By Yael Korman
I am a Baalas Teshuva, currently a resident of Crown Heights. The latest talk of town has been confusing me all too much, and whenever I ask, I am simply not satisfied with the answers provided. So I’ve decided to go public.
I have no political agenda, and naturally, I do not have any family ties with any of the involved, which means I am basically unbiased.
I have been hanging around Crown Heights for a couple of months now trying to find a Shul in which I would feel comfortable, without success. Seven-Seventy is overcrowded, some Shuls have no women’s gallery, and the others are mostly run by social or family circles. I was simply stranded.
This was all up until last week, when by recommendation of a friend, I went to the now famous Congregation Ahavas Yisrael (led by Rabbi Chezzi Denebeim).
I loved the atmosphere, the warmth, and the inspiring melodies. Most women were dressed in accordance with Halachic requirements, many men had beards, and it seemed to me like quite a sincere group of people.
But for some reason, there was a touch of intensity. I could feel that this is not just another Shul. There was nervous whispering, many guests stopping by, and my instincts were led to guess that this is something different. I was intrigued.
So I did some homework. Apparently this Shul has been conceived as nothing short of a revolution. I discovered that there is not a man, woman or child in the community who does not have a concrete opinion on the matter. Most people I asked said they heard about it by word of mouth, and they’re not really sure what goes on there, but that doesn’t stop them from having a firm approach to the burning issue.
Then the news gets out that the senior chassid Rabbi Yoel Kahn, who never gets involved in this kind of stuff, made Rabbi Avrohom Osdoba sit with Rabbi Yaacov Schwei on the matter. Rabbis Pinchas Korf and Levi Garelik joined them. The story gets thicker when Rabbi Ezra Shochet from California called the administration of the Shul to admonish them for their “wrongdoings.”
There seems to be a lot of panic, like this Shul plots on overthrowing the establishment or some other evil, drastic disaster of catastrophic magnitude.
This is confusing as well as nerve-wracking. I have been Baalas Teshuva for quite a few years now, and I have yet to see such a commotion in the community over a few well-meaning young men and women.
Ok, so the elder rabbis called in the younger rabbi and made him extend the mechitzah. Of course, he complied. Fine, granted. That’s the Beth Dins job, to guide less experienced rabbis as how to run a Shul. But why the urgency, am I missing out on something?
And why the bad-mouthing? Whoever I meet is talking about this Shul. As if they are reforming Judaism. As if someone’s maledicting the community’s leadership. Someone went so far to proclaim that they’re on a mission to secularize crown heights!
For goodness sake, it’s just a nice Shul. Is it a crime to be welcoming? Is there something wrong with being inspired by the Chabad born composer, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach? Does it say in the Torah that men and women must be seated separately for a lecture (not prayers or a meal)? What’s wrong with compromising on cultural nuances, to attract more people to prayers?
Does Lubavitch not mean love? Do we stand for acceptance of every individual? Is there not a teaching that one must judge each other favorably? Has the Rebbe not taught that every Jew and Jewess can and should serve god on their own level? How do these Rabbis understand the Chassidic premise of Ahavas Yisrael?
I understand that the ultra Chassidic would not feel at home there, but no one is forcing anyone to come. This is a democratic country, and God is not owned by the zealots.
I know I am new ’round here, so I may have totally misunderstood the situation.
So please help me, enlighten me.
CLARIFICATION: Rabbi Garelik told COLlive he did not attend a meeting of any sorts on this topic. He did not want to elaborate what he thinks about Chevra Ahavas Yisroel.