I have failed my parents they tell me. Yes, they can tolerate the lifestyle I have chosen but they still feel that by lowering my standards of chassidicity I have essentially let them down. I hope they really mean I have let God down, because if they mean them, that has to be one of the most egotistical things a parent can say.
I am a chassid because I was born one. If I had the choice to undo my first twenty years and be brought up as an MO I certainly would. I find the MO approach to be both more humane and more Godly and I have great respect for some of them. After all, the average Chassid can hardly accept credit for not eating treifa when they feel guilty for buying a slice of Pizza. And that is no exaggeration! In Stamford Hill there are no proper kosher restaurants because most Chassidim are brought up understanding it is vulgar to be seen eating out. The MO, on the other hand, has to regularly make real sacrifices to keep kosher. Our system of denial and disparagement of anything that might lead to a temptation has also managed to almost obliterate any possibility of resisting it. I wonder therefore, whether for God’s sake I should be bringing my kids up that way?
The question is a complicated one. There seems to me to be no doubt, the choices I make will affect my children’s lives irrevocably, and I fear I might be selfishly doing exactly what my parents did. I am utterly convinced that for my children to be able to choose whether to be a Chassid or not they have to be brought up as Chassidim. There is no way effectively that someone brought up any other way will ever fit in really comfortably in a Chassidic community. To become MO, on the other hand, would be relatively easy, were it not for the pressure put on by the community with the threats of banishment and the ever present guilt.
I have been living the lifestyle I chose for twenty years now. I have seen my difficult times behind me and can claim to be settled now. Yet for my children exactly the same story might be about to begin. Having gone to Chassidic high school I now offer them the choice of yeshiva or study. In all honesty these are empty words though, because without a GCSE degree how will they go to study? And then there’s the peer pressure from their friends, all Chassidim and all they have.
The reason I chose to bring them up this way is because I thought my support would be enough to help them overcome all those, if that was what they wanted to do. Yet today I realise I paid a heavy price and maybe it is more humane to deny them some choices…
I am off for my annual holiday. As my wife has no idea I write this blog, although I know she is an avid reader, I can hardly justify needing an Internet connection in the place I will be. So I will sign out now for three weeks and ponder what I just wrote.