On Monroe

 Posted by on July 12, 2012
Jul 122012

Rabbi Teitelbuam and Marilyn Monroe as founders of Kiryas Joel, Monroe

This cartoon was inspired by something I read on Monroe. Marilyn. I admit that for many, many years I didn’t know who Marilyn Monroe is, and I thought that in the popular psyche “Monroe” referred to the Holy Shtetl of Satmar, my hometown. When I gave my address and said I lived in Monroe, I would often be asked “spelled as in, Monroe?” and I would say “of course!”. Why wouldn’t it be spelled as itself? Whoever was on the other telephone surely knew that Monroe meant the headquarters of Judaism! As the Bais Rochel principal Mrs. Fruchthandlerovitz* said, Monroe was the last place where true Jews still really flourished, the sum of what rich Jewish history has dwindled down to. I remember sitting in the first row in the classroom, looking up to the principal’s small stature as she clutched Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum’s treatise on zionism and described how big the world population is and how small true Judaism is in relation. I listened with fascination of our significance, processing our enormous responsibility to our religion, our heritage. Monroe was all that God had; all our ancestors looked down to us to keep it alive. Monroe was the Jews’ last hope! Monroe was the epitome of sacredness and holiness!

Why, let lady Monroe come forward and demonstrate all that!

That the cloistered and pious Satmar shtetl shares a name with the blonde bombshell is as ironic as the proposition that “Satmar” was named after the Saint Mary. You must appreciate the paradox of the names and the radical opposites for which they stand for. But those aren’t the actual etymologies. Satmar is not named after Saint Mary and Monroe is not named after Marilyn; the town in Orange County is named after the fifth president James Monroe, a seemingly rather bland individual who had nothing interesting to say about Zionism. Still, Kiryas Joel – Monroe is a fascinating part of America, and I think, as much worth a trip-to as the Amish shtetl, who have nothing on the Satmar shtetl’s glamorous name.

*name changed to protect my identity and my own ass.

On the Internet

 Posted by on July 10, 2012
Jul 102012

A plumber asks Mrs. Shtrimpkind to turn off the Internet to stop the flood

Turning off the internet, THAT they say, should fix everything within Hasidism — from problems with infidelity to atheism to teenage rebellion and sexual urges or a plumbing crisis or a flopped honey tort. Rabbis have deliberated over ALL the problems caused by the internet, boasted a Citifield sport of their concerns, and are now implementing solutions. I heard of many Orthodox rabbis who are stepping up their warning against internet and are advising various precautions like filters or limited home use. Hasidic leaders, in their usual extreme way of responding to anything that threatens their tradition, are taking the highway. They are aggressively banning the internet and technological gadgets. They seem to hope that stopping the internetworks will push back down all issues that have come to the fore through the vorld-vide-veb. All the flaws and holes that have become plainly visible even to Hasidim, that’s what worries them.

Some Hasidic mosdos sent letters to the parent body demanding full disclosure of the parent’s internet activity. At the same time some religious institutions are demanding that the staff surrender their smartphones. Among my own Hasidic circles I have heard the smartphone called “treif”, one unfamiliar woman at a simcha going so far as to sternly voice her objections of the smartphone to my Angry-Bird enthusiast son. The woman reduced him to tears with her uncontained moral outrage at his bird-launching-pig-squashing activities. To this insanity I say, quoting the pigs, “hooooll!”

Hasidim are very concerned about the internet. They have reason to be. Hasidism has been changed by the internet, of that I am sure. Centuries of isolation are no more because invisible web waves brought an unfathomable wealth of resources to the palms of good pious women and to the vestl pockets of real Hasidic men. Information that was completely unavailable and unknown to previous generations of Hasidim is now readily sitting on the very telephones with which Hasidic followers call their rabbis to ask their religious questions, be it about menstrual blood or a dairy fork in a meat sink. The answers available online are of a different breed entirely. Whereas rabbis respond in authoritarian halachik rulings, the internet provides not rulings, but information. The internet gives the information to the searcher and leaves the decision making to the person himself. One can find thousands of answers instead of one; through ooogles of google results, wikipedia, forum conversation or this blog (by the way, the answer is “what the heck is wrong with you?!” and for all other questions: “the naked Hasidish lady would be