Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Gladiators

They were two Lubavitchers, a Bobover and a Satmerer, a woman about to make Aliya and a backpacker. A group of Jews united by chance in a place far from chassivilisation, now frozen together in time, forever seared into our collective memories as the victims in Chabad House, Mumbai.

I cannot begin to imagine the horror of their last hours. A police doctor who examined the dead remarked that the Israeli corpses evinced signs of having been exceptionally savagely tortured before being executed, to the extent that he could not bring himself to speak of the depravities he had remarked. The terrorists were probably aware that Chabad House did not represent the state of Israel and that, like all Chabad Houses in the world, it would house Jews of all denominations and persuasions. That on any given day it could contain anybody from a peacenik who had travelled to be a human shield in Saddam's Iraq, to a Golani on holiday and from a street musician junkie to a shy Chassidic mashgiach. The instructions they had received, to kill whites and westerners and especially Israelis, was sadly not an expression of blind hatred for Jews, it is likely that they had never met any Jews before. But from a cold strategic point of view the amount of media coverage dead Jews get is completely out of proportion to their number. And in this gruesome war, deaths on TV are a means as well as an end

It is a cruel irony that the main grievance of those who had directed and ordered this butchery -objection to the crusade like export of the miniskirt and fruit flavoured condoms under the guise of democracy- is one they share with the Chassidim. It is in the methods they use to combat it that the Jews and Muslims differ. Indeed, if you talk of a clash of civilisations then the finest warriors of both sides clashed in Chabad House, Mumbai.

Our side's weaponry is well known to me. Like any religious Jew who travels I have basked in Chabad's hospitality and kindness. I admit, to my shame, that like many of my Central European Chassidic friends I used to treat them with a little disdain; their wide fedora hats symbolising for us slightly wacky cousins who sometimes embarrass us a little with their exuberant religiosity. They often acknowledge it good-naturedly. However, after spending some time with them in their cultural oases I have been humbled by the true asceticism of these young families and more by their utter assurance that spreading God's love to lost Jews and making a kiddush Hashem is the real answer to all the problems of the world, from decaying society to Islamic terrorists.

It is a chilling irony that the network of Chabadpoints around the world is perceived by international terrorists as equal to an Israeli embassy. Ironic because I too, as a British Chassid, would probably prefer to be represented in a time of crisis by the apolitical local Chabad chapter than the Israeli embassy. Chabad has turned itself into a well oiled machine. While the other Chassidim, fearful that the permissive society would catch their young, enclosed themselves inside a greasy cocoon and banned anything that might open a window out, Chabad set up their training camps and sent scouts out into enemy territory. Instead of oppressing the strangers and misfits among them, Chabad nurtured the professionals and intellectuals that were joining and set to utilising their strengths. Their exemplary handling of the Mumbai crisis speaks for itself. Their media presence was uniquely professional and reliable. In the midst of the confusion and carnage they were cool and collected and even when the tragic loss of life became apparent, true to their crusade, their spokesman nobly called for an end to hate and extra prayer.

The equally well oiled machine they faced came armed too. With the very latest in high tech weaponry, an extreme indoctrination into the justness of their cause and, allegedly, a large amount of halal cocaine. They set to practicing their murderous craft with a vengeance. The kindest of hearts, the most endearing smile, the most attentive ear even the most helping of hands, stand no chance when up against the cutting edge of fanatical evil. It cannot be easy to torture, kill and mutilate a pregnant woman and a grandmother, scholars and rabbis, kind and gentle people who had dedicated their lives to spreading goodness and love to everyone they met, but they soldiered on the brave warriors of Allah the Merciful, and from their point of view they were victorious.

It is a scary irony that the Judaism that secular Jews in Israel, the USA and Britain hijacked to make it synonymous with the modern permissiveness that the fundamentalist Muslims so detest, is most easily recognised on my community. So it is we, the Chassidim, who not only are exposed to the petty hate on the trains and buses, while the secular Jews politely disregard our discomfort behind their copies of the Guardian, but are now also so handily easy to pick out in the crowd by any sniper or suicidal maniac who happens to be operational.

It is amusingly ironic to me that despite this, and despite having in the past many times slipped out of the garb when it was practical for me, I now wear it with even more pride than ever. I belong to The Army of God, and if it is my fate that one day I die for it, I will do so gladly rather than give in to a force that is evil to its very core. So base that it forces us to side with the USA, Britain and Israel in order to help defeat it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Who is John Gelt?

I don't think writing a blog can do much more for my cause than this one has. I had joy and some fun and my season in the sun, and with close to half a million hits, an achievement of sorts for the voice of the lone Chassid. I have managed to avoid being lynched and that is a victory of thoughts too.

I have come to the stage where what I have already written more or less covers what I have to say and challenging myself to find a new angle is not satisfying. I could put the points of what could have been the next four blogs in four paragraphs. It makes a far less enjoyable read but what difference does that make?

1) Growing consumerism is changing the face of Chassidus. When a young man can announce in shul that he left Kollel to afford a new kitchen to nary the bat of an eyelid, it is plain that our friend Lucre will eventually convert the bulk of Chassidim into (slim) curly locked MOs. It is the ascetics in kippot srugot, who forgo worldly pleasures for a gemara and stop under sniper fire to daven mincha that will be the Chassidim of tomorrow, even above the brave young Lubavitchers who do such fantastic work, practicing true chassidus with blind faith. Indeed the visit of the Belzer Rebbe to the victims in hospital of the heinous butchery in Merkaz Harav and the heartfelt bemoaning of it by the Satmar Rebbe seem to nod in that direction.

2) If we chassidim, the outsiders, wish to survive and prosper in a world that will polarise into them and us, we should make ourselves useful to society. An interesting idea that should be considered is to broaden the scope of the Hatzola into a Charedi civil emergency reserve for times of disaster. Zaka and Ezra L’marpeh have very successfully promoted the image of caring Chassidim as neutral emergency staff.

3) We are tired and sinking as we wait for moral or practical guidance from the tzaddikate. The Rabbinate is like an oracle. It can answer all your questions except the real one; What should I ask you? If we are to function as a society we must have government. Leaders who know how to lead and Rabbis -clearly briefed on the situation, the options and possible repercussions - they can turn to for guidance. These leaders need to be representative of the actual kehilla and not only those who pay a membership fee!
In the battle of civilisations, despite being ideologically closer to true religious Islam than Christianity, our laxity in promoting our own image to the outside world has allowed the secular and armchair yids to drag us with them into the Christian or humanist camps. We must not allow the non-religious establishment to represent us or to imply that their policy of grovelling and obsequious cameraderie with the establishment is the way of the Book to these people of It.

4) We must learn to admit our shame. Sex molestation is still going on in the community and we all know it. The names of people who prey on little boys must be handed over to the authorities to be dealt with. It is a disease that can sometimes be controlled but often not and it destroys lives! Oh, and Rabbi, please memorise this catchy little truism; Playing with a little yingele’s thingele, if you are not that yingele, is always sexual abuse!

However, this blog is not just my about my thoughts being read by other people. The Shaigetz living inside me has become part of who I am. The authority I gain by knowing how many people will read what I say colours not only the way I write but also the way I think and speak. I have become more assertive at work and have gained much in stature; such is the power of a blog.

I have become much prouder of being a Chassid, especially among goyim, since getting to know the Shaigetz, and much quicker to interact with them. The more I do the more I notice how many others are prepared to be as nice to you as you are to them, despite our inculcated notion that most goyim really don’t like us. (Funny to think they think we don’t like them.)

Lastly, I think to generate change might be easier than most would suppose. People welcome self-assured authority and true leadership. I am sure eventually someone with the necessary stature will emerge and effect some real and necessary change. But he will be flesh and blood not an ethereal presence. Maybe then someone will ask, “Do you think he was the Shaigetz?” and a (slim) Chassid will reply, “Who is John Gelt?”