Sunday, December 19, 2004

Strangers in our Midst

As Chassidim we have for years looked upon our Sephardim as second-class citizens. We don’t admit it of course, even to ourselves. We patronize them to their faces and pat ourselves on the backs in smug satisfaction every time we throw an expansive Shabbat Shalom at anyone looking suspiciously brown. Us racist? Some of our favourite mashgichim are brown.

Forget Dor Yesharim, the real skeletons in any real chassidish family line have wog written on them. Because that is where it really shows. As any BT will tell you, it is easy to gain acceptance into the Chassidishe crowd. To be invited to the weddings and danced with in Shul. To be learned with and shnorrered from and have kids in our schools. But to take part in a wedding is a different story. It’s OK if they marry each other but we prefer not to have them in our own family. It has nothing to do with colour of course; we hardly notice such things. It’s all to do with minhagim and dinim of course. The fact that the hapless individual has obviously been totally stripped of his culture and immersed himself in ours seems to count for little. Maybe, like cultivated roses, they have a habit of reverting after time.

This week Shas did the Sephardi community proud! They voted against the withdrawal and stayed true to their opinion, (mistaken as it is IMHO). By declining to join the coalition they forgo what must have been a lucrative bribe. Let UTJ and the other Frummer parties please take note. After thirty years of Haredi politics someone voted for their conscience not their pocket. Maybe one day we will be able to do that too.

The other thing Chassidim have a tendency towards is overprotection of our own. It is admirable that we do stick together and help each other out. There are times however when this can be taken too far. I am against protecting sex offenders from the arm of the law. I am against shielding any perpetrators of violent crime be it an abusive husband or angry landlord.

In Antwerp resides a Rebbe whom I happen to admire. He has been careful not to offend anybody since he came upon his throne. In the Chassidic world that is not easy and his position was not made easier by having a part of the town hostile to him from the start. He therefore pleasantly surprised me this Shabbes by ejecting a known Chassidic Arafat apologist from his Shul. Most Chassidim were angered by the pictures of those miserable idiots in their shtreimels and kaffiyes outside the high court in the Hague or singing tehillim outside the French hospital. None did anything about it though and my Rebbe did.

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