Monthly Archives: June 2017

Hasidic Masses Head for the Country

This weekend marks that time of the year once more: country time. Thousands of hasidic families pack up all their goods and relocate from New York City to the Catskills country for about nine weeks starting with the first weekend of July and ending with the last weekend before labor day. By convention Thursday (June 29, 2017 on this year) is the day hasidim first leave for the country and Sunday is the final day. In the intervening weeks, men return to the city every Sunday evening and are back in the country Thursday evening (or Friday morning) to spend the weekend with their wife and family.

The summer “country” is a tradition among hasidic Jews that has by now outlived its original purpose, and yet has found a new function to keep it alive.

It harkens back to before WWII when New York City Jews from a previous non-hasidic immigration wave sought to escape the sweltering heat of the summer in an era when air conditioning had yet to be invented. Apart from the mountainside coolness of the Catskills, bungalow colonies also offered plenty of recreational activities and entertainment, including comedy events, racquetball courts, hiking, and of course, water pools. The custom back then was for the entire family to uproot itself for the duration of the summer vacation; there was no commuting back and forth by a husband who maintained a summertime job in the city. Many of the Jews were, for instance, public school teachers and so were at leave from work for the summer.

Hasidic Jews who arrived in America after the war generally adopted many of the customs that had been established by their predecessor coreligionists, so long as they did not violate the core tenets of haredi doctrine, e.g. gender mixing, violation of the shabbos, and the like. This is how the country-going practice first insinuated itself in the hasidic sector in 1960’s. Comedy halls could easily be converted to synagogues and a fence erected around the pools to keep prying lascivious eyes out when the women are there.

With the advent of indoor air conditioning, with summer time work, and with the widening gap between the convenience of modern housing and the dilapidated state of the bungalows, we would have expected the demise of the custom in modern times. But, far from petering out, the custom is undergoing a resurgence in recent years: up to 90% of young hasidic families in Borough Park and Williamsburg attend bungalow colonies for at least “half” the summer. Moreover, whereas past bungalows were rented and poorly maintained, the inchoate trend nowadays is for people to purchase their own bungalows and install better facilities and amenities, e.g. three bedrooms instead of the classical one, central A.C. instead of a mobile unit in the bedroom at best, and proper insulation and pest control.

Dozens of hasidic bungalow colonies dot the Catskills landscape, each of which accommodates around 50 families. Hasidic entrepreneurs operate those colonies as a full-time occupation and charge around 7 thousand dollars for a full summer’s stay that includes utilities and barbones educational programming for kids under ten years of age; (older kids are not with their families — they attend sleepover summer camps).

Alpine Acres is one of a handful of new bungalows-for-sale developments in recent years. It is larger than the typical colony, comprising 120 housing units of up to three bedrooms each. The condominiums, with a price tag of around $220,000, are better built, equipped and maintained than the classical bungalow and their owners use them sporadically year round, e.g. on a “nice shabbos” and on shavuos. Other new developments are Swan Manors, developments by Mr. Greenfield, one in Monticello and one in Mountain Dale.

With the high cost of the bungalow colony practice and with the new for-sale developments being substantially equivalent to their dwellers’ city residences, what explains the enduring and compelling motive for hasidim to continue to “go to the country” these days?

The force of tradition coupled with peer pressure would be the obvious explanation. But critics suggest that there is another dynamic at play here, though few would admit it frankly: domestic harmony. Unlike mainstream marriages, which are voluntary, initiated by the principals, and are the culmination of a protracted period of courtship, hasidic marriages are largely forced and automatic. The spouses do not choose each other, nor the time or age of their marriage, nor the timing of intercourse, nor the romantic activities that they engage in together as a couple. All are tightly prescribed or proscribed by community norms that nobody dares question. Consequently, if a man wants to kick back and enjoy a movie, he is wary of doing so with his wife or even with her knowledge thereof. The ideal time for it, rather, is when she is not around altogether, i.e. during a summer midweek when the wife and family are in the country while he occupies the Brooklyn apartment all by himself. Ironically, it is a safer bet to confide or even share an illicit movie-watching activity with a male buddy than with his wife. His wife is merely a procreative roommate. Even a mid-week Las Vegas gambling excursion might be surreptitiously had without the bungalow-sequestered wife ever finding out about it.

Women are likewise content to be apart from their husbands. They get to spend copious amounts of time kibitzing with fellow women members of the colony; their cooking-for-the-husband-and-kids chore is suspended; and they need not dress up (e.g. blouse and dress, and wig) before going out, as the entire colony is considered one big communal home. Some even relax modesty strictures, something they wouldn’t dare do in the presence of their husbands.

For both man and woman, mutual separation allows them the latitude to engage in a “vacation”, that, ironically, they could not have had whilst together. And the family is willing to chalk up the high price for this “vacation by dint of separation” under the ruse of “we’re doing it for the kids”.

The kids indeed do enjoy and look forward to going to the country. For one, they have very little school in the summer –only about three hours of light learning in the morning arranged by the colony management. Secondly they get to engage is “sports” that their parents won’t allow them to do year round in the city. We’re not talking ball-playing here; that isn’t tolerated no matter when and where. But bicycle riding is now permitted — the same bicycle that is disparagingly called a “shaigetz (abominable) bike” in the city, is now kosher for use. Urban public parks and swimming pools are also shunned by most Williamsburg folk but such facilities can be enjoyed in a kosher manner in a bungalow colony (pools there have separate hours for men and women, to keep the genders segregated).

But the primary beneficiaries of the bungalow colony are the husband and wife who recharge and rejuvenate by not being together.


A Spate of Suicides Hits the OTD Community

Three unrelated suicides rocked the OTD (Off The Derekh) Jewish sector in recent weeks. They are all reputed to be drug-related but it is not clear that they were all deliberate -some of them may have been accidental overdoses.

Mayer Green and his consort Smash Levy with their beloved animals.

The first one was by Meyer Nick Green. He was born in New Square and and raised in the Skverer Hasidate. It is not known when and what prompted him to leave the close-knit and tightly-restricted Skeverer village lifestyle, but his Facebook page shows that in recent years he had settled in California and become an avid dog groomer. He was in a loving relationship with a girl by the name of Smash Levy who was equally enamored with the dogs and the grooming profession.

There are no signs of any social or emotional distress leading up to his demise. Facebook-published photos show him blithely socializing with friends, trimming his beloved dogs, and optimistic about advancing his grooming career and even starting his business. It is therefore probable that his demise was the result of an unintentional overdose or a lethal combination of drugs.

Another drug-induced death happened in Flatbush to a litvish girl by the name of Faigy Greenfield. No Facebook account or further information is available at this time about her and the circumstances of her death.

Lastly the haredi world was shocked to learn this past shabbos that a recently departed member of its ranks had now left the world of the living. Malka Klein, a young, attractive woman in the prime of

Malky Klein Embraced by her Loving Mom and Dad

her life died suddenly on Friday night from a drug overdose in her parents’ home in Borough Park. Her father, Abraham Klein, claims that he had kept a close eye on his daughter to ensure that no drugs were in her possession, yet it’s possible that she had left the house that evening to obtain and ingest the drug elsewhere and then returned home with a ticking time bomb fatal overdose inside her.

The Klein family is an affluent, esteemed, “baalebatisher”, Borough Park family. Abraham frequently travels to Beijing on business and has modernized somewhat, trimming his beard and sending his kids, including the deceased Malka, to Bais Yaakov instead of a hasidic

Malky Klein in Pants After her Haredi Departure

school. He is an important adherent and donor to the Krulle hasidic sect in Williamsburg under the leadership of its Rebbe, R. Naftul Horowitz, son of Reb Hershelle Spinker who is proud to count him among his adherents.

After Malka had abandoned the haredi lifestyle in her early 20’s a couple of years ago, the family had decided, as is common nowadays, to not disown her for it. It kept its house open for her and welcomed her to return to visit and hopefully return to the fold. It could not, however, track or control Malka’s whereabouts outside the home. She had travelled to California at some point, ostensibly for rehab treatment, but it may have been a social visit or to some other end.

The recent proliferation of deaths among those who have left the haredi sector is hotly debated among various stakeholders. Each tends to point the blaming finger on the “other” as the primary or sole reason for psychotropic drug abuse among OTD’ers.

OTD’ers: It’s the Oppressive Haredi System in Which We are Raised

The OTD community attributes the blame to the insular nature of the haredi subculture which makes it difficult for those who leave its ranks to successfully adjust to mainstream practices. They point, for instance, at the deficiency or lack of secular education in the boys’ schools as a the reason young OTD men can’t find gainful employment achieve a successful career, or even feel comfortable in courtships and relationships. They engage in drugs, they argue, in order to palliate the emotional pains emanating from such a desperate and hopeless situation.

Haredim: It’s the Wanton Irreligious Lifestyle that is Inherently Decadent and Fatal

According to Haredi doctrine the Jewish tradition guides the life of its people on the right path, one is that constructive, wholesome and beneficial to oneself and the community. By deviating from the righteous path –by recklessly discarding “the yoke of Torah and commandments”– one is in effect embracing nihilism and immorality and eventually reaps the poisonous fruit of what they have sown.

Zvi Gluck: Professional Help is What’s Needed

Zvi Gluck is the son of the eminent Rabbi Edgar Gluck (NYPD chaplain) and founder of Amudim (pillars) –an organization that “supports those in crisis and guides them to success” according to its website. He advocates for professional intervention by trained and certified psychologists when “at-risk” individuals or behaviors are identified. This runs contrary to the instincts of haredi clerical leaders who are suspicious of all outsiders, especially ones who have attained a secular degree based on partially heretical scientific precepts which they then use to guide the behavior of its own members. Nevertheless, argues Gluck, the technique and methodology devised and perfected by psychological experts is sound, and it is not only acceptable but imperative to employ it in the service of at-risk haredi youth instead of relying on untrained rabbis and communal coaches who use unscientific behavior modification methods that ultimately backfire.

Nohum Rosenberg: We Need to Root Out the Pedophiles

R. “Nuchem” Rosenberg is a one-issue advocate. He sees everything that occurs in Haredi society through the prism of pedophilia. All communal problems and individual flaws can be explained, according to the Rosenberg theory, by the prevalence of “pigs”, i.e. pedophiles, who roam the community and prey on defenseless children unimpeded by communal authorities because they are ashamed to admit that such grievous crimes are being committed under their watch. Rosenberg believes that the high rate of OTD departures and the ensuing personal problems of the departees are a direct consequence of their being sexually molested as children.