JWR Wandering Jews

Jewish World Review Mach 17, 2003 / 10 Adar II, 5763


Finding the Essence

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Dublin is called the fair city, and so it is. There is a palpable gentleness about its streets. The people smile and are very courteous.

Unfortunately, its Jewish community has shrunk in the past few decades. From a post war high of five thousand, these days, it has a mere eight hundred.

It was to this depleted yet active congregation that I had come to visit. We were here to participate in the wedding of a young couple who had individually spent several years in our community in Manchester, England.

We were staying at one of the city's finer hotels and on our first night, we took a stroll through the area. The streets were full of young people and American tourists. The Americans come in droves to visit what for many of them is, as we Jews say, the Alter Heim, Old Country.

There are probably more folks in New York City of Irish descent than there are in the whole of Ireland. There seems to be a tacit agreement between the natives and the visitors. The Irish pretend to be living in a time warp of some one hundred years or so -- they run "Ye Olde pubs" and sing "Ye Olde songs" -- and this keeps the tourists happy, as the boost for the country's economy is not inconsequential.

After our stroll, the rebbetzin (rabbi's wife and helpmate) and I went back to the hotel and relaxed in the lobby, giving our weary feet some much needed rest. Sitting in the corner was a strange looking fellow who could have been one of the tourist attractions. He was small, with a long white beard and a head of hair that seemed to be made of spun sugar. At first glance, one could have mistaken him for a leprechaun --- only this one kept drinking large glasses of the local brew of dark beer.

After some moments this fellow rose from his corner perch and weaved his way toward us.

The rebbetzin became a bit agitated, knowing full well from experience that her husband has a penchant for shmoozing with life's down and outs.

"Don't say anything, he must be drunk," was her only remark.

Too late. Our leprechaun was already at the table extending a wizened hand in greeting.

"And where do your people come from," he asked, starting his conversation with "and," as if we have been holding a long dialogue that somehow was discontinued in midstream.

Not knowing what he meant exactly, we demurred a bit and mumbled something about America.

"No, where did they come from originally."

The Irish, like everybody else, know all too well that no one really comes from the U.S.A. I mentioned Poland, and his eyes lit up. His people hailed from Latvia.

"Oh," I said. Well, that's that, I thought. But the Irish (even the Litvisha [Lithuanian] kind), it seems, love to shmooze, and so he continued by telling us of his past history.

A rabbi, I tried to figure out if this fellow was, in fact, a Jew --- but I couldn't. Instead, he was a bit cagey and tried to pry information out of me, as rocked back and forth in an unstable fashion.

I could see from the my rebbetzin's eyes that famous Rubin question, "Why do all the Meshuganas (ecentrics) of the world start up with you?"

After some time, this fellow stood to leave, but not before telling me, "I am a Jew, and my name is Yaakov ben-Menasha." And with a final flourish, he added --- "HaCohen," identifying him as a descendant of the priestly class.

Finally our friend had broke out of his cover. Yes, he was a Jew --- and had lived in Dublin his entire life. But, it turned out , he was in fact a very angry Yid who had severed all contact with the Jewish world.

He told us that he was angry at the rabbis, the ballebatim (laity), and everyone else in between.

I felt pity for the guy. He was alone in his Jewishness, and felt aggrieved in return.

His eyes flared with heat. There was a mixture of pride, pain, and willfulness.

Sweet Dublin, what a shame! The poor neshoma (soul) of this cohen was obviously a tortured one. There are so many like him. And in this world of diminishing numbers, it hurts to realize this.

The next day started with a lovely sun shining over the city. We soon made our way to the town's last remaining shul (synagogue). There was an air of excitement that could actually be felt.

This was going to be a chupah (wedding ceremony) that the whole of Ireland would remember. Guests were arriving from all over, with some thirty or more students making ready for some serious celebration.

These youngsters had been part of a group that had spent their three or more university years frequenting our shul. They hail from all over the globe and are bound together by a unique involvement with our Torah.

Some of the young had very little experience of such a lifestyle before entering university. They had become frum (reclaimed their heritage) through the warmth and friendship they saw from the others.

The kallah (bride) is the daughter of one of Ireland's most religious and balabatisha (well-heeled) families, and it was through her example that many of the college girls first became interested and intergrated in Yiddishkeit (Judaism).

She attended services every day, and exemplified through her day to day actions how rewarding a Torah way of life can be.

I was humbled to be able to partake in this simcha (lifecycle celebration), and felt a bit of awe when thinking of how difficult it must have been for her entire family to persevere under such circumstances.

Soon the chupah began. The choson(groom) stood, in accordance to Jewish law, under the canopy, outside in front of the shul --- and another first for Ireland.

The kallah arrived and started circling him seven times, in accordance to Jewish custom. Grasped in her hand was a tear-stained Tehilimel (book of Psalms). Her eyes were closed in deep concentration. When a few moments later, after the Jewish custom of crushing of a glass, it seemed as if all of Dublin's Jews erupted in song!

Mi k'amcho Yisroel: What nation is like yours, Hashem?

In a world gone mad with materialism, Your children choose to stand under a chupah in Ireland and pray to You for further generations of Torah observant Jews.

The seuda (mitzvah meal) was wonderful, the dancing divine. Songs never heard on this Emerald Island were sung with gusto, and blessings seldom thought of, were given to one and all.

At one point I found myself dancing with the groom amidst all of his friends. Tears came to my eyes. I laid my head on his shoulder and wept for the joy of the moment.

How good the Creator has been to us all, what majesty His people can aspire to.

This was a flash of time that words would never be able to express. Hearts were healed, souls set aflame! Anyone witnessing this Dublin wedding will no doubt keep and cherish the memory for many years to come.

The next day gave me pause to consider all that I had experienced. That old, ecentric fellow with his white beard would not leave my thoughts. How did he fit into the equation? What had set him upon a path that had kept him from celebrating with us such a simcha? Was he not a Yid, and nuch (natch), a cohen, to boot? Where does one go wrong, when do we turn?

In the Torah portion of Vo'eschanan we find Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) reiterating the most vital of our Mitzvos, Divine duties. Once again he repeats the Ten Commandments, underlining the very core of our beliefs. We then learn the Krias Shma, that most pivotal declarations of Jewish faith.

In it, we find the Mitzva of loving the Creator with everything we have and are. The great Chassidic sage, Sfas Emes, asks how is it possible to command one to love, when such a feeling comes from the heart and is as an emotion that can't be turned on or off at will?

He answers that every one of us is born with a love of the Divine. It is, he observes, part of our very being.

The tragedy is that without activating the sparks of that love, our hearts atrophy and become cold.

The Krias Shma is meant to rectify our sense of that love, and thereby activate it in our reality of life. If one's Judaism is experienced as bitterness and anger, then that love will soon dissipate into the gloom of one's own misery. For us to be truly loving of Our Father in Heaven, we must work on doing things that underline that connection at every level.

Dancing with the Dublin groom taught me this once again: We are so blessed, only love could explain how we are attached to our Creator.

With this continuous flow of love we can be, and have been, the Divine's people. Moses exhorts his people: "From there you will seek Hashem,, your G-d, and will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul."

It makes no difference where the "from there" is. It could be Dublin, Manchester, and yes, even Brooklyn. If we use the inborn love of the Divine, we can find Him!

In truth, gutta Yidden (wise, religious Jews) have explained that "from there" means from your inner-self.

This is Moses' promise, and I've witnessed its fruition on this Emerald Island.

  —   Rabbi Yitzchok Reuven Rubin

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Rabbi Yitzchok Reuven Rubin is a columnist for The Jewish Tribune. Comment by clicking here.

A Chassidic Yankee in Queen Elizabeth's Court

© 2003, The Jewish Tribune