I ran into this ceremony on my way out of one of my Sunday tours. It was held in front of the Puppa Boy’s School, where our tour often passes. This was an inauguration of a newly completed Torah, the ceremony called Hachnuses Sefer Torah. Everyone looked all dressed up and festive!

An interesting sign caught my eye. I have recently been interested in how charity differs in modern society and in the Hasidic society, and I an going to go out on a limb and guess that this particular type of donation is unique to Hasidim. What is it? A collection of airline miles for the ill. Here’s some of the text:

“Your airline miles can save lives!”
“Donate your airline miles and use it to save lives.”

“Miles for life provides airline tickets and booking services to sick Jews and their caregivers who have to fly to hospitals in order to find their total cure.”

When I still lived in Kiryas Joel, I once got this unsigned notice in the mail. It is an anonymous warning that I had been immodest. The letter is only signed “from a good friend”. What so bemused me about this letter is not that it is pretty out there – there are always people in very insular Hasidic communities who are more out of touch and obsessed with modesty and policing others. But rather, that someone had brought efficiency to the process. Now all you need to do in order to inform someone that you don’t approve of their crock-wearing is fill out a brief form and drop it in the mail. Does it work? I can’t promise results… 🙂

Here is the translation:

Dear Ms. F. Vizel,

As it is the obligation of every Jew to be responsible for the well-being of the other, therefore I need to make you aware of the following thing:

The __ (2 piece duster – dark color) __ of the: 1) dress, 2) housecoat, 3) skirt, 4) blouse, 5) socks, 6) turban, that you work last __(week)__ is not permitted according to Halacha (law) because: ____________(by every step we sadly no-nonsense saw your back. Please be careful not to trigger the public! Thank you!)

short
narrow
bold
open at the neck
see-through
wasn’t properly buttoned
long robe outside of the home
red turban
spoke or laughed loudly in the street, bus, store…
the scarf or turban wasn’t properly covered
the wig was long
white sneakers (crocks)
went with “babby socks

May the efforts to behave with modesty and reserve as is fitting for a Jewish woman God will bless you with plenty of money, joy and pride from the children, health and it will bring God’s spirit in your home and the remedy of modesty will hopefully do its work to rid us of illnesses god forbid, as is written in the books, until the messiah will come, amen.

Of course the people who busy themselves with such zealous policing of others are a minority, but they wield a kind of power. Because no matter how absurd I found this letter, I also felt a rush of self loathing when I first read it…

I’ve been going through some old files to make room in the closet, and found my old folder from my eighth grade “Sewing Course”. Sewing was usually the only class that didn’t involve sitting at the desk and taking notes. I find it really interesting to contrast this “special” (as such classes would be called in my son’s public school) with my son’s sevenths grade “specials”, which are of course music, gym, French and library.

The introduction states that the goal of the course is to be able to fix clothing to make it fit better and more modest.

Our particular course was to learn the various different approaches to filling a skirt slit so as to ensure it was modest. We had to write down instructions plus mini samples.

The "Skirt Pleat Extension"
The "Kick Pleat"
The "Center Pleat"
The "Pleat Insert Slash"

I probably couldn’t pull off any of this if my life depended on it, but then again, who remembers their high school calculus either.

There are posters everywhere – huge ones that can wrap a fat streetpost twice – inviting all men in the community to a Night of Rescuing our Education. This is an event that promises to bring “activists, rabbis, legal experts” to discuss the “Edict Against Education year 5779”. (This is a reference to the long history of decrees against Jews, from massacres to expulsions to intervention in religious observance, which are often referred to by the year; ie, “The Edicts of 4856“)

“Residents of Williamsburg awake!”
“What is our responsibility during this hour?”
“Do for the sake of the children of the community”

 

“The Edict of Education 5779”
“We will not allow Jewish children to get a goyish education”
“Fiery speeches by rabbis, activists, legal experts.”

One of the posters (which I’ll post if I get a chance to photograph) shows modern-orthodox looking kids in the backdrop, an ominous warning almost. It also promises in bold letters not only fiery speeches, but flam-feyerdigeh drushes, that is, the extra-hot-beyond-the-scoville-scale spicy speeches. In other words, here is a promise that this won’t be a boring committee meeting, but something inspiring, fiery, emotional – a rally of sorts! I almost want to go!

This extremely strong reaction from the Hasidic community doesn’t surprise me; I’ve long said that this is a raw nerve and antagonizing the community will mobilize the zealots. But what remains to be seen is if this will also inspire a counter-movement within the community and create a conversation about education reforms sorely needed, especially vis a vis updating how discipline and curriculum is done. We already saw the publication of a very, very insightful book by Katle Kanye in Yiddish on the subject. There is so much talent inside the community because of the high retention rate, that there are always things changing from within in some ways. I wonder if some things will quietly change while most every other ploni is too busy attending extra-fiery speeches to notice.