The Neo-Lubavitcher Rebbe ?
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Listen & see a Bostoner Chasid of the 21st Century - Yitz Jordan
The unanswered question is , a chasid of which Rebbe?
Bostoner - Boston/Har Nof?
Bostoner - Flatbush?
Bostoner - Boro Park?
Courtesy of the Partzever Eynikel
Friday, May 26, 2006
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
A glimpse into a hidden world
Montreal's Hasidic communities remain a mystery to most outsiders. Now, a Hasidic mother known as The Lady Who Could Write has broken convention by publishing a slim volume that describes her daily life
Saturday, May 06, 2006
They are snippets of a mother's life that seems both strange and strangely familiar.
A little girl singing a holiday song over and over again - 100,000 times, it seems, until her mother thinks she will explode in frustration.
Sitting on a park bench and chatting with other mothers as their children play in the sand.
A little girl announcing to her friends that her mommy doesn't really sleep, but simply lies there, all knowing, with her eyes closed.
These are the stories of Malka Zipora, the pseudonym of a Hasidic woman who has lived in Outremont for the past 28 years. In a slender volume called Lekhaim! Chroniques de la vie hassidique a Montreal, she opens the curtain on the daily minutiae of a life that the outside world knows little about.
Translated from English into French by Pierre Anctil, Quebec's leading francophone authority on Jews, and published by the local Les Editions du Passage, it's a beautiful view, full of rote, ritual, reflection and the raising of lots of children - a celebration of the phrase made famous in the play Fiddler on the Roof: To life!
"At night, every night, when the children are sleeping, that's when I feel it," Malka Zipora says in an interview. "It's like a whole houseful of angels."
She sits across from a visitor to her home, petite and wary because she is not used to letting outsiders in. No Hasid is. Mostly, they live their own fiercely familial lives according to traditions that began in the 17th century in eastern Europe. They tend not to listen to radio, watch TV or read newspapers that aren't of their kind. It's just the way it is, she says. It's the way it has always been.
To illustrate her point, she gestures at bookshelves along one wall that are filled with commentaries on the Torah and commentaries on the commentaries; each of which has been in the family for generations.
"It starts in history. We start in history," she explains. "You see only the superficial things: the clothing, the black hats, the peyos (the long side curls of Hasidic men). I'm opening myself up by letting the book be published to I don't know what. When I wrote the essays, I wanted to let myself loose, to share. Now that it's in the public, I'm conflicted. They're such trivial, mundane things I'm writing about."
They are, and they aren't, for this is the first time, in memory at least, that a Hasidic woman has written a book about her family life that is geared to more than a Jewish readership.
And Malka Zipora's greatest fear is that she will let her community, and her family, down. She considers her 12 children, between the ages of 8 and 30 years, her life's achievement, for they continue the traditions that she grew up with, as did her parents before, and their parents before them, sticking to values and finding meaning in Torah and prayer.
This struck her most recently last Passover, when she and her husband, a plant manager, hosted 20 people in their apartment for eight full days.
"We blew up mattresses so that our home was turned into one big bedroom, we cooked two meals a day, we shared one bathroom - and yet, we all got along," she recalls. "Now that they have all gone home, I can step back and say that it was so ... nice."
- - -
Growing up the child of Holocaust survivors from Hungary, Malka Zipora was born in Israel after the war and had no idea what her parents had suffered to get there in the first place. They seemed old and severe, more like grandparents than a mother and father - people she never would have thought to confide in, not even when she was having problems with kids at school.
"Kids don't have easy lives, and I'd come home from school with a heavy heart. Then at night, I'd take a pencil and paper and, with light from the street shining in, I'd write all the things I was feeling," she recalls. "All my fears were there on paper, and I could go to sleep. In the morning, I'd crumple the paper up and throw it away."
Malka Zipora never stopped writing, not even after she was married to a man she was introduced to in New York and started having babies, some of whom have children older than her youngest.
After moving to Montreal, she became known as The Lady Who Could Write, and people continually called to ask if she would help with their invitations, announcements and children's essays.
"I had kids, but I couldn't, and still cannot, say 'No.' So my husband said, 'Charge them. Put an advertisement in the local community paper and I bet people won't ask you anymore.' He was wrong. People who didn't know me well began to call, too."
About 15 years ago, she parlayed her ability into writing articles for Montreal Announcements, a now-defunct advertising magazine for the local Jewish community. When that folded, she still didn't stop, staying up late at night after the kids were in bed, writing her heart out like she did when she was 8.
She wrote of teaching one of her sons multiplication tables, and the delight at seeing understanding suddenly come into his eyes; of the frustration of making kreplach (dumplings) that wouldn't hold together. She wrote of her childhood dream to have no fewer than 100 children.
At one point, Malka Zipora even thought of looking for a Jewish publisher for her writings, but was too caught up in daily life to seriously pursue it.
Then Julie Gagnon came calling. She was doing her master's in urban studies and wanted to interview a woman in Montreal's Hasidic community. "Why not?" Malka Zipora thought.
During her visit, Gagnon asked Malka Zipora what she did in whatever spare time she had.
"I write," she replied.
"What happened next was bashert - fate," Malka Zipora says now. "Julie asked to take some samples, and she happened to be close to Pierre Anctil. I didn't know who Pierre Anctil was, but they thought it was the first opening to our daily lives. They were really excited."
For his part, Anctil, now head of the Canadian studies department at the University of Ottawa, says he was "completely seduced" by the manuscript and that the book should be required reading for everyone.
"Sadly, little is known of this community. We see, for example, the sukkah being built at harvest time, but we have no idea what it is," he says from his office. "Now, with Lekhaim!, we have a novelistic, living description, not just of the building of it, with banged thumbs and so on, but what it means to commune, to share food in the great outdoors."
- - -
Malka Zipora has good reason to be wary of the response to Lekhaim!, given that there have been times when Outremont's largely francophone population has been less than welcoming.
"Outremont Discovers a Jewish Problem," screamed the 1988 headline in La Presse, echoing the phrase the Nazis used, in a story about the neighbourhood's burgeoning Hasidic population. The story went on to state that the women dressed in layers, like onions, and quoted residents who complained that Hasidic families, with their gaggles of children, made it difficult to walk on the sidewalks.
In the mid-1990s, the community successfully argued in Quebec Superior Court that it was constitutionally entitled to erect wires to demarcate zones within which observant Jews would allow themselves to carry objects on the sabbath.
Some witnesses complained that the wires prevented them from flying kites, while one testified that she was uncomfortable with the symbolic boundaries because they meant she was on the Hasidim's territory.
"The majority religion here in Quebec is Catholicism," she said.
Malka Zipora knows all this firsthand. She's had stones thrown at her, and been the target of racist epithets.
But she stresses that such sentiments don't get in the way of her having a good relationship with her neighbours, for example, who are Greek. They may not be able to eat together, or party in mixed company, but each family is the other's biggest fan, celebrating momentous events with gifts and good wishes, and giving succour when times are bad.
"The thing is, it's possible to have a good relationship, to have understanding and respect for one another and understand each other's lifestyle, or the fact they've made a choice," she says.
"I just want to bring about understanding. I want to go down the street and feel there are positive feelings. If this book has any effect, it should be that."
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006