The Chasidic Encounter

“Hi, my name is Sara Rivka.  I’m Chasidic.  I met my husband 3 times when I was 18 before we got engaged and then I didn’t see him until the wedding day, a year later. We have been married three years and have two kids. I’m open for any questions?”

The adventuress secular young women are bedazzled by this young Chasidic beautifully coffered dressed woman and eagerly take her up on her offer.

“Was it hard not to see him?” “Are you sure he was the right one?” “Didn’t you want to go to college?” “Don’t you feel put upon and have no choices in your life?” “Is that a wig and a hat?  Why do you wear so much clothing?” “Did you love your husband on your wedding day?” “But you didn’t know him; how could you agree?”  “Do you let your parents make all your decisions?” and then those totally out-of-the-box questions: “Do you believe in mermaids?”

Over the summer, I had met three dynamic, young, stunning, thoughtful women at Aish HaTorah in the old city of Jerusalem. They are young mothers that took their days off to come to tutor girls who are arriving for the summer to explore their backgrounds.  Coming fresh from Burro Park and Far Rockaway they are getting involved in one-to-one kiruv hoping to have input with the next generation. Not, only are they daring, they have solutions, stories, and sources for the secular searching women.

They invited me out for a coffee and insisted on sharing their salad and conversation.

“I know sometimes when I passed these kids with my husband, their thinking what a ‘dark hard world you have.  Look you are covered from head to toe in the heat, married with children so young – life must be hard. What a dark sad world you live in’ – and I want to tell them dark? Hardly! We have a life; we are building a new generation and a marriage.  Our lives are so full and rewarding!” Chana Rachel illuminates why she has joined these tutoring sessions.

Sara Rivka, the daring spokeswoman for Klal Yisrael, answers, “Sometimes, that is just what I do.  I go up to them on the street when I see them staring and start a conversation.  Why not? What have I got to loose.”

They all are married a few years, made Aliyah living far from their large Chasidic families with fearless determination to help their fellow Jews.

The students who most likely have are in years older, but essentially are much less aware of the realities of the specialty of building good relationships are captivated. A new world is being offered.  One comes from a broken intermarried home, another’s mother recently died and with her the last vestige of Judaism no matter how water-down it was. One is planning on moving in with her Christian boyfriend but wants her children brought up Jewish. Another tells of the tremendous hesed their temple does by encouraging the rabbi’s daughter to dress transgender and calls her – him. And these are the crème of secular Judaism.  How do we know? They came searching and made the trip to Israel (the land of territories – as they have heard it called). Considering how low secular Jews knowledge and their Halacha status of actually being Jewish in America are; I’m very excited by these Chasidic women.

“No, I’m not Chabad nor part of their outreach programs,” Sara Rivka explains, “but, I do feel that we as Chasidic Jews have so much to offer them.”

“Don’t you think they look at you not only as part of a dark world but also as closed and unapproachable community?” I asked Sara Rivka and her husband Moshe on a follow-up phone call.

“Yes, I know they think that, and their not altogether wrong.  In some ways, we are closed.  By having a tremendous connection to the kehillah, the community is so part of being Chasidish. Wearing clothes connect us to our own groups; the special hats, pants, beckesh, shtreimels, long pesos. In fact, each group can be identified just by the type of head covering they wear.  Men get connected by going to tishes, visiting the Rebbe; even going to the mikva. All those elements ensure a strong belonging to the group and strengthen one’s attachment to Hashem. And yet, because there is this goal to be connected to each other there is a flip side of excluding those who are not part of the particular Chasidish group, especially from secular Jews.

That being said it is not like that there isn’t any connection to others.  It is the Satmars who are extremely closed with their own city and many rules, but they are known for unbelievably charitable work and tzedakah. Though there are other groups, it is the Satmar who are the leaders in a tremendous Bikur Cholim program bringing kosher food to the hospitals for the sick and visitors, providing transportation, housing arrangements as well as meals for Shabbos in home hospitality. They have set up many programs taking care of the Russian immigrants, helping them get established. They have funds made for orphans to make sure they are taken care of until they get married. When it comes to tending to those in need and tzedakah; Chasidim are not closed by any means.

It is important parents instill pride and boarders in explaining their way of life and protecting their children. But children see life in black and white.  So those parents that even explain the difference of the graduations of Yiddishkeit, children can not distinguish between a secular Jews and non-Jews.  And for children in Israel that distinction is even sharper since the goyim they are aware of are Arabs, who carry for Jews fears and condemnation.

So yes, Chasidim are closed and don’t even mind being closed, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to share.  Our lives are so enriched, building a future, ensuring strong marriages and attachment to Yiddishkeit.

You know what ‘frum’ means right.  “First there are the Fanatical Religious on the right. YoU are in the middle and then everyone else is too Modern is the left’. That is how each person views their religiosity, but really all Jews are on a circle.  We each are coming from our own paths and have an equal path to forge. Everyone has their own struggles, and course to travel to make their own connection to Hashem. Chasidim is a way to make the journey smoother and richer.”




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