Story-ideas-1011172

How will we be judged?

by Jewish Report | Sep 15, 2014

And now they have gone. They appeared like an apparition, they unnerved and unsettled us, they angered and frustrated us, and as suddenly as silently as they arrived, so they have disappeared. Our streets of are devoid and they have returned to somewhere. The Breslovers have left our community and I for one, am left wondering as to what just happened and how we fared.

 

It has been a period of rumour and smoke, of sting operations and wedding crashes. A period of car chases through our neighborhoods, of accusations of aiding and abetting and of harbouring fugitives.  We have gossiped and been haughty, we have scorned and we have turned away. I have no idea if we have falsely accused. Certainly their leader’s release in Amsterdam has me a little perplexed.

 

They arrived on our doorstep ahead of Pesach 2014 and we were caught by surprise. They became the community’s concern and we discussed and pondered, debated and argued, and continued to do so as we were thrown a set of circumstances in which we had little experience. Was it our problem to deal with the indigent and the hungry when the burden of responsibly is already straining our community’s limited resources? What about the criminal accusations, Interpol lists, child brides, border crossing and other activities we heard about?

 

We became used to the garbed and the anachronistic walking through the streets of our neighborhoods and we didn’t know how to react. The “other worldly” nature of their attire and approach embarrassed us and all we wanted was for them to go away so that we could continue as we had always done. I have to say that for some reason I was comforted by their presence as if for that brief moment that they were with us, a piece of Israel, with all its eccentricities belonged to us too, here at the tip of Africa. Either that or it harkened back to times gone by - something I had never experienced.


We couldn't decide what to do

 

So we couldn’t decide whether to nurture and feed and look after and take them in, or not. Some did and others got angry. To support is to encourage and no one wanted that. We were afraid and a bit confused and I think it is important to think about why.

 

Was it because we have a very delicate balance in our community between the observant and non observant, between those that are more vocal in their support of Israel and those who are less so. Is it because we simply could not carry the burden, or were we simply afraid of the otherness of the group and maybe, perhaps, a little xenophobic in our response. Was it because we sought guidance from the pulpit, who clearly were also somewhat ambivalent?

 

I do think that it is important to separate the criminal allegations of their leader, from the approach to his followers. And whereas I certainly believe that they should never have been encouraged to travel around the world with children who will no doubt be hungry and in need of education and medical care, as children are, my intention is not to focus on their responsibility but on our reaction to their presence. For we know that first and foremost their responsibility is their own. But I am not convinced that when we look back on this period that we will do so with pride.

 

I for one did nothing to support them, and now that they have gone there is little that I can do. I happen to feel a little uncomfortable with my own behaviour and my own lack of involvement not in the cause and not in the debate as to innocence and guilt but only, only as it pertains to our visitors. And as we stand before God in the weeks to come, I hope He understands that it was all very confusing. Really it was.

13 Comments

  1. 13 Yossi 15 Sep
    REPORT: The Dutch Community helping Rabbi Berland establish his community in Holland to allow for the thousands that are expected to arrive for the holidays.

     " "במשך שעות ישב עורך הדין הרמן לונטין במוצאי שבת בחדרו של הרב. הוא נרתם לקהילה של הרב שתקום בהולנד לאחר ראש השנה, והוא ובני משפחתו דואגים לכל הצרכים במקום, בכדי לאפשר את שהות החסידים בחגים במחיצת הרב". "אנחנו רואים בחוש שגם אנשים שלא פגשו ברב מעולם מיד במבט הראשון נשבים בקסמו ובצדקותו".   
    "Attorney Herman Lowenstein (who will not be representing the Rav) sat for hours on Saturday night in Rabbi Berlands room. He volunteered to help Rabbi Berlands community which will be established in Holland after Rosh Hashana. He and his family are concerned for all their needs in order to allow for the chassidim to come for the holidays. We see that people who never met the Rav before are immediately drawn by his righteousness and want to help with whatever they can"

    Interesting to note the contrast between that way the Rav is being accepted by the Holland Jewish community and the way he was accepted in SA when he arrived before the holidays.

    If one good thing comes out of this it's that the people of SA will do some introspection and maybe be more accepting of foreigners in the future.

    Shana Tovah.
     
  2. 12 Debbie 15 Sep
    Howard, thank you for your very transparent and open letter which certainly touched on many things that came up for me too, during this weird time. I personally am grappling with the absolute lack of humanity that seems to be consuming so many parts of the globe right now and your article makes me think that perhaps the fish is truly rotting from the head and it affects us more than we even care to acknowledge. We live in a world that lacks leadership on so many levels, no more so than in South Africa. The poverty, the corruption, the squandering of tax payers money...perhaps the givers are just a bit more cynical, the do-gooders a tad more thoughtful about dipping into their pockets as deeply as they used to....I know I for one think very carefully about where my tzeddakah now goes and how far it can stretch given the real economic reality that many people face. The pie just seems to be getting smaller with more and more people wanting, and needing, a piece of it. Regardless, your article is extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking so I thank you for that. Shana tovah to all....
  3. 11 jonny rosengarten 15 Sep
    Very well written and with sensitivity, very provocative issue, I for one was pro them, they are good torah scholars, and behaved like menschen while in sa.
  4. 10 Yossi 15 Sep
    Interview with the Rabbi's of Holland on Rabbi Berlands students info line: +972-58-328-7777
    Rabbi Benjamin Jacobs and other Rabbi's of Holland: 
    (translated from Hebrew)
    "The Rabbi is a holy man and I am excited to meet with him. As soon as I heard, I helped in whatever I could. We will make arrangements for a long stay of his followers in Amsterdam."

    A resident of Amsterdam:
    "We are extremely happy and thank you all that in your merit we will be able to do the mitzvah of hachnasa orchim (welcoming of guests)"

    All this can be heard on the info line +972-58-328-7777 (from Israel 058-328-7777) extension 41
  5. 9 Adam 16 Sep
    Jonny number 2!!!
    they behaved like mentchen?
    i went to a mikvah where one of these guys defecated in....
    let them do that stuff in holland.........
  6. 8 Yossi 16 Sep
    Interesting story:
    About 40 years ago there was an inner conflict within Breslov of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. Two of the great Breslov leaders were praying in the same shul and their way of praying were different. One prayed long and loud with song, the other quietly and to the point. One day the zealot chassidim of the quiet (and older) Rabbi said "that's it, that young eccentric Rabbi is disturbing our way of being, and his followers are growing by the numbers, soon there will be nothing left of us". They decided to chase the Rabbi who prays loudly out of the shul. The next morning they got up early and waited in shul to pounce on him when he comes. When the 38 year old Rabbi, he was attacked by a group of chassidim who called him names and insults, chasing him with sticks until he was forced to leave. Later that day someone familiar with the Rabbi noticed him at the Kotel (western wall) sobbing and praying uncontrollably. Knowing that this Rabbi was not someone who was effected by insult, he was shocked at what he saw and thought to himself "maybe this Rabbi finally broke-down". He tapped him on the shoulders and asked politely, "Harav, whats wrong?" The Rav answered, "I'm begging Hashem that nothing should happen to them".
    That Rabbi is yours truly, Rabbi Berland.  

    The talmud says that even if a Tzaddik forgives his own honor, heaven doesn't forgive, because G-d himself so-to-speak was insulted.

    I can promise you that Rabbi Berland is praying hard that nothing should happen to those who chased him out of SA. And we are all praying with him.
  7. 7 Judge Yourself 16 Sep
    I am full of pride for the Jewish community, as well as completely embittered and disgusted. First of all pride for all of those Holy Neshamot that engaged in helping in  kindness & charity  to the Breslover community, and highly embarrassed and afraid to say disgusted for the majority of those "less holy" who were Xenophobic. It is our Job to do kindness and charity as Jews, and it is Hashems Job to judge, take cognisance, if you were in need in the same way during the holocaust ....doesn't matter who they are and how they arrived.........haughtiness is a severe problem in JHB.
  8. 6 Samuel Shalom 17 Sep
    The 6 months that Berland and his band of Breslovers spent in South Africa. Making heads and tails of it!

    Thank you Mr. Feldman for your very refreshing intellectual honesty. You words probably reflect the general consensus of South African Jewry as to how they were confused by the recent 6 month Berland-Breslov drama that recently played out in South Africa from one set of Chagim prior to Pesach 2014 to another set of Chagim now prior to Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot 2104.

    You are right that this jolt was something larger than life and that its meaning is still not clear. In the world at large there is a notion of "shock therapy" and this surely somehow applies here to, but exactly how is not clear and obviously open to much interpretation.

    Let us subtract and strip away a lot of the outer trappings involved in this drama. First of all, there had never been a time when a major Chasidik leader like Berland has ever set foot in far off South Africa. Under normal circumstances they send their "shluchim" emissaries or "meshulochim" meaning emissary-collectors. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe sent out thousands of shluchim who are also his meshulochim all over the world but he remained put in his Brooklyn headquarters running the Chabad empire. Understandable. No other great Chasidik Rebbes from either Israel, America or pre-WWII Europe or anywhere near that have ever visited South Africa, certainly not come to stay over.

    So something very radical happened here. Because Reb Berland was involved in a complex and convoluted dispute not just with the Israeli authorities, but in internecine wars with other Breslov factions, and facing a hostile Israeli secular media and an even more hostile judicial and police system ready to pounce against Charedim in general, and given that something must have happened to land Berland in some sort of hot water that remains muddied with accusations and counter-accusations flying in all directions, Berland ended his quixotic foray through Africa, traveling from Morocco, to Zimbabwe and then  arriving in South Africa creating a stir as if a lion had been let on the loose in the midst of a very proper tea party attended by tens of thousands on a huge lawn watched and recorded by the media with baited breath! Even Batman or Spiderman landing in the middle of a fracas could not have caused greater mayhem for the locals. And you rightly and honestly point out, it was quite a challenge and now it's tough making heads and tails of the 6 months Berland and his band of Breslovers were in South Africa!

    So again, let's strip away the allegations, the keystone cops chases, the words of recrimination and disgust, the pious pronouncements from up on high and from pulpits, the hyped public demonstrations of feigned outrage on the streets of JHB, all the snooty talk about judging the level of hygiene and appearances, the disgust at the shnoring as if that was something new in Jewish life with South Africa creeping with hundreds of shnorers from Israel all the time driving people nuts with their intrusiveness and rudeness -- all that is NOT the real story!!

    So what is??

    The REAL story is something Mr. Feldman alludes to when he honestly admits that:

    *
    "We became used to the garbed and the anachronistic walking through the streets of our neighborhoods and we didn’t know how to react. The 'other worldly' nature of their attire and approach embarrassed us and all we wanted was for them to go away so that we could continue as we had always done. I have to say that for some reason I was comforted by their presence as if for that brief moment that they were with us, a piece of Israel, with all its eccentricities belonged to us too, here at the tip of Africa. Either that or it harkened back to times gone by - something I had never experienced."

    And this question that cuts to the chase of it all:

    *
    "Was it because we have a very delicate balance in our community between the observant and non observant, between those that are more vocal in their support of Israel and those who are less so. Is it because we simply could not carry the burden, or were we simply afraid of the otherness of the group and maybe, perhaps, a little xenophobic in our response. Was it because we sought guidance from the pulpit, who clearly were also somewhat ambivalent?"

    And the heartfelt sad but true conclusion that:

    *
    "I do think that it is important to separate the criminal allegations of their leader, from the approach to his followers...my intention is not to focus on their responsibility but on our reaction to their presence...But I am not convinced that when we look back on this period that we will do so with pride. I for one did nothing to support them, and now that they have gone there is little that I can do. I happen to feel a little uncomfortable with my own behaviour and my own lack of involvement...only as it pertains to our visitors. And as we stand before God in the weeks to come, I hope He understands that it was all very confusing. Really it was."

    It was as if Berland and the Breslovers held a mirror to everyone's face and said TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT YOURSELVES! WHO ARE YOU REALLY? You who are busy with Jewish education, love of Israel and give Tzedaka to the underprivileged, you who would never dare say the tings you said about the Breslovers if they were a tribe or sect of Zulus or Xhosas or any other type of multi-racial or multi-cultural group in your midst and would never dare to admonish them for their alleged lack of good toilet manners or ceremonial niceties expected of people living by the mores of a long gone British high society outlook, and with all the talk of so many people becoming more Jewishly religious, keeping Shabbat, making challas on the streets, learning Torah and so many other displays of picture-perfect piety, this was the reality that hit you in the face. Forget Berland, these were religious Jews with wives, children following a rabbi to the ends of the Earth as if they were the following Moses, obviously not an easy "cholent" to taste or digest, but taste it  you did and digest it you will too, as Mr. Feldman is honest enough to admit, it did mean something and it has and will have its effects!

    What if you were afforded a time-machine with the ability to bring you your ancestors from Europe? They would probably look and act a lot like the Breslovers you just met, forget about Berland! You would have to love them and you would overlook their faults. You would run to help them and you would forgive their different manners and ways. Because with LOVE and WARMTH and WELCOMING you can and will influence people to become better human beings.

    In reverse, what the Breslovers and many Chasidim and Charedim in Israel will have to learn as well is that Jews from the English-speaking world are different to Israelis. They have better MIDDOT (character traits and manners) from which lots can be learnt and gained.

    The challenge and reality of the melding and meshing of all the Jews from all four corners of the world into something new and different that never existed before, was for a brief six months put to the test in South Africa. As Mr. Feldman points out it was an important learning experience for all concerned and hopefully with time the end results will be a happy ending for everyone.

    Hopefully Berland will be able to reconcile with his Israeli pursuers, the religious will be able to reconcile with the secular Jews peacefully, the Jews will learn to live in harmony with each other, the lambs will sleep with the lions, and that will then herald the end of all the convulsions on the planet with the final arrival of the true Jewish Mashiach and the world will be filled with peace and the Word of God will cover the Earth as the oceans cover the Earth from one end to the other as predicted by the Jewish prophets!

    Shanah Tova Umetukah, a good and sweet New Year to everyone!
  9. 5 Eve 17 Sep
    Thank you for your article which I think is very real.  While they were here (and some still seem to be) I was concerned at the lack of humanity coming from many members of our community towards fellow Jews.  I for one was scared to become too involved because as you say the whole situation was confusing, but I did help here and there in small ways where I could.  For me, they are fellow Jews and while I did not know whether their leader was guilty of the crimes or not, I think that the entire group of people could not be blamed and were in need of assistance.  I can imagine how hard it must be to be strangers in a strange land where one does not feel welcome.  PG we will never need such assistance.  May it go well for all of us over the coming Yamim Noraim.
  10. 4 Choni 19 Sep
    Yossi, I still have not received a satisfactory reply regarding the Halachic  requirement for yeridah.
    I would have thought that leaving Eretz Yisrael except for three reasons is strictly forbidden.

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