Thursday, December 27, 2007

Getting Tough with Yeshiva Bullies

The following story first appeared at The Blog of Author Clifford Meth:

After two years of public school, my 12-year-old begged me to return him to yeshiva where he felt he'd be surrounded by like-minded children and have an opportunity for a more robust social life. My assessment--not his. He just said, "I really want to go back." So I sent him to the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.

Although they market themselves as "Orthodox," religiously speaking, JKHA is a Conservadox enclave located kitty-corner to the prestigious Newark Academy in Livingston, NJ. Two of my sons had already graduated from there, so I knew pretty well what I was getting myself into: an amalgam of mild-tempered, black-hat teachers who are serious about limudei kodesh (religious studies), and a constituency of upper-middle-class moderdox children from West Orange, as well as a swarm of moneyed brats from Livingston's uppercrust--children raised by nannies who boast of bringing trefos to school. Better this than public school where the drug problems are even greater than when I attended schools in this same district. Better this than the violence a relatively quiet and gentle boy would be subjected to by the unwashed masses.

Or so I thought.

Beginning in September, my son began returning home a little more despondent each day. "What's wrong?" I'd ask. "Is the work too difficult?" That was certainly easy to imagine: A dual curriculum is challenging enough for a boy that finds school easy, let alone one who struggles. "No," he'd say, eyes downcast. "Is it a teacher?" I asked. "Was someone nasty to you?" He'd just shake his head. Weeks of this. Months. I chalked it up to his being the new kid. He was just feeling overwhelmed.

Or so I thought.

It was my son's mother who finally caught a glimmer of what was happening. Like me, she'd been fishing about for months, going as far as to contact the school. One evening, while she studied with him, he admitted that he'd become the target of the class bully. Imagine my chagrin as the information reached me. I ascertained that the bullying--which began with one boy but had now spread to this boy's associates--had been confined to verbal abuse. Not that this hurt any less, but verbal is, after all, just verbal. You're too stupid to be in this class...Why are you here? No one likes you... You don't have any friends.

It wasn't entirely true. My son did have friends--two of the newer boys befriended him on day one. But as the charismatic bully's reign spread, these other little boys had been coerced away from my son. "They're on his side now," he told me. "And who is on your side?" I asked. "Just me," said my son.

His mother visited the school and registered an official complaint. I also called and spoke with the rabbi in charge of discipline. I warned him that he was sitting on a time bomb--that it was just a matter of time before things escalated. "Fear not," he assured me. "I've already spoken to the boys." "I have no fear, rabbi," I said, "but not because you've spoken to the boys." "Please," he said, "don't worry about anything. Everything is under control."

Or so he thought.

A week ago, push came to shove. The verbal taunts had devolved into physical abuse. A trip here, a shove into a locker there. When I discovered the escalation, I gave my son a facts-of-life sitdown. "This won't end," I told him, "unless you end it." "How?" he asked. "You have to take out their leader." He looked down. "Are you afraid of him?" I asked. "No," he said. "Then what are you afraid of?" He thought about it. "I'll get suspended," he said. "And everyone will hate me." "They already hate you," I said. "They hate you because they think you're weak." "I'm not weak," he said. "I'm stronger than he is." "But you've let him turn you into his entertainment. That makes you weak in everyone else's eyes. Once they think you're a wounded animal, the sharks begin to circle. Even littler kids will start taunting you." "That's already happening," he said. "Take out their leader," I repeated."

That afternoon, my boy sent me an instant message. "Done," it said.

I jumped in my car and drove to the school. Walked straight into the principal's office. There was the principal, the school shrink, and the rabbi I'd spoken with a month earlier. I looked at my son. "Not a mark on you," I said, looking him up and down. "Guess you won."

"Mr. Meth," said the principal, "do you have any idea what just happened here?"

"I'll take an educated guess," I said. "There's either a boy in the nurse's office or he's on his way to the hospital." No one smugs like a father scorned.

"This is a very serious issue," said the principal.

"I couldn't agree more," I said. "Your administration is guilty of gross negligence. That's about as serious as it gets." I wasn't posturing--my pal Leo Klein of the New York Bar Association had secured a top criminal lawyer for me out of Morristown, a former prosecutor who saw so much merit in my son's story that he was willing to take the case pro-bono. I was ready to hit the yeshiva in the belly with a serious complaint if they pushed me too far.

"We can't condone fighting, Mr. Meth," said the rabbi--the one I'd put on notice four weeks earlier. "We're going to have to suspend your son for a day."

"That's what I was hoping," I said. "It will give him time to play with his new X-Box -- the one I'm buying for him as a reward for taking out the bully. I'm not going to let him feel punished for even one moment."

"We need to understand why he did this," said the shrink, a pretty little gal that I wouldn't have minded knowing under other circumstances.

"Look no further," I said, suppressing a wink. "I'm the reason. I and no angel. I and no seraph. It was I who struck down the bully."

"We thoroughly abhor violence," said the principal, a middle-aged woman with delusions of eloquence.

"You're actually speaking to someone who knows what that word means," I said.

"But Jews can't behave like this," said the rabbi.

"Thus spake six million lampshades," saith I.

It went on like this for a while as I waxed alternately literate or badass for the tri-lateral commission of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil. A Mexican standoff. Or more accurately a Jewish one. Eventually, I grew bored with their company and took my son home, assured--by his actions that morning, not the administration's nattering, hand-wringing, politically correct, cover-their-own-asses, COMPLETE fucking lack of understanding of schoolyard politics--assured that the world was balanced once more. My son had cut the leader from the herd and knocked the bejezus out of him in front of his comrades. Problem solved.

That evening, as my boy sat playing with his new X-Box, my phone rang. "I know you, Meth!" said Harlan Ellison, the greatest writer of the 20th century, third greatest pool hustler in Sherman Oaks, and my dear friend. "You're sitting there wallowing in that Russian Jewish guilt of yours." "I'm a Polish Jew," I assured him. "Listen to me," he said. "You done good. This will always be remembered by your son as a pivotal moment in his childhood. He'll be proud of himself. And he'll be proud of you. He stood up to the bully and his old man had the balls to back him. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself or I'll have to come over and slap you and I don't want to do that because I'm already dressed for bed! Your son is golden and you my friend are peaches!"

Two days later, my boy returned to school. It was a fast day so he got out early and called me right away. "How was it?" I asked. "I had a good day," he said. "A few kids that I never spoke with before told me I did a good job. And two of the kids who used to bother me want to be my friend now. And the other two are really scared of me. And one girl who never spoke to me before said, 'Good job.' And I'm going to the mall with Mommy to get a new game for my X-Box. Can David sleep over this Saturday night so we can play it?"

Will Rogers once noted that diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock. I say school bullying policies are only as good as your power to enforce them.

(c) 2007 Clifford Meth
reprinted by permission

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chabad: Jew vs. Jew

Nov. 21, 2006--As Chabad minority leaders in Crown Heights concluded their annual mutual admiration society this weekend (a.k.a., "the shluchim convention"), "Hasidim" on both sides of the schism opted to end the festival with a good old fashion brawl just to show who was boss. Take a look at your tzedakah dollars at work.

According to "Witnesses report that the extreme violence began around 2:00 am when six Shomrim members [members of the Shemtov-Krinsky faction] grabbed a [Meshichist] bochur, took him outside and beat him mercilessly, leaving him lying on the floor unconscious. Hatzalah was called and took the bochur to the hospital." Then all hell broke loose.

What does Aguch (Corporate Chabad, the "anti-Meshichists") say? "They started it!" notes that damages include tearing the psak din poster which has Rabbonim’s signatures proclaiming the Rebbe the Moshiach. He who controls the present controls the past.

Now I'm not saying Krinsky or Shemtov directly instigated the fights, but Meshichistin would never have torn up the banners proclaiming the Rebbe Moshiach. So who authorized the post-fight vandalism of 770?

Thought for the day: Tzedukah should be given to the poor and needy. Tzedukah should be given to legitimate Torah institutions.

Or you can throw your bread to jackals and watch them tear eachother apart over the crumbs.

photo: "770 Live" broken into & looted
by men who say they represent the Rebbe.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NJ Chabad's Book Burning Party

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Library

by Clifford Meth

I’ve often imagined that the worst minor tragedy I might experience, short of passing a kidney stone, would be to see my first novel trashed by The New York Times Review of Books. That’s gotta hurt. Fortunately, healthy kidneys and the inability to produce a first novel have kept me two steps short of those reality shows. Sans a best-seller muse, I still find myself writing shorter pieces.

Every now and again, some of my short-fiction collections are reviewed in “respectable” journals and newsletters. To wit: MethO.D. (Aardwolf Publishing, 2006) was recently recommended by The Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter (vol. XXVI, No. 1, Sept./Oct. 2006). “Clifford Meth's latest anthology of 13 stories is a worthwhile read, though the tone of many of his pieces can be disturbing,” writes Steve Bergson. “Among the range of subjects and themes that can be found in these brief narratives are…power brokering in the Lubavitch movement.”

Those vaguely familiar with Chabad-Lubavitch may be under the impression that the movement comprises little more than the overzealous followers of the late, great Lubavitcher Rebbe, z’tl. Sadly, as many Jews have discovered, there’s more to the multi-million dollar New Jersey Chabad franchise than meets the eye. So on several occasions, I’ve written about these snake oil salesmen in the same spirit that Swift wrote of the rascals of his day. Satire, after all, is the only thing that separates us from the theo-dogmatists.

“Some of [Meth’s] stories are told realistically,” Bergson continues, “while others mix in fantasy or science-fiction elements when one least expects it…[recommended] for the General Adult Fiction section of public and university libraries.”

Not exactly a glowing review but it beats a sharp stick in the eye or a Swiftian kick in the maracas. Or being trashed by The Times.

Following the enfeeblement and subsequent death of their leader, Chabad splintered into various factions headed by powerful families competing for control. Today, despite threats of virtual fatwahs, Chabad’s questionable ethics are frequently taken to task by the most prominent, respected rabbis in the legitimate Orthodox Jewish world.

Enter Leslie Monchar, a librarian at the Joseph Kushner Yeshiva in Livingston, NJ, and hand puppet to Asher Herson, the charismatic curator of Chabad of Northwest NJ.

Monchar represents the new breed of hybrid Conservadox-Lubavitchers: all yap and no sheitel. Hebrew National bologna and cheese.

“Members of my congregation are wondering why you would recommend Cliff Meth’s book, MethO.D. to anyone!” writes Monchar in an official librarian’s letter to Bergson (as reported to me by a third party). “Though I have not read his work, I was told that the language is obscene throughout, and the topics are vulgar and disgusting. The rabbi he ridicules is our congregational rabbi, and the people he wishes to kill are my fellow congregants.”

Though I have not read his work, she says.

“[Meth’s] hatred of the rabbi,” Monchar continues, “is as well known as it is irrational. What great merit did you see in his writing? I promised the president of the congregation that I would ask you and also why you chose to review this particular book at all?”

The fact is my book never mentioned Monchar’s rabbi. I did write a fantasy piece about a miraculous canine creature who becomes the head of a Chabad Center in Rockaway, NJ, and urinates on his congregation. The story is called “Wagging the Rebbe.” Any similarities to Chabad rabbis urinating on their congregations is purely coincidental.

Bergson’s cogent reply: “I have a bit of a problem with reviews by proxy by people who haven't actually read the books/stories,” he tells Monchar “I would have been inclined to believe that [Meth] is 100% anti-Lubavitch, but when I read his ‘I, Gezheh’ years ago, I paid close attention to what he wrote as a one-line commentary preceding the story: What Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (zt’l) was, and what Lubavitch has become, are opposites. I will always regard this as one of the great tragedies of my lifetime... His language is, at times, vulgar and obscene. Such descriptions have also been made about the works of Jewish writers Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Mordecai Richler, but today all three are lauded by many critics, librarians and readers (Jewish and non-Jewish) as being among the best Jewish satirists of the 20th century…I don't think Meth actually wants to kill anyone and that’s quite a provocative charge to make…”

Kill anyone? One can only assume that Monchar, the torch-wielding librarian poised to burn books she hasn’t read, is referring to “The Man Who Hated Lubavitchers,” a story that informed individuals recognize as homage to the classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The protagonist in my story discovers that Jews are being replaced by alien creatures who call themselves Lubavitchers. So he whacks a few. All in good fun, of course.

“[Meth is] one of the few writers to casually blend Jewish storytelling with science-fiction/fantasy,” writes Bergson. “I think that if abuse/misuse of power is something that is going on in the Lubavitch community, then someone should be writing about it.”

As for the rabbi in Rockaway, I don’t hate him. I genuinely admire his shrewdness. Rumor has it that he’s living tax-free. It ain’t easy fooling so many of the people so much of the time.

Unless they’re dolts. Or wastrel librarians who don’t read books.

© 2006 Clifford Meth. All rights reserved.

Clifford Meth’s articles appear in scores of publications and have been syndicated by The L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire. Lauded by literary figures from Leonard Cohen to Kurt Vonnegut, Meth’s fiction has been published by numerous publishers, including Barnes and Noble and Marvel Entertainment, and several of his stories have been optioned for the big screen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wagging the Rebbe

by Hank Magitz

It is a widely held Jewish belief that there are no coincidences in life. Everything has a reason and is part of a construct of divine events on behalf of some lofty, arcane purpose. Consequently, when Baruch Katz’s grandmother—an elderly, olive-skinned woman from the old country—put the evil eye on Moshe Herson for mistreating and humiliating her grandson, it came as no surprise when the miracle occurred.

The physical seeds of the miracle were planted one memorable day at shul. It was a Saturday morning and while the skies were overcast, it seemed that we’d be spared any rain. This was noteworthy only to the rabbi and a few of the old-timers. Old-timers wouldn’t ride in the car on the Sabbath, so rain was something they preferred on Sundays or Mondays or Tuesdays and so forth. The rest of the congregation at the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey forgot about the Sabbath the minute they left the building and got into their cars. Most of them had already forgotten about Baruch Katz, too. They knew even less about Chabad’s inner workings than they did about Judaism—indeed, the instrument had not yet been invented that could measure how little they knew about either, so they had no idea what Katz had done or hadn’t done to get himself fired from the organization and besmirched and sent into exile. A small cadre of Russian immigrants from the community briefly petitioned Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown and head of New Jersey Chabad Inc., to intervene on Katz’s behalf.

How naïve some immigrants are!

In any event, the incident had been pretty much swept under the carpet as both Moshe Herson and his son, the titular rabbi at the Chabad Center, had anticipated. No one ever went broke underestimating the naiveté of the average Chabad contributor. And the Hersons were far from broke. They controlled properties all over New Jersey.

It was during duchaning—the priestly blessings—when the incident occurred. The ceremony requires men to hide their eyes behind their prayer shawls and meditate upon the melody as the kohanim (or priests) chant the ancient words to the ancient tune with their arms raised and their hands contorted. Every once in a while, some wiseacre—usually a kid—would peak out from beneath the prayer shawl to see the secret fraternity signs. This is how wiseacre Leonard Nimoy came up with the Vulcan salute. And on this particular Sabbath, another wiseacre, namely yours truly, suggested in the middle of the chanting that without Katz, there wasn’t much of a melody to meditate on. With Katz’s conspicuous absence, the only Kohain upon the platform with his hands raised like a Vulcan was an old man who’d lost his voice to a stroke.

Well, it was just at that moment that the screaming began. From outside in the parking lot where Moshe Herson’s granddaughters were playing hopscotch, a cacophony of shrieks cut through the already fractured chanting of that stroke-impaired Kohain. I was one of several congregants to race to the door and out into the lot to see what the matter was. There, before my eyes, was the site that had made the children flee in terror.

It was a small dog. A mutt, actually. With his big, wet tongue hanging out, he had jumped playfully all over the girls.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” I said, but the girls ran off. They’d learned from their own silly mother that all dogs were to be feared like frothing Cossacks—to run from them like chickens from a fox.

The dog looked at me with baffled, friendly eyes. He was a healthy looking mutt and as I reached out to pet him, he rolled over on his back and, sans irrational fears, bid me to rub his soft doggy tummy. Then he tried to hump my leg. At that moment, a strange lady jogged down the shul’s driveway with a huge leash in hand.

“I’m so sorry!” she said. She was out of breath. “I hope he didn’t frighten anyone. He’s practically a puppy—he doesn’t bite.”

After the lady took her dog home, the incident was forgotten by everyone almost as quickly as Baruch Katz’s dismissal.

At least, it was forgotten for nine months.

Another set of High Holidays rolled around. First came the Rosh Hashanah services punctuated by the titular rabbi’s interstitial sermons. Some congregations are forced to make it through the Day of Judgment without such levity. Not this crowd.

Further, the shul was celebrating another simcha: Moshe Herson’s granddaughter had given birth and there were Mazel Tovs all around. No one was acknowledging the bizarre circumstances by which the young girl had conceived. She was, after all, only sixteen. And still unmarried. And, technically speaking, still a virgin.

The Talmud cites a circumstance whereby a woman can become pregnant after immersing in a tub in which a man has had improper thoughts. But no specific case can be found in the Torah—indeed, in all of Jewish history—for a girl delivering offspring in such a bizarre and unlikely manner.

There were five in the litter.

Now, yechus—having ancestors of note—is very important to most Orthodox Jews. But the collection of ragtag congregants at the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey could hardly be blamed for lacking remarkable pedigree. Most of them settled for an association with any manner of celebrity. The Chabad’s ex-president, for instance (whose wife wasn’t really Jewish) boasted of having once met Sandy Koufax at his Rotary Club Meeting. The current president made no such claims, but his wife—fully Jewish but a little nuch-g’lozt—distinguished herself by having once dated Jewish broadcaster Nachum Siegel. The gabbai, a man named Philip Windsor-Smith who fancied himself a proper Englishman with all the pomp and none of the circumstances, reminisced of how John Lennon had chased him home from Liverpool Grammar School and kicked him in the pants. No one doubted this claim: Windsor-Smith had a thoroughly obnoxious manner that would have raised even Mother Theresa’s foot. If Windsor-Smith had been a Hindu, Ghandi himself would have kicked him.

Yechus was also terribly important to Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown and the head of New Jersey Chabad Inc. He had no real yechus to speak of, either, but he took comfort in his stature as dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown and the head of New Jersey Chabad Inc. He reasoned that his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren and so forth would boast of descending from him. His image was so magnificent in his own mind that he genuinely expected this self-opinion to be shared by all those who knew him.

This was not necessarily the case. Moshe Herson had acquired less than a sterling reputation, particularly among his peers. The philosophies he publicly embraced—the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who embodied love and kindness and justice and charity and humility and truth and suchlike—weren’t philosophies Herson had much use for privately. At least that was the assumption one made when they saw the treatment of Rabbi Avraham Lipskier, who Moshe Herson fired and besmirched and sent into exile. Or Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Greenberg, who Moshe Herson fired and besmirched and sent into exile. Or Rabbi Baruch Katz who Moshe Herson fired and besmirched and sent into exile. And so on and so forth.

“But all I’m asking for is a proper job description,” pleaded Baruch Katz.

“Your job is to do what I tell you to do,” said Herson from behind his great mahogany desk.

“But I was hired to be a teacher,” said the demure Katz.

“If I tell you to take out the garbage, you take out the garbage,” said Herson. “If I tell you to clean my socks, you clean my socks. That is your job description. Now get out of my office.”

How could such things be happening in the name of a great man like the Lubavitcher Rebbe? Everything has a reason and is part of a construct of divine events on behalf of some lofty, arcane purpose.

At least that’s the theory.

Of course, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was already dead and buried by the time Moshe Herson began to purge the movement of his enemies and those who wouldn’t bow down to him. It no longer mattered if the Rebbe’s reputation was besmirched and sent into exile.

Yes, and yechus being such a cornerstone to his self esteem, it was terribly difficult—more difficult than one can describe—for Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown and the head of New Jersey Chabad Inc., to now face his world knowing than his ur-einiklach—his own descendants—had come into the world under less than immaculate circumstances.

“At least they’re not average,” his wife had said in a moment of filial absence. It was all too true. The five children would grow up to have hairier than average backs, and longer than average ears, and wetter than average noses, and cute, fuzzy little tails.

“This is an outrage!” said Philip Windsor-Smith. “How can they expect anyone to support this?”

“They’ll support it,” said the president.

“They’ll support it and like it,” said the ex-president who sat in his usual seat. He liked to have the last word, which was a constant source of annoyance to the rest of the congregation. Fortunately for the rest of us, the ex-president was coming around less often. He suffered from irritable bowel syndrome.

The uproar was over the installation of the new rabbi. Now that the Shemtov brothers had been forced out of Pennsylvania and Michigan, Moshe Herson’s sons had assumed control of those states, too, so the little Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey needed a loyal spiritual leader. Herson suggested his granddaughter’s first born.

“Well, I for one don’t like it,” said Windsor-Smith. “I think this is an outrage! Giving this—this canine creature a pulpit, for goodness sakes!”

“That’s not very nice,” said the president.

“He’s a dog!” Windsor-Smith shouted.

“He’s not a dog,” said the president.

“He’s not a dog and even if he is a dog, it doesn’t matter,” said the ex-president. “He’s a Jew. The mother is a Jew so the son is a Jew.”

“This is preposterous!” said Windsor-Smith. “Don’t we have any say in this?”

“No,” said the ex-president. “This is Chabad. Herson owns the building. It’s his show.”

It was a curious dilemma. Despite the fact that they’d paid to erect the building and given generous dues to the shul and made enormous contributions to the shul’s building fund (earmarked to buy even more buildings), the Chabad congregations in New Jersey had no more say in who their rabbis were than zoo monkeys have in the purchase of bananas. Although Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown and the head of New Jersey Chabad Inc., originally sent this community an emissary with an offer to “help” them build their congregation, nothing they’d built nor financed was under their control.

And so it was that a wet-nosed descendant of Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown and the head of New Jersey Chabad Inc., came to be the new rabbi of the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey.

The entire congregation gathered that Sabbath day. Some of the old-timers walked to shul; most of the congregation drove. Some of them turned off their cell phones before services began; some didn’t bother. Some would leave the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey after services and go to the Rockaway Mall. Others took their kids bowling and then to Burger King. But they were all there that morning to welcome the new rabbi.

The new rabbi walked slowly into the shul, his huge black Borcelino hat pulled firmly over his droopy ears. He took the stage and stood on his hind legs as he held the prayer book between his paws and led the congregation in a beautiful, heartfelt davening.

When the Torah was removed from the arc, the new rabbi reached out with his paw and kissed the sacred scroll as it passed, then he followed Windsor-Smith onto the platform and made the blessing over the Torah.

In the women’s section, the ladies milled around the young virgin who had given birth to this miraculous being. “Mazel tov!” they said. “Mazel tov!”

And then the Torah reading concluded and the congregation stood as the sacred Torah scroll was again paraded around the shul and finally returned to the arc.

“Everyone may be now seated,” announced Windsor-Smith. “I’d like to call upon the new rabbi to say a few words.”

But the new rabbi didn’t utter a sound. He just stood there on all fours.

Suddenly, there were gasps from the front of the women’s section; moans of exasperation from the men. People in the middle and back rows stood up to view the commotion—to see what the matter was. Several of the old-timers began to leave.

“What happened?” asked Mitch, the shul yenta. “I can’t see a thing! What’s going on?”

“Not much,” said Jed, a self-absorbed attorney who had sat next to Mitch reading Melville throughout the service. “The rabbi just lifted his leg and urinated on the congregation.”

And with that, Jed’s cell phone went off.

(c) 2005 Aardwolf Publishing - reprinted by permission

Monday, April 10, 2006

Shemtov Defies the Rebbe (but Chabadniks Defy Shemtov)

The position of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (z"tl) on shlamus haAretz (keeping the land of Israel whole) is clear and well documented. And Baruch Marzel, running under the banner of the National Jewish Front, was the only candidate running for the Knesset supporting that position. But that wasn't good enough for the self-annointed. Levi Shemtov, Chabad's representative in Washington, D.C. (appointed by his father Avroham Shemtov, Chabad's would-be Capo di tutti capi) got his nose out of joint when talking to The Forward and stated that the rabbinical court in Kfar Chabad directed followers not to vote for Marzel.

"They [told] people not to vote Marzel," said Shemtov, "because they wanted two things to happen: every vote to be counted, and for people to make their own decisions. Voting Marzel undermines the idea of every vote being counted."

Make their own decisions. But don't vote for Marzel. Apparently, Levi comes by his skip logic honestly. His father said, last week, that meshichists are a minority of a minority.

Here's the happy ending: Defying the "advice" of their "rabbis," 30% of Kfar Chabadnik's voting in Israel's main election cast their ballots for Marzel, who advocated the mass expulsion of Arabs. Sadly, Marzel failed to reach the 2% threshold needed to qualify for a Knesset seat and, perhaps more strikingly, failed to win a single vote in dozens of municipalities throughout Israel. Even in the West Bank, where opposition to Israeli territorial concessions is much higher than it is in Israel, Marzel — a 46-year-old Boston native and a disciple of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane (z"tl) — managed to win significant support in only a few of the smallest, most extreme Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But in Kfar Chabad — the Lubavitch town located inside Israel proper, just east of Tel Aviv — Marzel won almost a third of the 1,714 votes cast.

Marzel's support from Chabad voters poses a potentially embarrassing development for the global network of Shemtov-Krinsky-controlled shluchim.

Marzel's party is viewed as a continuation of Kach, the banned Israeli political party founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane. He had his own explanation for his success with Chabad followers: "What attracts them to me," he told the Forward, "are my positions on keeping the wholeness of the Torah the wholeness of the Jewish nation and the wholeness of the Land of Israel." Marzel said that he could have won as much as 80% of the vote had the Kfar Chabad rabbinical court not issued a decision before the elections discouraging followers from voting for smaller parties like his. In the last elections, in 2003, Marzel ran with the Herut party, which won 73% of the vote in Kfar Chabad.

Marzel said that the recent rabbinical ruling was driven by the Chabad leadership's decision to advance its economic interests by backing a party that would win parliamentary seats and try to increase the money budgeted to the community.

A 40-year-old teacher living in Kfar Chabad, who asked to be identified only as Moti, said that he ignored the rabbinical edict and followed through with his decision to vote for Marzel.

"All the other large religious parties have cooperated in the past with governments that have given up Jewish lands," said the teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was concerned his opposition to the court's decision might stir up antagonism towards him in his community. "Marzel would never enter into a government coalition which gives up land."

Moshe M. Weighs In

The only saving grace of the Meshichistin is that they are pathetic lightweights; they’ve been dismissed. Had they the cunning of a Herson, they would have lost everything.
—Moshe Morganstern

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Holocaust Survivors Snubbed by Herson's Chabad

David and Hilda Landsman are looking for a place to live. After four decades of residing in Rockaway, New Jersey, where they helped found the first and only Orthodox minyan in the area, the retired couple feels pushed out by Chabad of Northwest New Jersey.

“All they wanted from us was our money,” says Mrs. Landsman whose husband is a retired baker. “That’s the only time the Lubavitchers talked to us. But I couldn’t keep giving them money. I have my own bills to pay. And when I stopped giving them money, suddenly no one was buying our challohs.”

The Landsmans were one of several families who poured heart and soul into building an active, dedicated Orthodox group in White Meadow Lake, a suburb in Rockaway Township. Then Asher Herson of Chabad came to town promising to help build the community and offered to take over the minyan. “They wanted us to pay his mortgage,” recalls Mrs. Landsman. “But I could barely afford my own.” The Hersons did manage to get financial support from wealthy backers outside the community, then they took over the small group. But today, most shomer-Shabbos members have been driven away from the community by the lack of observance they've seen; today, any number of cars pull up to the “shul” on Shabbos, then drive off after services. The Chabad Center, whose leadership includes mixed marriages, encourages membership from wealthy patrons as far as 20 miles away.

Mrs. Landsman, whose husband fought in the Israeli War of Independence after being released from a concentration camp, laments over what Chabad has done in Rockaway. “They said they came to help us but they didn’t help us,” she says. “So we’re painting the house now and in a few more months and we’ll be gone. They don’t need us here anymore.”

Sunday, March 26, 2006

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