On a more positive note

From time to time, particularly in the comments section, this site comes to seem like a wall for krexing (sic?) about all the real and imagined failings of the chareidi community and/or some of its members. I number myself among the krexers.

That is why I like to get out from time to time to be inspired by the amazing people produced by this community, and who to a very large extent attracted me to the chareidi world in the first place. Yesterday, I spent four hours with a remarkable woman who runs a project for Ayelet HaShachar in which chareidi women are connected with secular Israeli women who have expressed an interest in learning Torah texts or hashkafa. (About this particular program I’ll be writing in the future.)

At the beginning of our talk, by way of explaining the source of her confidence that chareidi women have the power to make a revolution in Israeli society, which is desperately casting about to find its moorings (another subject to which we will be returning in the future), she told me a story about her mother, a”h.

When she was about 60 years old, her mother went to a doctor to consult about a growth she had detected on her neck. The doctor ascertained immediately that the situation was far worse than she imagined. In fact, he told her that cancer had spread through her entire body, and she did not have long to live. She smiled.

Perplexed, the doctor assumed that she had not understood him, and once again told her of the gravity of her situation. She kept smiling. “Why are you smiling?,” the doctor asked.

“I grew up in a home with wonderful parents. I’m about to marry off my ninth and last child. Each of those children is going in the path in which we raised them. Why shouldn’t I smile?” she answered.

That doctor came to the shivah, he explained, “just to see the family that merited that smile.”

At the end of our conversation, the head of the program shared a few more stories about her mother. When the mass Russian immigration began in the early ’90s, her mother used to go out to the airport to greet the newcomers to Israel, and eventually had more than a 100 ba’alei teshuva families under her wing.

When the head of a program was a kallah, one of her sisters needed some cleaning help, and her mother called the head of seminary for baalos teshuva. A girl was sent over, and became close to the family. After about three weeks, she told the mother that she had been kicked out of the seminary because she had been caught “in the filthiest place there is.”

The mother called the head of the seminary, no small tzadekes herself, and asked her how she could throw out a girl with such a beautiful neshama. The head of the seminary asked her how she could keep a girl in the seminary who was walking the streets at night.

The mother called the girl and asked her why she was doing these things. She explained that she had neither a mother or father, and she needed the money so that some day she could have the security of a roof over her head.

The mother invited the girl to come live with her family, and gave her the family’s living room as her own private room, with a partition installed for her privacy. The linens purchased for the kallah were given to the girl, and the family ate their Shabbos meals in the hallway so that the girl would not feel that she had displaced them.

And today? “She is more chareidi than any of us,” said my hostess.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time crying yesterday.

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10 Responses

  1. AB says:

    LIke the stories of AM Amitz, this one actually highlights the flaws of chareidi institutions. The seminary would have left this girl literally on the streets so as not to tarnish the good name of the school. It did not occur to them that someone who resorts to prostitution b/c she fears being totally without financial resources needs help that would consist of secruity, psychological counseling, and vocational training that would allow her to earn an honorable living. Like in the stories by the author referred to above, an individual saves the person who has been cast out by the mainstream charedi society and gets applauded for her chessed. Of course, the woman deserves that admiration. But the institution deserve the opposite. And instead of just helping singled out individuals on the basis of a personal connection, there should be an attempt to reform the system that can lead to such circumstnaces in the first place.

  2. tova says:

    surely such people put a lie to the canard of chareidi complacency

  3. SephardiLady says:

    What a story.

  4. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “That is why I like to get out from time to time to be inspired by the amazing people produced by this community, and who to a very large extent attracted me to the chareidi world in the first place.”

    It’s interesting what attracts different people to their respective communities in the Orthodox world. I see the above-mentioned fact as a strength of the close-knit charedi community, although there are certainly various types of chessed in non-charedi communities, which I’ve read about, or witnessed firsthand.

    In general, I see trade-offs in being part of either community. Some people might like the warmth they find in the charedi community, but the trade-off, at least as I see it, is that one might have to give up a degree of personal autonomy, if a person wants to accept societal norms regarding various bans and a more intensely regulated press. I sometimes wonder how someone not born into either Orthodox community goes about choosing, and what aspect of the decision is “lishmah”, based solely on spiritual reasons, and how much is personal comfort level or individual personality, the latter being very important as well.

    I also think that it would be a nice display of unity for the JO or Yated to do a feature on chessed or outreach being done by the non-chareidi community, as I believe that the Jewish Action has done features from a charedi perspective. Unfortunately, the chariedi community is often under siege, and that is why it focuses on it’s own strengths, but an occasional article focusing on the modern-Orthodox or religious-Zionist communitiy’s chessed activities, would project a broader image, and would be self-beneficial(perhaps there have been articles of such nature in the JO– I know Hamishpocha has done such features).

  5. hp says:

    What a beautiful story; I have heard many similar stories, and they are all as inspiring as they are moving.

  6. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “From time to time, particularly in the comments section, this site comes to seem like a wall for krexing (sic?) about all the real and imagined failings of the chareidi community and/or some of its members. I number myself among the krexers”

    That’s why it’s very important to focus on positive points, such as on the extraordinary kindness of the chareidi community. The part about giving away the kallah’s linens for example, while perhaps not a major expense, as well as eating meals in the hallway, is the type of story one reads about in gedolim biographies. Rav Pam, I think once said that ordinary people are capable of greatness at times, and gave the example of Nachshon Waxman’s mother’s response to the question about the efficacy of prayers for her son, hy’d .

    What distinguishes bashing–charedi or otherwise–from constructive criticism is the inability to focuse on anything positive. If someone is expressing disagreement with the philosophy of any of our communal organizations, for example, they should at least enumerate a few positive examples of the work that they do, even if they feel that there are legitimate aspects to the particular critique. I linked below my post where I quoted the Chovos Halevavos and Rav Shlomo Zalman Aeurbach about seeing the positive when criticizing. Another point that I’ve heard, is that if the Jewish people would always have been negative, they would not have survived the long exile.

    Nevertheless, I believe that even the negative comments on this blog are healthy and fulfill an important function. The “failings” or disagreements need to be discussed, but l’toeles– in a fair and future-focused way.

    The blogosphere simply fulfilled a vacuum that existed previously because of the homogeneous aspect of the chareidi media. The chareidi media, at least in its current form, is unable to fulfill the needs of both the more and the less insular in a single publication. The best way of dealing with the vacuum, and facing the realities of blogging is a separate subject, but in my opinion, an extremely important one that deserves separate treatment and discussion.

    But returning to my previous point, any site that engages in healthy communal introspection, should also have plenty of positive types of posts, like the current Cross-Current one.

  7. Rivka W. says:

    I applaud groups like Ayelet Hashachar, and its American counterpart Partners In Torah. Not only is it a wonderful way to reach out on an individual basis to our secular counterparts, I find learning with my Partner incredibly inspiring, and it helps improve my own observance.

  8. a k says:

    1. great, inspiring, uplifting story.
    2. To ‘AB’: Gimme a break! You wrote: “The seminary would have left this girl literally on the streets so as not to tarnish the good name of the school.” Where did you read anything about the seminary worrying about its reputation? Don’t you agree that the seminary is responsible for all the other girls there? I think that non-charedi institutions, even private boarding schools in America would expel an active prostitute. Would you be as critical if this girl had been your daughter’s roommate and confidante? Me thinks that your preexisting opinion of “mainstream charedi society” colors your judgement. Kol Tuv.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Greetings to all , although from our visit to EY for two weeks. Last night, our host, who is the director of Ohr Sameach’s Center program invited me to attend the Channukah party for this program. It is an amazing group of post collegiate young men from the US, Canada, UK and S Africa. They are all exploring their Jewish background the best way possible-by diving into classical Torah texts and realizing that Torah She Baal Peh is the key to a Jew’s connection with HaShem Yisborach. I saw sefarim on the tables and shtenders that could be found in any Beis Medrash and Yeshivah worth of the name. I heard wonderful Divrei Torah from the RY, the Mashgiach and a student in the program. Contrary to urban myths and stereotypes, there is emphasis on acquiring textual skills and growth as a Ben Torah and the discouragement of looking like a Ben Torah without having acquired the basic tecxtual skills and growth in observance. I saw no evidence of glazed over brainwashed BTs or worse, as alleged elsewhere on the web or in print. I believe that the founder of YU’s JSS program, R Moshe Besdin ZTL would agree with my assessment that they teach “it and not about it” in the Center’s program.

  10. hp says:


    Being that I deal with troubled teens, I know this subject on a more intimate basis than a sound-bite perspective. As a matter of fact, I myself have had troubled teens stay with my family for months at a time.

    Therefore, since you seem like the openminded type, I wonder if you’d like to become active in this- there are so many girls from troubled, secular backgrounds who need a loving home. Any organization would be ecstatic to have someone of your tolerance level join their ranks. Go for it- you’ll be happy you did.

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