Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

Satmar bus in front of 770- courtesy of

Chabad deep in Satmar territory

Chabad couple is busy 'repackaging' Judaism

By Chris McKenna - Times Herald-Record

Monroe - They aren't asking people to become Orthodox Jews like themselves. For that matter, they don't like separating members of a common faith into the usual Orthodox, Conservative and Reform camps.
Pesach and Chana Burston just want to produce better Jews.
The Burstons arrived in Orange County two years ago as emissaries of a Hasidic movement known as Chabad-Lubavitch, based in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
For decades, Chabad has dispatched thousands of young, zealous couples like the Burstons all over the world to nurture Judaism wherever it can be found. Their movement is as outward-looking as the Satmar Hasidim of Kiryas Joel are insular. They want to inspire fellow Jews, whatever they call themselves.
While adhering to the strict, literal Judaism of the Hasidim in their own lives, Chabad emissaries - or shlichim - are accommodating toward the assimilated Jews with whom they work.
"Our philosophy is, we're there to serve Jewish communities, regardless of background," says Pesach, a 29-year-old rabbi. "Why create barriers and distinctions when people have so much in common?"
In their short time in Orange County, he and his wife have built a dedicated following with their inclusive approach and blur of activities, from Hebrew schools and summer camps to weekly "Kabbalah and Chicken Soup" gatherings at their spacious Monroe home. Celebrations like their Purim party in March can draw upwards of 150 people to the local American Legion hall.
Soon, they could establish an even larger Chabad presence in Orange County. They're planning a 20,000-square-foot building off Gilbert and High streets in downtown Monroe that would become a permanent home for their expanding activities. It would also hold a synagogue.
Thus far, the only friction the Burstons have encountered is with a rival Chabad group in Goshen, led by Rabbi Yakov Borenstein and his nephew, Meir.
The elder Borenstein, who has represented Chabad in Poughkeepsie for about 20 years, claims he placed his nephew in Goshen to do outreach and that the Burstons are usurpers with no right to the Chabad name. Both groups, the Burstons and the Borensteins, hold similar activities and call themselves Chabad of Orange County.
Occasionally, this otherwise obscure rivalry has spilled into the pages of the Times Herald-Record, where the Borensteins have placed ads asserting their legitimacy and distancing themselves from the Burstons' building plans in Monroe.
Chabad headquarters sides with the Burstons in this turf battle.
"We are particularly pained that a small, irresponsible group is subjecting the good people of Orange County to unnecessary confusion," said Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the movement. "The only authorized Chabad-Lubavitch representatives in Orange County are Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston."
One February night, guests sit around a dining room table in the Burston home, picking at dried fruits as Pesach lectures about the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat, which celebrates the flowering of Israel's earliest-blooming trees.
The young rabbi, sitting at the head of the table in a light blue Oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up, handles his audience with skill: When eyes wander, he ropes listeners back to attention with a joke, a surprising pop-culture reference, an analogy from his own life.
A fire flickers in the fireplace. Guests smile as 3-year-old Duvy Burston scampers into the room in his jammies. Everything in the room radiates warmth.
"The Burstons are wonderful people to be doing outreach work," Michelle Dixler, one of the guests that evening, says later. "They are warm and friendly. They are nonjudgmental. They have a very welcoming attitude. I feel very comfortable with them."
The couple came to Orange County in 2004 to establish what is essentially a Chabad franchise. Pesach was from Crown Heights, born and raised there among the Lubavitch Hasidim. Chana was from Buffalo, raised in a non-Orthodox household that embraced Chabad after her father met one of its local rabbis.
Pesach and Chana met while working for separate Chabad organizations in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, Calif. After testing the waters in Florida, California and Seattle, the Burstons rented a house in Woodbury's upscale Brigadoon development and began organizing events for local Jews.
The luster of the operation they have developed in that short time - despite minimal financial support from Chabad headquarters - is striking. Their literature is colorful, professional and expensive. Their activities are elaborate and creative.
The Burstons' success and expansion plans probably cause a twinge of anxiety within Monroe's Reform and Conservative temples, whose leaders would rather not lose members and donors to Chabad. Some of the couple's most fervent admirers - those who go to the "Kabbalah and Chicken Soup" dinners and underwrite Chabad holiday parties - belong to Congregation Eitz Chaim and Monroe Temple Beth-El.
The rabbis from those two temples preferred not to speak for publication about Chabad.
The Burstons, for their part, don't view themselves as competition. They say they deliberately set up programs that weren't already available.
"We're not doing anything that we don't feel is filling a void," Chana says.
But the large turnout at their gatherings and the comments of their supporters make clear that the Burstons have "repackaged" Judaism, as they put it, in an appealing way for a broad range of Jews, whether affiliated with a temple or not.
"Chabad really knows how to zero in on what really interests people," says Iris Sandow, whose family belongs to Temple Beth-El but also participates in Chabad events. "It's easier to relate to Chabad on a spiritual level than the traditional synagogues."What is Chabad?Chabad-Lubavitch is a large movement of Hasidic Jews that originated in the Belarus town of Lubavitch in the late 18th century. "Chabad" is a Hebrew acronym that means wisdom, understanding and knowledge.Often called just Chabad or Lubavitch, the movement is based in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and is known for its aggressive outreach, a campaign waged by young couples dispatched around the world as emissaries or shlichim. There are more than 4,000 emissary families worldwide, working in places as unlikely as the Congo. The organization estimates that nearly 1 million children attend Chabad schools, camps and holiday programs.Since its last rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died in 1994, the movement has splintered over one faction's insistence that Schneerson was the Messiah.

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?

Stay tuned.

Courtesy of the Partzever Eynikel

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sighet-Satmar Rebbe's Seder - Pesach 2005

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


Wednesday, May 10, 2006