left behind who feel unable or unwilling to make the transition. They look and dress like the rest of us but that is where the similarity ends. We can expect little of children brought up by parents whose Yiddishkeit is forced, faked and resented.

Save for yourselves those pitying glances you waste on the latest parents to feel bereaved because a child has left their phantom citadel. Ask yourselves why Yeshivas are no longer a place for an inquisitive mind and curious soul. Why those with brains leave us to discover the frontiers of a world heaving with innovation while those left behind are growing ever more dense. Boredom has spurred us on to create a multitude of chesed organisations for every conceivable misfortune but we are incapable of seeing the calamity of our own making unfolding before our eyes. A rotten and corrupt leadership with a total disconnect from those it purports to lead having hemmed itself in almost literally in their sown up slits and buttoned up blouses.

Feed your kids the best of the junk food the kosher market has to offer and your benefits fuelled economy will afford you, marry your kids off and dance away in the hall supporting another of our communal scams and put them on the housing ladder where from the very first rung they will descend into a life of dependency if not outright crime and then kid yourself how wonderful it all is. But do not be surprised when it will no longer fool those with minds to think.

But I know us lot. We will not listen. We will go searching our mezuzos for a typo resulting in a bad pun, engage in pop psychology on how better to brainwash our young, visit charlatans for holy rings and blessed water and try even conventional medicine for supposed 'ailments' which know no name. The ailment is in our body politic and the cure lies with those who dare to question and refuse to accept stock answers. But none of this will occur to us while the House of the Lord functions as the house of the sick and that's when it's not the house of the bent and perverted.

Try your hand at prayer, by all means, but remember what Hashem said to Moshe, ma titzak eiloi dabeir el benei yisroel v'yisou. There comes a time when yelling our heads off in prayer will make not the slightest difference and it is time to move on. And what followed from there was the miracle of krias yam suf and the revelation at kabolath hatorah.

A Gemar Chasime Toivo to all of you!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody

stamford hill cycle superhighway

Actually the opposition to the local section of the London Cycle Superhighway (currently in construction) is more malodorous than melodious though unchained and unhinged this lot of killjoys certainly are. Mind you, they're not much different to their forbears who saw in the arrival of the railway tracks the advent of degeneracy and no doubt had they been around in Edison's days they would have ordered him to switch off the light. So immersed are they in awaiting the redemption that they cannot contemplate other improvements in their sorry lives and so they worry that a cycle route through 'our' area may herald the arrival of something clean and fresh to replace the old and staid they are so fond of. And as to where it might lead, that is one route they would rather not go down, but to them it's quite enough that it takes you beyond the confines of Stamford Hill, Go- forbid.

There's not much point trying to persuade such kind of the advantages of a cleaner, healthier, quieter and safer mode of transport. God created cars on Erev Shabbos bein hashmoshes and who are we to reduce their use? As for the environment, stop worrying already and it will be alright. The eibihster wouldn't have made an XC90 if He thought it might destroy His universe and stop believing everything that scientists tell you. And anyway it's only 0.4 of a mile in our area so what's the big deal, let them go elsewhere.

uohc anti cycle route, shop locations

Don't think we're alone in this either because we're not. There are 3,300 'local' people who oppose the route. Now local is a hip and modern word which can be stretched and contracted according to its needs. In this case, of the 9 shops where a petition, supported by the loony if not sinister UOHC Modesty Squad, was available to be signed, fewer than half are anywhere near the route and 2 are outside Hackney altogether. Of course, we're not into borough and ward boundaries unless we're trying to throw an election and what matters here is the line of the hypothetical local eiruv were it not banned by this same lot. Similarly, not one of the 3 councillors who selflessly made their homes available for the same purpose represent or reside in the ward where the cycle route will run through. And if you look at the one available page of signatories (below) many live in E5 and N15. But, like kedushe, 'local' has no geographical limits and perhaps, on a quiet night with the right type of wind, the sound of a loud bicycle bell on Heathland Road can be heard even as far as Theydon Road.

cycling petitionThis generosity is not limited to geography and aims to be as inclusive as one might hope. The Petitioners, like the Tribune, want you to know that there is a Black, Polish and Muslim Community living here too. How strange I've never noticed it before. It must be thanks to the irresponsible landlords who are regularly admonished for admitting 'inappropriate tenants' to the area but now we are to embrace the rainbow stuff in order to oppose the most rainbowy pastime of all, cycling. Interfaith is wonderful when a camera is pointing at you but it's in-yer-face for the rest of the time. They even called a 'local' meeting which they made sure no one knew about just in case someone with an opposing view turned up. Debate, as we well know, can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. Someone might even have pointed out the real heimish-but-dead cyclist who may have been alive if he was on a route segregated from those wonderful metal boxes on wheels.

But this isn't just any dumb ban like the ones we've come to love to hate, this one is dead serious. There are no less than four reasons for banning the bikes. Traffic. Parking. Safety. Kids. Do you have no heart even towards our precious kinderlech? Ok, amongst ourselves maybe we don't mamesh give a damn for safety and barely one for kids but what's that their business? Anyway they don't need to know about it unless that meshigene blogger opens his mouth again. But shoin we're not like that all the time. We do after all have 3 ambulances on permanent standby to care for our safety though still the accidents keep on happening, but that's because our skirts are not long enough.

cycle, Tribune[4]

And so if safety is your concern naturally ban the bikes. They might soon be banning goldfish in case they bite the hand that feeds them but ribono shel olom we're talking about kiddies not fish. Hang on, we've even got a statistic. According to the Tribune, we probably have the largest child to adult ratio in Western Europe. Don't you just love that 'probably'. I mean, why stop at Western Europe? Why not the Western hemisphere, or north of the equator, or the entire universe bar Bnei Brak, Karachi and Marrakesh? The fact is that we have loads more kids than we can ever dream of looking after and still we're going strong. And so ban the bikes. Ban them today, ban them tomorrow and ban them forever because we have a ratio, don't you understand?

Come on, let's be honest, our care for kids is really legendary and so they should not be occupying West Bank with bikes. True at shaleshides at a corner shul near you kids run amok on the streets unsupervised because dad's head is in the herring and mummy's fussing over her latest salad recipe to match the colour scheme of the tablecloth runners, doilies and napkins. Fine, that is excusable. But we do encourage them to walk to school, don't we. Is that the honking of a white van I hear? Must be my ears because you cannot but marvel at the skill and dexterity with which they beg, borrow and steal just any terminology they can lay their fingers on in order to turn it on its head.

If there is a single local cheder or school that has a walk to school policy, or, worse still, a walk to school day, it must have bypassed me but then we're kenainehore a sizeable oilem these days and I can't know everything. He has to go to shachris, her cordless is stuffed in her turban and little Chaim's school's walking policy takes him from the front garden to the rusting van door for an overcrowded quarter-of-a-mile ride to school. Is that not a policy? Only white, beer-bellied tattooed UKIP voters may drive white vans but we mustn't? What kind of discrimination is that, you irredeemable antisemite? Just stand on Stamford Hill or Amhurst Park any morning and watch the manoeuvres of the safety-conscious fathers criss-crossing lanes of traffic, cutting up buses so that their kids aren't at the mercy of psychopathic cyclists and that'll give you an idea of what safety is all about.

Because if you come to think of it, true Toiredike safety is in as smooth a car ride as you can get. This is why we put a spanner in the spokes of the notion of speed humps on Jessam Avenue (where a child was recently run over) and neighbouring streets with the able assistance of our elected councillors. Who cares what logic they employed on that occasion? Safety means Perek Shira 40 days in a row and let everyone else die in a pile-up. As one of the opposing councillors said to me, the issue here is the erosion of the rights of motorists. Give him at least credit for his honesty.

It's not all safety though, they're also worried about congestion, again notoriously caused by bikes. Visit the Dunsmure Road strip of the bike route on any morning and watch the mayhem. Actually, having cycled past there on many occasions a large part of the congestion is caused by the lollipop lady crossing kids walking to school and so we should campaign to ban her too. Besides the tznius issues of a lady telling men when to stop their cars, if only she weren't constantly stopping all those cars then the traffic would flow. Ban the cyclists, ban the pedestrians, close that silly school to which parents walk their kids and just join the car revolution. Amen.

Look, while no one's around let's face it, it was the UOHC that was honest about it and who would expect anything less from them. We just don't want them commuters passing through 'our' streets. As a friend said to me, no self-respecting chasidic community will allow cyclists traversing 'their' area without a fight. We haven't imbued our streets with all that kedushe for some young, fit, attractive, liberally minded and often so dressed cyclists with tight lycra bottoms to pollute our refined spiritual environment. If you haven't watched Queen's Bicycle Race you should chas vesholem not do so because the pritzus is simply mind boggling, but we shan't take lessons from anyone on cycling being a 'clean' alternative. It is filthy for the fingers especially if your tyres are as flat as your brain and even dirtier for the neshome, Go- forbid.

Yes, this area belongs to US. We can use our cars for minche/mariv and clog up every local street because we care about parking, and as for a bike, well, es past nisht. We can close the streets for funerals and rebbes, hachnosas sefer torahs and tashlich, we can burn chometz on the streets minutes after the council has cleaned them and we can burn our schach at 12am and sod the neighbours. A simche hall is where we decide to put it and if your neighbour is Jewish even better. Let them grit their teeth and block their ears because it's still preferable to making a complaint and being labelled a moosser. If we have cyclists of our own they're more like the Real McGoy rather than a heimishe specimen in a clapped out Previa or shiny SUV and so can safely be ignored. As for the women, well minicabs aren't cyclists so what does it matter to them? And the kids, they’re in cheider most of the day anyway so it hardly make a difference.

But if we still don't win the argument we can always resort to drugs: we don't do drugs, we don't mug old ladies (and you know who does those) ergo the streets, the airspace, the very air we breathe all belong to us. And if you're still not convinced we might even have a statistic to prove it.

Monday, 20 July 2015

The UOHC Constitution

UOHC Memorandum and Articles of Association

This it seems is the Holy Grail of the UOHC constitution which they have to date spoken about incessantly but have never put out for show.

Sorry but there’s too little time to have a thorough analysis so here’s a brief runthrough of first impressions. Joe’s fingerprints seem all over it in the disproportionate power to the unelected, unaccountable, more-dead-than-alive Adath Yisroel Burial Society; the founding members include none of the large chasidic groups and instead are made up of Reb Chunes, Schiffshul Ltd (aka ‘69’), good old Adath again and the Padwa family slipping in surreptitiously in all but name; no provision for removing an alleged renegade on the Rabbinate itself; a new member of the Rabbinate as well as the Av Beth Din himself is elected rather than appointed at his father’s graveside; each 50 married male members of a shul send a male delegate up to a maximum of 4; and finally a shul can be expelled if “its continued membership is harmful to or is likely to become harmful to the interests of the UOHC”. So any community dreaming of backing a Stamford Hill Eiruv be warned.

You do however wonder for whom all this is. As I said the Adath is as unrepresentative as it is unaccountable, the money is all ringfenced in separate charities, from its very formation the different chasidim who make up the bulk of the community are kept at a safe distance (which can be understood) and NW is given a nod with Reb Chune’s amongst the founders but no Adath equivalent from NW.

But still, it is a weighty document, literally years in the making with at least one of its draughtsmen dying on the job, it gives an impression of probity though I’ll leave it for others to decide how much of that impression is deserved.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

‘It is time that we say “Enough!”’

From a Pirkei Ovois Shiur by the Gateshead Rov, Rav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, a true leader from the front who has shown immense courage by setting a personal example. He himself gave evidence at the trial and is the embodmiment of the mitzva לא תעמוד על דם רעך, Do not stand idly by on your friend’s blood.



Thursday, 4 June 2015

Driving Miss Reizy

Why the letter, people have been asking. I don't have in mind those who see it as chasidim reverting to form or those who believe Isis to have started a chapter in Stamford Hill. I suppose I would be a prime candidate for decapitation and yet I can assure you that I sit here with my yarmulke some distance from my shoulders.

The question, however, is being asked within Belz and within Stamford Hill where Belz would not generally feature amongst the extremists. The regular litany of bans and strictures on wigs, tights, skirts, heels and anything else the vivid chareidi imagination conjures up will rarely if ever carry on them a Belzer imprimatur. Having supported eiruvs and their dayan having backed the breakaway milk and more recently the new meat, Belz is usually an advocate for change rather than one of the local extremist groups of which we are blessed with a broad range of shades and colours. So why this letter that has caused so much consternation within and without?

Well, to answer that, an understanding is required of the tensions facing chasidic communities worldwide and not just Belz in particular. It is no exaggeration to say that chassidim are scared. Scared stiff, in fact. Chasidim in general operate to a greater or lesser degree on the basis that authentic Judaism as we know it today was born in the Carpathian mountains in the 18th century and this is what we must and do maintain. We dress during the week like the Amish and on Holy Days like Polish counts circa 1780. East European Galicia may no longer exist on the map but its heart pounds vibrantly in various chasidic dynasties.  And if we are to believe our elders and what the western media often tell us then this is what we have indeed accomplished and what would otherwise have been considered mission impossible is precisely the way we are.

But if that were true my soapbox would consist of vacuous bubbles rather than heavy suds. Because sorry to disappoint those believers who stumble along here in a moment of temptation but chasidim are nothing of the sort. We are all westerners ok. We engage in almost all the west has to offer bar that precious commodity of free speech, and especially on the printed page, and unfortunately we could do much better on the educational front. Yet notwithstanding our shortcomings we have proved very adroit in straddling the two worlds; in keeping largely to our traditions while enjoying the freedoms the western world has to offer.

Only this week Belzers across the globe watched their Rebbe's grandson's wedding live streamed through the otherwise banned you know what. For every odd flying chosid making the headlines in refusing to be seated near a female there are a dozen chasidim comfortably ensconced in club class and above.  Those guys are turning left not veering to the right. And so it is on all fronts. Chasidim can't resist issuing bans but then break them almost before the ink is dry.

But beneath this shiny veneer, those in charge know that something deeper is taking root. Our youth are drifting and chasidic circles are feeling it most acutely. Youngsters in their fur hats and breeches discuss Big Brother and not in the context of a Bar Mitzvah or wedding. They talk about I'm a Celebrity and think, get me out of here; they pick up moves from Strictly and import them to our raucous weddings. And too many rather than import the alien ways export themselves out. It is this tide that the Belz spiritual leaders are trying to stem but which in this instance has unleashed a torrent.

This in and of itself may still not excuse the letter and anyway that is not my mission. Let the Belzers do as they wish and I simply want to set out the context. One must further consider how driving is viewed generally in Stamford Hill and amongst chasidim in particular. A family where the woman drives is a subset with its own characteristics and stereotypes.  Remember there were few cars in Eastern Europe when this all began and what ever they did ride is unlikely to have been driven by a female, let alone a Jewish one. Thus ‘she drives' has become shorthand for a somewhat less traditional life style.

This is difficult to define to an outsider because it does not suggest being less Jewish or less frum in any way but it does imply being less chasidic of a certain schmaltzy type. It signifies being more relaxed about the yumminess of western culture, less minded about every uttering of the rabbis and points to having something of a mind of one's own. Not the woman driver in particular but the household she and her husband are leading. And if they are from a more stringent background then it implicitly represents a rejection of an element of our traditional values. It could even point to a closeted heretic, not necessarily of the mysterious ways of God but towards the movement and its mores.

When faced with these kinds of risks our gatekeepers would rather not delve into the details and reflexively resort to what they know best: banning. But alas such are the times that bans are not what they used to be. Banning smartphones has made not one bit of difference as Whatsapp may like to tell you. It has become impossible to enforce and too much of a necessity to too many people for it to be realistic to even try. Banning long wigs and sheer tights has not affected their ubiquity and banning the internet has just made more people sign up.

It is in this context that women's driving becomes an issue, not as a cause but as yet another symptom, and a very overt one at that, of the much feared downward spiral. What follows could be – for men - short sleeves, coloured shirts, a short coat and heaven forfend even a short suit, and once you reach there who knows where it all ends. If this sounds like madness then you are evidently not a chosid in any sense of the word and have never vacillated prior to the wedding of a second cousin thrice removed whether to wear a streimel or a hat. But as any self-respecting chosid will tell you, many an apostate started by twisting his peyos rather than curling them and when the woman starts driving then the proverbial has truly hit the fan.

But there is something more at play and even apostasy is not the entire truth. We are well aware that there are many good Jews who don't look and conduct themselves like us and are no less Jewish for that. For ourselves, however, we, by which I mean men and women alike, generally want to be the way we are because it's what we know, what we like, what we believe to be right and what we want for our children. Part and parcel of that is the standing of women in our society.

No one forces anyone to have large families and no one prevents those women who wish to work from doing so and indeed plenty do. But yet many women do have large families, out of choice or out of being conditioned to make such choices, and prefer to stay at home to raise their children and look after the home. And very many of these same women choose or have been taught to choose not to drive. You or I may not approve but then no one has asked us. God save us if we all have to live our lives in accordance with the latest headline of the Daily Mail or The Guardian, and when they start singing from the same hymn sheet it really becomes scary.

Yes there are women out there who would love to drive but their husbands won't allow them. But then there are men out there who'd love to trim their peyos and beards but their wives won't allow them. The comparison may be somewhat disingenuous but the fact is that a woman wanting to drive will be as anxious of the sisterhood's displeasure as she will be of her father's and husband's censure. As a woman from a prominent Belz family said to my wife, she would love to drive and there are other things in the system that she is unhappy with but she chooses to belong there and so must take the good and the bad. I might think that they often get a raw deal and if one side of the equation chooses to sit in the kitchen while the other gets the car I hardly need to tell you who's living the good life. You may also question how free such choices are but once again it's not what you think that matters. Trust me, being around  when some of these women tell you that they can make up their own minds for themselves would put many a sturdy man to flight.

And to those wonderful Jews out there falling over each other to tell all who care to listen how this is not Judaism I say thanks but no thanks. If the Chief Rabbi, Board of Deputies, the JC and other bastions of Anglo Jewry would care to speak up on the parlous state of chasidic boys' education in general or the rampant cover-up of child abuse in the larger community I'd cheer them to the rafters. But that is where one barely hears a murmur. It is only when they feel the need to tell the wider world how Belzers do not practise the real Judaism that they suddenly find their voice.

Well, let me remind them of what we constantly hear from them when the boot is on the other foot, that there is no ‘real’ Judaism and yiddishkeit comes in all shapes and sizes. So you don't lecture us on ours and we will leave you alone with yours. Should they ever come to burn bras in Belz then an invitation will undoubtedly be extended to all those terribly nice people out there but in the meantime your chorus has that same self-righteous ring that you all too often accuse us of.

So raise a Lechaim to Belz for the simche in their Rebbe's court and for the all but signed peace treaty they reached this week with their lifelong adversaries. But you needn’t drive yourself to distraction by a ban which if it’s to be honoured will be only in the breach.