Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Bridge over Troubled Waters

We're in the eye of a storm once again and it's now happening with such frequency that storm is almost the new balmy. Laugh at us if you must but if excitement means x had a baby girl after 6.9 boys followed by "Wow!that'sjustsomoiredik", and pushing at the boundaries of knowledge is discovering from the reverse phone search at the back of the Shomer Shabbos the name behind the mobile number advertising second hand tin foil dishes and glatt kosher slippers which will cover you toe to ankle so that when in a floor-length housecoat if you stretch your hand to fix that net curtain after an extra-long peep it still won't show even a hint of varicose veins, if that is how excitement is defined then you should appreciate why a tornado once in a while gives us the frisson of cold water to a weary soul.

But let's not run away with this one despite the whiff of Salem and McCarthy about it and not to mention Tehran and Raqqa. As this blog has said time and again, storm or no storm the winds of change are blowing all around us and to which, thank the Lord, Stamford Hill is no exception. We can't have it both ways: either we're a backwater and we end up with the problems of Gateshead or we're a 21st century metropolis to match the greatest out there like Bnei Berak and Borough Park and for that we must also share some of their blight.

And so here goes. A few years ago a woman with roots in Stamford Hill left the community. Not so rare these day but this one was an exception. Because rather than skulk away as is expected of those who discover that there's more to life than Oldhill Street and Dunsmure Road have to offer she left firmly on her own terms. Not only has she given press interviews and spoken publicly of what heaven on earth means in practice, she also set up an organisation called Gesher (bridge, in Hebrew) to assist others hitting the ground as they make the extra-terrestrial landing from that heaven.

Many will undoubtedly disagree but I regard her efforts as laudable. So as to justify the cradle-to-shive gravy train and the multitude of chesed to fatten the few and give the rest target practice for their hakoras hatov, we rear our offspring to be as unself-sufficient as possible and to leave the rest to the askonim.

Dare to snip your lifelong umbilical cord, or leash for short, and you will be forced to fend for yourself in a very scary place. Hatzole won't rescue you after the inevitable drugs overdose and shomrim won't be there to apprehend your attacker after being glassed on a Saturday night. For whether you admit it or choose to live in denial that is the lamentable lot of those not reared on Torah Tzivo from 3 years old. And so those who make the choice to leave often do quite literally sink because round here even being taught how to swim is a monopolistic racket of its own.

You can see what Gesher is up to on its website, with support groups and practical assistance for those drifting away. More importantly though to our story are the fair number who may not be interested to leave but are nonetheless keen on meeting up with likeminded people -men and women together no less- for a chat or whatever else they do at these gatherings. I have never attended but reports suggest that scions of nice and even choshuv local families pop up from time to time. ('Nice' in this context meaning 2 or 3 buy to lets, some chesed on the side and never having put as much as a sheitel hair out of place; whereas 'choshuv' can mean anything from a top-table seat at a sholem zocher to running one's own shul.)

It is possible, and those of a sensitive disposition please turn away, that even Darwin is mentioned at such meetings. I can't say for sure but I really wouldn't be surprised if it gets as bad as that rachmone litzlon.

So as far as Salem goes this is a rather easy one. It will come as no surprise how this pioneering young woman is viewed round here but since she makes no effort to conceal herself there's not much of a hunt for this particular 'witch'. For their part, however, the turnips who've made it their business to regulate almost every aspect of our lives have not yet figured out how to deal with her. Their arsenal of exposure, expulsion, boycott and dismissal with the WMD of excluding kids from local schools proves ineffective with someone who's put her neck out and leads from the front. It is in the face of this that the system is as lost as a rabbi on a witness stand.

The McCarthyism at work, however, is an entirely different story. The search is on for commies in our midst: the viper's nest, the fifth column, the snakes in the grass, the epicureans in the temple. In addition to the Gesher meetings which have been simmering for some time there recently emerged reports of youngsters (and perhaps oldsters too) who slip away on a Friday night beyond the non-existent eiruv boundaries to the greener pastures of Dalston and Shoreditch and beyond. The reports said they merely went bowling which is local shorthand for the very pinnacle of La Dolce Vita. Ko Riboin and Ko Echsoif are wonderfully uplifting tunes which send goose pimples up many a spine but apparently some find greater solace in will.i.am and Adele (pronounced, incidentally, Ahdell and NOT Eideleh). There is no accounting for people's tastes and unfortunately this is just how it is.

These murmurs gradually grew into a roar when more credible reports surfaced of individuals tucking in at McDonalds and caught on camera as Big Burger was watching. Marital splits, rabbinical summons and communal disgust quickly followed and the search for potential red, blue and green shirts in our black and white midst took on a new degree of urgency. Which neatly leads us to the crisis as it reached fever pitch.

Facts may be blurred but this hardly matters when you get a stampede of the Modesty Squad's 3 rabbis and 14 volunteers, Satmar 26 and its rabbinical loose cannon if not loose screw, Satmar 86 and its nasty contingent and the rest of the town baying for kedushe. Let the facts look after themselves so long that the intention is Godly and the effect deadly.

And so word reached town that a Gesher cell had been busted and that a rebbe had been caught attending the meets. A rebbe is the name we give to a primary school teacher in a cheder teaching everything bar secular studies which in most cases means teaching 95% of whatever it is that a cheder teaches, and this new angle to the story really did shock the town.

The 'suspect' had violated every stereotype and mental image we have both of rebbes and of the supposed transgressors. We're constantly being told of the havoc caused by the internet but it is supposed to infect only those who are predisposed to some straying. And when it does find a target there are usually outward signs such as shrinkage in the yarmulke and a northward direction for the beard and peyos.

But here was a rebbe who by all accounts is the cream of the crop and to whom an entire community not just entrusted its kids but fought to get their precious neshomolech into his class. A rebbe who could straddle the formidable 26/86 divide of Satmar and teach at both places, who dresses like our forefathers prior to the first partition of Poland, with glasses are from the 1950s and not for a vintage look and a beard that would put any Maharishi to shame. Even if he had not actually crossed the 'Bridge' he was supposedly caught loitering upon it wich is very troubled waters indeed.

Cynics like me might suggest that once in a blue moon we find that rare specimen of a good 'melamed' and he turns out to be a covert apostate. Others queried who would want him in his current state as if desire in its crudest sense is the only motivation for wanting to see what's on the other side. The rest, though, did not simply feel betrayed but shocked and frightened too. The rot has reached the beams holding up our entire edifice and who can tell how far it still has to travel.

It is one thing dealing with rumours of rebbes fiddling kids or giving them an occasional hiding. The latter can be excused if the rebbe is going through a tough a spot of domestic or financial bother and anyway a hiding from time to time won't do the kids any harm. True a broken limb is not ideal but no one has ever died from it and it does the kids a world of good to have the fear of God spelled out on their backsides. And as for the former, that's just rumours and once you get into the fiddling sphere it's lawyer's wigs we reach for. Our unshakeable belief in innocence until never proven because the police are not the solution, social services are out to get us and at the bottom of the pile lurk the self-hating apostates who have no other ambition but to smear us with the worst allegations which are all made up.

But this of course is different. Having an apostate for a rebbe of our dear kinderlech is shaking at the very core of our foundations and so sack him first and then ask questions. Which is exactly what they did. 26 and 86 put aside their differences in a manner not seen since they jointly defended Chaim Halpern from allegations in the UK and Weberman even after a conviction in the US. A single boot will do nicely and if P45s is something they handle at those places then it was two of them that landed on the poor chap's plate. He might be the breadwinner of a large family but where God's honour is at stake we will eradicate the evil in our midst no matter the personal cost. It is only when a woman or child cry foul that the rules of the game allow for some tenderness, towards the suspect of course.

And from here things get really murky. Within about 24 hours of the deed being done came the backlash. The 'suspect' had just returned from the US having married off a son and when his daughter also got engaged and now his family’s been left without means of support. Who saw him, who said he was there, was surveillance used to nab him and if so who is watching the watchmen, and if he did attend the meeting is that reason for summary dismissal without being allowed a word in his defence? Then came the spinners with a whatsapp audio recording that it's all a setup and that in fact it's the work of another known apostate. This was then followed closely by pious outbursts lamenting malicious gossip which has laid a family to ruin.

You can bet that as soon as the kugel hit the fan the Modesty Squad was nowhere to be seen. The UOHC invertebrates instantly pointed the finger at Satmar who in turn started blaming each other. It is not for this blog to attempt a reconciliation between the warring sides other than to say that it is the UOHC nasties with their 'advice' and 'assistance' who have created the environment within which this has all taken place. Just consider the Orwellian name of The Committee for the Purity of the Camp that those hosiery fetishists and skirt sniffers have titled themselves.

It was only a few weeks ago that they pasted the town with notices calling a drifter who'd advertised his services as a private tutor a 'serious danger' to kids. And this while the UOHC's Childline is left dangling in the hands of their senior member who's given a dispensation to prance about at any number of mixed parties. It is in this malevolent and malicicous atmosphere that the new story broke and for which those scoundrels with their unmatched batallion of volunteers must take the primary blame.

I'll leave the finer details to the rumour mill but in the meantime the culprit or victim, depending on your point of view, was first said to have gone into hiding, then was spotted in Uman and latterly is said to be in Israel. To some he is repenting and being re-radicalised while to others he has always been innocent and is simply waiting for the storm to pass. As to his job, in a twist of irony the gentler souls at Satmar 26 have a cranked up rov who is refusing to take him back while the recently appointed rov at 86 is said to be a finer and more compassionate fellow and not only are they taking him back but are also offering him the hours vacated by 26. The Lord does truly move in mysterious ways round here.

And so a Stamford Hill storm passes into the night. No deluge and flooded homes. Our impregnable fortress has not quite been invaded but it is not intact either. A wall has been breached and who knows what might come blowing in next. For as I write the chill of a new storm with a different name is already being felt.