Sunday, May 17, 2009

Friends and Biblical Roots

In a moderately run down area of Brooklyn congregates a large Chasidic Jewish population. Looking at their long beards, black suits and hats, and dangly strings hanging at their waists, one would assume that they are an introverted clammed up sect. However, the opposite is the case. Their leader, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, has directed his people on final preparations for the Messiah. To do this, they wish to let the world see them, understand them, and to teach us, Jew and non Jew alike, what we must do to have a world ready for a Messiah. For this purpose, they invite strangers in to see their way of life.

Briz and I had such an opportunity on his birthday. We waited for Rabbi Beryl Bernstein in a library filled with books written in Hebrew and Yiddish. I was particularly taken with an ancient collection called THE KOSHER HOUSEWIFE. I was fascinated by the various recipes, and numerous rules to help a household remain kosher.

There we sat discussing chassidic philoshophy - one swaying Chassidic Rabbi from Tennessee, 2 southern baptists, 1 modern Orthodox Jew and 2 Mormons. He took us to the synagogue. We watched from above in the women's section as the men took out their phlacteries, and bound one box on their heads and another around their arm. The married ones, covered their heads with the white prayer shawl. Some had strollers with young children who toddled around getting into mischief as they worshiped. They began reading to prepare their minds to talk with God. Then they met in groups around the room. As the spirit took them, they rocked to and fro, and the praying took on a sing song quality. I was mesmerized... moved... longed to know more.

The Rabbi spoke to us with much wisdom. He told us that the reason they do many things that seem silly is to increase their relationship with God. He compared it to a husband/wife relationship. The man works hard to pay the rent, but that does not build the wife's love. The flowers and the things a man does that make no sense to HIM make her love him more. Therefore it is in the nonsensical that we build our love for God, not in just doing what makes sense to us.
We toured the Mikvah, a place he said many Jews had never seen because only the women go there to ritually clean each month before resuming relations with their husbands for the two weeks allowed to them. The twelve days when the man and wife are not permitted to sleep in the same bed, pass each other food, talk with each other or even touch fingertips seemed really harsh, yet after the Rabbi explained how what they were doing was to create love, bonding, and commitment, I understood and more... I deeply respected them for going to such lengths to follow the commandments.

We were allowed access into the Rebbi's library where their priceless treasures are kept- 770, the world wide center for their sect of Judism.

We watched scribes use a feather quill to painstakingly print the Mezuzah on the hide of a Kosher animal following the hundreds of rules that govern this practice.

We visited the small room where 3 men worked by hand to shape cow hide into phlacteries and fold the Torrah passages and place them in the correct compartments.

In short, this was the highlight of my New York trip. It was so comforting in a world full of depravations and self gratification to witness a community deeply dedicated to God, spirituality, morality, marriage and community. The rabbi could tell I was hungry for more, so he gave me websites where I can peruse Jewish scholars and daily discourses from the Torah. Yeah!!! I am so excited. The websites are a treasure trove of fun for me.


  1. I love the Jewish culture and appreciate your glimpses into Chasidic life in New York. Your post brought back memories of visiting Israel and of the amazing sites and people there--both Jewish and Palestians--who had such rich religious and cultural traditions.

  2. I figured you'd gone but mom said- she didn't tell me about it- she'd have told me if she was going to NY.
    I can't wait till my turn. What neat experiences!

  3. The picture of a font, is that where the women wash? It looks a lot like a baptismal font. It is always interesting to see the pieces of truth laying around.