Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why do I blog?

I do not expect ever to make any money from this blog nor can I realistically expect any recognition without disclosing my identity. Much as I love my readers I do not crave their admiration enough to risk hurting my wife and children nor even my own precious hide. I am not under any illusions that a massive tide swell of positive and long overdue change will come about as a result of my writing. So why, you ask, do I blog?

In every community or group of people you have the natural born leaders. They are the ones that seem to become the center of every conversation they join, spontaneously consulted by everybody whenever changes are to be made. They will be stuck up for when they get into trouble and they will win most of their arguments. Some people hate them for this but in fact they cannot help being leaders any more than their followers can help following. They tend to come in various flavours and there can be no doubt that, just as a charismatic Rebbe guides an entire flock of lambs, a leader who harbours laidigayer tendencies is very likely to spawn a slew of laidicrawlers behind him or her. This is why the teachers who argue for the expelling of such laidigayers from our institutions always seem to bristle with such righteous indignation.

The followers are the great mass of mindless sheep who obey orders instinctively. Whose life’s goal, it seems, is to fit into any society they happened to fall in. They can often be recognized by their beatific expressions and manifestations of religious devotion to their Rebbe’s God if their Rebbe happens to be their own leader or their leader’s. Of course you will also have those who will blindly and religiously follow a nutcase or persuasive laidigayer with strong leadership qualities. The followers too can only partly be blamed for the wrongs (and rights) they do in this context. Indeed I believe some zealot rams are going to be sorely disappointed by the meagerness of their reward in the kingdom come.

These two groups account for most people in our society. Within a community like Chassidus which frowns deeply upon any form of non-conformism and roundly condemns eccentricity and self-expression there is little room for leaders except those that want to act as shepherds for the gentleman farmers who prefer to sit on their thrones and keep their hands clean. The few who cannot contain their burning desire to lead and are unimpressed by the promised sojourn in the warm embrace of hell do indeed surround themselves by the pathetic cohorts who either are similarly unimpressed by punishment to come or find they prefer a bird on their hand and two in the bush.

The Shaigetz does not belong in either. He is a real individualist. He is too clever to be a sheep and much too clever to be shepherd. He skirts the field, sticking close to the fence. He knows there are wolves outside and possibly has met them and reached a personal understanding with them. The members of his family are sheep though and he prefers to keep them safe among the flock. He has to keep his knowledge to himself because the shepherds know he could run rings round them if he wanted to. So he is a lonely creature at times. With his wide-angle lens he sees truths others cannot see and his dedication to the religion is no less than that of the sheep. Indeed it is stronger, because instead of being led by the love for his shepherd or the farmer he swears allegiance to the King Himself.

So next time you come across someone who is little different than the others; One who occasionally lets slip an idea that might not mesh completely with the accepted viewpoint, listen and take note. He is a Shaigetz and his knowledge carries weight. Indeed he might be me.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Fighting Spirits

I got into a fight with a goy on the underground last week. He was a shortish, white, cockney guy and his head was shaven clean; an adjective that could not be said to apply to his language. He was standing in the doorway of the fairly crowded train and reading his paper. Whenever anyone tried to pass or disturbed him in any way, a stream of highly colourful invective would flow under his breath. I was standing right next to him and the top corner of his paper kept on brushing against my face.

As I am not confrontational by nature I ignored it the first few times. It was at the end of a long day however and I was tired and hungry. At a certain point it became too much for even mine, so sweet a disposition. With all my bottled up irritation I pushed the paper away angrily. The guy looked round his paper equally angrily to see who had done it and said something inexcusable about my lineage. I took umbrage and suggested he do something anatomically impossible. The slanging match that ensued taxed my vocabulary to it very limits and continued for a few minutes, much the amusement, I suspect, of the prim crowd filling the carriage.

It ended when the train pulled into the station and he got off, whether because he was going to anyway, or to escape a volatile situation, I do not know. I was relieved of course and very gratified for the sympathetic glances bestowed upon me by my fellow travellers who were probably almost as relieved as I was. My Jewishness, when he mentioned it to describe me, was preceded by the usual participle verb. That was the only reference to it, despite my Chassidic dress making it an obvious fact.

When my heartbeat returned to normal and the adrenalin left my system I suddenly realised that what had just occurred was simply a clash of personalities. I had taken a dislike to a person standing next to me, for reasons known best to me, and he had responded in kind. More importantly, I realised that he had called me the procreating Jew because that is what he saw, not because he harbours any specific hatred towards Jews and I am almost embarrassed to admit that I went home feeling slightly elated and calmer than I have in a long time.

If we Chassidim are to be believed the world is headed for imminent disaster. Unlike us, the goyim in whose midst we live, have no family life. They throw out of the house, the measly one-point-five kids they do have, as soon as they are sixteen or pregnant. They have no real interests or responsibilities, a fact that can be proved by the fact they go on holidays for a week taking only a small bag of underwear and some jeans and t-shirts (apart from all those little goyishe things like toothbrushes and condoms, of course). They eat whatever they want whenever they want and sleep with whomever they want whenever they want. In short, their lives are sheer hell, and probably just as well, as that is where they are all headed, fast.

Ours, on the other hand, is a richly rewarding and perpetually buoyant travail twixt birth and earth. We have the privilege of being brought up by the wisdom, and within the stifling embrace, of not only our immediate and intermediate families, but also anybody else in the community who has an opinion. We are free to pursue our pastime of perusing the holy word whenever we like, unlike the goyim who have to keep breaking off what they are doing to drink beer, play football or watch TV.

Before spending the whole shabbes morning in shul we can soak in the warm, soapy (I hope that’s what it is) waters of the mikve, while the poor goyim, if they do decide to wash at all, have to do it all alone in their sterile home showers. We have lives full of purpose and meaning, so we can spend a whole week discussing what colour Bekishe our Rebbe wore to melave malka and what significance that has, while they have their heads and wardrobes filled with stupid fashions decided by some drunk goy in Paris (the capital city of fornication). We have a direct line to God, which is why when someone does us a favour we don’t have to stoop to the base “I owe you one” as the goyim do but offer a resolute Got zol dich batzulen (God will repay you) instead.

Biggest of all is the truism that they hate us for no reason. All these facts are relentlessly driven into us by those for whom doctors, taxi drivers and plumbers (in that order) are the only goyish contact. I am sure they would be shocked to learn that happy, fulfilled and worthy lives are not the strictest purview of Haredism, just as I am sure there would be hundred different interpretations for 'Halacha esav soneh leyaakov' (it is a law Esau hates Yaakov) if there were any Torranic desire for an alternative.

My goy and I could not click. We argued, just as I might have with some Bok in shul. He said whatever his hyped up brain suggested and I replied in kind. Two humans blowing steam. If the Halacha suggests he ought to hate me for being Jewish he seemed as impervious to it as I was, and that is the way it has to be.