I like Jews – all types. Some people may think it is politically correct or cool to criticize segments of our own people, to bash our own. Sadly, it only fans the flames of. Well respected Chassidic rabbi and psychiatrist Abraham Twerski says this in his book “From Bondage to Freedom:” “For unity and spirituality to be one requires, first and foremost, respect between people. The neshoma, the spirit which inhabits us, is of divine origin and all neshomas are a single entity.”
After reading the shocking, damaging front page piece “Unorthodox’ author at Beth El Temple Dec. 5” in the Nov. 29 edition of the West Hartford News, I knew I needed to hear this woman speak. And so I joined hundreds of women on that evening.
Deborah Feldman, author of “Unorthodox: the Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” has done a serious disservice to the Jewish people and I am dismayed that Beth El Temple and B’nai Tikvoh-Shalom, in partnership with the Mandell JCC Jewish Book Festival, bought into promoting this jaundiced and sensationalist portrayal of
a segment of our people. At the very least, the committee members that chose to showcase this book should have done their own research. They would have discovered that the Satmar community which The West Hartford News describes as a community “which values silence and suffering over individual freedom” deserves a closer look. They would have discovered that the Satmar community is well known and respected for its enormous philanthropic work, especially its dedication to bikur cholim, visiting the sick. They visit the sick in hospitals, provide homemade food for patients, host blood drives, and give enormous physical and emotional support to the visiting families, often from out of town. For decades this caring community has maintained inviting, well stocked apartments located near hospitals so local and out-of-town families can be near loved ones over Shabbat. No charge; lots of love. I know because my husband and I stayed in such an apartment some years ago when my father-in-law had major surgery in New York City.
It is well worth reading the article “Strangers In the Family” by Deborah Friedman in The Jewish Week (May 9, 2012). This Deborah, once a young cancer patient at NYU, now recovered, shares her uplifting experience with the Satmar Bikur Cholim.
Many years ago, I was on a bus in Williamsburg, N.Y. with one of my sons — unfamiliar territory to be sure. We were quite lost when I asked a young girl sitting in front of us for help. The girl insisted on accompanying us to our destination, chatting all the way about how her community of Satmar enjoys helping people and now she is so happy to have the opportunity. When I told a friend in nearby Flatbush about our encounter, she smiled and said she was not at all surprised.
I believe we can do better than giving fodder to an angry, albeit talented, young woman with an obvious bent for writing a scathing, damaging portrayal of a segment of our people. I once read in a book by the psychiatrist and Harvard professor, Dr. Kenneth Levin, discussing why many of our people have the need to show ourselves to others in an incriminating light. Sad. But there are those among us who, having witnessed or experienced deep personal trauma or even abuse, have chosen to write reams and reams in order to receive clarity and healing, and then have relegated those writings to the trash bin – unpublished. They then go on to build and grow and give.
We know better and we can be better. During the festival of Chanukah, we should choose to rededicate ourselves and rekindle Ahavat Yisroel – love of our fellow Jew. This may well be the only tool we have that will serve to defeat the onslaught of our enemies pounding at our door.
Sally Gelb, West Hartford