Thursday, March 5, 2009

Surfing Love

As part of being raised Hassidic, I missed some excellent movies that everybody and their brother know by heart. Occasionally, I try to catch up on old classic. They may be old to you, but they’re new to me.

Last night I watched Titanic for the first time, and was very moved by it. I will try to express my feelings with the following lines:

Like a steamer’s dart
Under the stars above
So is the heart
Steaming with love

Propelled by fire
Impelled by desire
Lasts brief
Ends in grief

Unlike a mass of metal
On the ocean bottom settle
Passionate pride
Is forever tied

What was in years build
In one night was killed
What was in one night thrilled
Was for life filled

Sunday, February 22, 2009


It’s official. I became a Twitterer.

I know you are not interested in what I think or do at the moment’s moment. However, maybe—just maybe—you really don’t have anything better to do anyway.

So come on in, and sign up to get the updates of my mood.


I regularly read VIN news.

And they read me.

There is a good reason I make VIN a frequented bookmark. They collect news stories that I might be interested in, such as Israeli news, Jewish news, and New York news. They make an effort, although they sometimes fail, to bring accurate facts and to be objective journalists.

But the comments there are disgusting. By reading the comments I feel like I wandered into a Hasidic mikvah.

VIN had a story last Friday. An Australian Jewish boy vandalized a Jews for Jesus outpost. He was caught, convicted, and—yes—he showed remorse that was accepted as genuine by the judge and the victim.

Thus, he betrayed the VIN readers at large.

The people who witness a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks globally so gleefully cheered the perpetrators of the same crime against others. The commenters there were all red-faced and eager to smash all missionary storefronts in a single-glittering kristallnacht.

In comment #5, I wrote: “Why the hate comments here? JFJ has the right to operate a storefront and those who vandalize it are criminals. Need I remind you Australia is not a Sanhedrin state; it's a Christian state.”

Commenter #7 replied: “doesnt [sic] mean you can operate a cult to entrap teens if it was your kid caught in the cult you wouldnt [sic] say that they threaten lives your real life the spirutal [sic] one.”

(Are you sure they entrap teens without the consent of their parents, Mr. #7?)

If my kid would be persuaded by a JFJ missionary, I wouldn’t celebrate, to say the least.

If my kid would be persuaded by a Chabad missionary, I wouldn’t celebrate either.

Does that give me the right to vandalize their places? I don’t think so.

Knowledge should be traded on the free market. High quality and low prices should bring a profit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cheese Tease

The Haredi community in Israel is so pathetic. The slightest provocation causes them to lose balance, scream like lunatics, and to take their outrage to the walls of Jerusalem.

The latest episode, by VIN news, was a recipe published in HaModia. The dish of fried chicken and noodles included a tablespoon of cheese. Imagine how the yentas reacted to such a taboo.

As commenter #2 pointed out, “Obviously this was a mistake. Can't these women figure it out without having to scream like lunatics?”

They are bunch of Freiherrs!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Helping Hand

Few defining features of Hasidim are noble. In general, the Hasidic culture is regressive, change resistant, and reluctant to acknowledge shortcomings or demonstrate a willingness to improve for the better. But every rule has its exceptions, and this rule is no exception.

Perhaps the most wonderful characteristic of Hasidim is their generosity, kindness, and readiness to help their brethren in need. Hasidic centers swarm with volunteer organizations that provide relief, support, or general services to the community. There is a widespread trend among Hasidim to establish all sorts of charitable non-profits that you could or couldn’t dream of, whether L’Ilui Nishmas*, as a deal brokered with God, or just to make a difference. All common charities have long been founded, so amateurs have to be creative to come up with ingenious ways to help out.

One may argue the kindness is faith based and is therefore inferior to kindness motivated by a humanistic desire to help. One may argue that the same religion that commanded to love coreligionists commanded to hate infidels. But to the beneficiary it changes nothing. All that matters is that assistance reaches the needy.

All of the above is true within their habitat. Away from home base, Hasidim will go farther than the extra mile to extend a helping hand to a fellow Hasid. The natural instinct to back a townsman coupled with the sentiment for the two of them of not fitting in with the environment will bring them close together and each will protect the other.

I was once with a patient at Hackensack University Medical Center in Northern New Jersey. Although Hasidim frequent the hospital, it is not as inundated with frum people as are the NYC facilities. As I walked to fetch some items from my car parked on the fifth level of the garage, I must have looked helpless, because I was accosted twice by frum people who offered their assistance. To the one who wasn’t wearing a lab coat I replied, “How can I help you? The bathrooms are right there.” Okay. I didn’t actually say that, but that’s because I resisted a strong temptation.

HF lost all trust in Hasidic people, because some of them are registered sex offenders.

Sure thing parents shouldn’t teach their children to blindly trust a bearded face, but there is also no good reason not to trust them at all. Sure thing some frum people are perverts, dangerous, and will be more of a hindrance than help, but that’s no good reason to turn down every help offers.

Every tree has good apples and bad apples, and every ethnic group has good people and bad people. A Hasidic should count on his her fellow no less than an African can count on his bro from the hood.


L’Ilui Nishmas, henceforth LN: Literally, for the ascent of the soul.

In Cabbalistic teachings, a soul can posthumously reap dividends from the ripple effects of its good deeds on Earth. Moreover, living people who wish to do a favor for a soul can transfer credits from their mitzvah bank to the bank of the deceased. As it scores more points, the status of the soul is re-evaluated and it is assigned to a higher place in Heaven.

The process is similar to ordering flowers for a loved one. You give the florist the address, and the bouquet is delivered to its destination. So is it with LN. You pronounce the name of soul and its fathers name immediately prior to doing the mitzvah, and the scanning angels will route the package to the right department and credit the account accordingly.

Soul boosters can be anything from donating a building to serving refreshments in shul. Needless to say, the thrust effect varies greatly and is directly related to the magnitude of the action performed. While donating a building catapults a soul twenty levels at once, a l’chaim can’t do a lot more than a little inching.

The LN thing is so deeply entrenched, that anything not done LN is looked upon as odd. I once brought some used books to the synagogue library. The librarian asked me, “What should put as the LN?” “Your recently passed grandfather or the late Rebbe?”

“No”, I said. “Just deposit it in my own account.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “No LN?”

“Are you aware that your assets will be frozen until after your death?”

Yeah, I know. And it wouldn’t accumulate any interest either. (The Torah prohibits usury.)

Actually it makes better economic sense to do for our ancestors rather than ourselves. It’s like a pyramid formation. If it’s everybody for their selves, they only get one person’s worth of LN, whereas if each does for his or her predecessors, each gets many times more. Say one good Hasid has twelve children and each has twelve of its own, Grandpa gets LN*144. That’s a lot more bandwidth! It works like the social security system. The working generation pays for the retiring generation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Last night, I slept. When I sleep, I usually dream.
In my dream, I visited the Skulener Rebbe in private.
I must have complained about evil inclinations and heretic thoughts, because we had the following conversation:

Rebbe: Do you watch movies?
Me: Yes
Rebbe: For how long?
Me: For a long time now. From year 5764 (2004, in Gregorian)
Rebbe (Shocked) Really?
Me: (Calm) Really
Rebbe: Movies are the cause of your troubles.
Rebbe: (Digresses) What do you do?
Me: I write poems. (Why would I say that? I’m only a novice.)
Rebbe: Here, (hands me a pen and a blank sheet of kvitel paper), write me a poem.
Me: But I write in English only; the Rebbe wouldn’t read.
Rebbe: Then write in Yiddish.
Me: I never did before.
Rebbe: Nevertheless.

The Gabai (aide) ushered me to a corner. I sat down at a school-like desk (no red apple, though) and immediately began writing in Hebrew. (Strange; the Rebbe instructed me to write in Yiddish.)

תותקן נשמה
בגוף טמא
מהרהורים סטים
מצפיית סרטים

Let it be mended the soul
Residing in tainted body
From stray thoughts
From movie watching

I was about to compose the second quatrain when suddenly I woke up.
Instead of Modeh Ani, my lips murmured the words I just wrote.
I then realized that neshomeh and tomeh rhyme only by the unscrupulous Ashkenazi pronunciation.
As I brushed my teeth, I burst out in laughter spattering toothpaste all over the vanity mirror. If I’ll ever do the sacrament of reconciliation about my internal struggles on faith, a Hasidic rabbi will not occupy the other side of the confessional.
Besides, the Rebbe was dead wrong. Movies had zero negative influence on my steadfastness.
So what was the catalyst?
The internet, stupid
After all, the Rebbe was right.
As they always were—in Hasidic tales.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I wrote this post about a month ago, but decided not to post at the time. I stored it at a corner in one of the warehouses of the Frum Factory. Tonight, I was in the mood of posting, so this rant was dusted off, adapted to reflect current events, and posted.

The history of the United States is speckled with paradox. Most notorious is the conflict within the man who composed the inspirational verse that all men are created equal, yet was a slave master himself. As Dr. King pointed out, after four score and seven years, plus five score later the Negro still was not free.

I always found the Puritan way of life to be bitterly ironic and psychologically perplexing. How could victims of harassment at home introduce it to the New World? How could heroes who endured persecution on their own hide by the establishment create the institutions that would inflict the very same persecution on others? How could brave men infused with the spirit of freethinking and the valor to defend their beliefs against a tyrant succumb to the temptations of repression and intolerance?

Perhaps years of shuffling in exile bowing heads to others drove them to establish a colony where they, and they only, make the rules? Perhaps the whiff of ownership intoxicated the pilgrims whose perceptions were accustomed to a sense of not belonging? Perhaps in order to protect their faith from unfavorable laws they enacted such laws against the Quakers in a subconscious defense mechanism? The Puritans were a moral failure. They failed to weed their hearts of bigotry and hatred, but instead turned the hate against anything non-Anglican.

Orthodox Judaism in general and Hassidic culture in particular is repressive. Freethinking is overtly discouraged. The Talmud catalogs certain philosophical fields as thought-restricted. Not too long ago, my Hassidic sect was shrouded in inquisitorial terror. People accused of inconformity with the spiritual leadership were excommunicated, physically assaulted, and their property damaged. Hassidim are not allowed to say what they think, for they are not supposed to think that way in the first place.

None of this is new or different to a seasoned blog reader, but how disappointing is it when refugees of oppression share the same outlook with their oppressors.

Haven, Not Heaven is a blog for former religious Jews—strictly. Its implied mission statement is to provide a haven to OTDs for philosophical discussion, leisure chat, and inspirational support free from the nagging remarks and challenging arguments presented by soul-saving commenters. The Havemen make it clear they are not trying to avoid debate. Many Havemen hold public blogs open for theological discussion. But Not Heaven is precisely that: Heaven; a utopia where everything is agreeable, friendly, and pleasant.

The disturbing thing about HNH is its criteria of admission. Applicants must declare their disaffiliation to God, Torah, and observing Jews. But Associate status is not guaranteed with the oath of admission alone. Hopefuls still have to prove their OTDness. They may have to check in on the Sabbath or submit an essay that manifests high levels of heresy. Even when admission is granted, poor heretic has yet to reach the Promised Land. Imagine the horror with which Havemen of low caste have to cope. They must constantly guard their language lest their words are misconstrued as pro-God and they will be kicked from the Haven.

McCarthyism, anyone? The Salem witch hunts? Torquemada?

Torquemada! That’s a home run.

When summonsed before the Inquisition, the accused was asked to enumerate all known enemies. If a name given matched with a name on the witness list, the inquisitor had to discredit the testimony given by that witness. This was the sole opportunity of defense for the accused. HNH detectives apply the same methods of interrogation. First impression is all that matters. No indictment; No cross examinations; no due process.

One might wonder why they are so defensive. Granted a person is not as atheistic as the rest. Granted he or she is not as God hating, as religion bashing; just a semi-heretic. Why the rejection? Why resort to the tactics of the Hassidic fear-mongers? Is it the same warped psychology that has driven the Puritans nuts? Are these actions fueled by retaliatory feelings? This is our place; here we will give the frummies what they deserve.

No. This place is different. This place is held to a higher standard. This place is where freedom of speech is cherished. Don’t defeat the purpose. I have a dream that one day HNH will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: A safe place. I have a dream that one day bloggers will not be judged by their beliefs but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

By executive order, President Obama has shown that we cannot defend the values of liberty by not living out to those values. Let the Havemen show that freedom of expression cannot be gained by stifling it.

Don’t turn your haven into a hive and your non-heaven into burning hell.