Features Archive

To Bnei Brak and Back

 

At noon, we hopped on the buses for the hour-and-a-half journey to Bnei Brak. Once there, we settled ourselves in the Viznitz hotel – a classy, modern place complete with Heimish ambiance. We lunched on a selection of Kugels and a cosy cholent before taking some time to visit the Kevarim of the Chazon Ish, the Steipler and Rebbetzin Kanievsky. Rabbi Isaacson guided us through the white-stone cemetery, bringing these treasured figures to life through insightful stories. We were also given time to privately reflect on our surroundings. Yael Jakobov observed that “the mikva right next to the cemetery was a poignant presentation of the way these people’s lives are completely centred on their Avodat Hashem”.


After Hadlakat Nerot, we strolled together to the Viznitz shul. It was very atmospheric to walk through the bustling streets as Chassidish music rang out between the Shabbat sirens. Meanwhile, there was something intimidating, yet uplifting, about the silent urgency with which the men flocked to shul. Having climbed the many flights to the women’s gallery, we were able to peer through the mechitza at the jaw-dropping sea of Streimels below. It was as if we were watching an army upstanding in court - in terms of the scale, seriousness and uniformity of the Tefillah. Bethany Schneiderman was “very moved by the unity” she sensed while “watching the men standing together, holding hands and swaying”. There would be a rush of desynchronised voices muttering the Teffilot individually before the men all joined together in grand unison to sing uplifting melodies. It was certainly a chavaya!
Back in the hotel, we had a lovely meal filled with the typical MMY flavours of singing, dancing, Divrei Torah and relaxed conversation. Rabbi Katz sprinkled the scene with his own experiences of the Gedolim in Bnei Brak (in his characteristic ‘show and tell’ style) from when he was at our age and stage of life. He presented us with the idea that one may still form connections with a place that they do not consider ‘home’.


With a heart-shaped ice-cream for dessert, the meal was drawn to a close. After Bentsching we gathered to hear Mrs. Glenn – a local Bnei Brak resident – to ascertain more historical information about the city and to receive a first-hand representation of the Chassidic lifestyle. We found her surprisingly easy to relate to. For example, many of us were under the impression that, to a certain extent, women are regarded as second class citizens in this society. However, Racheli Goldberg learnt from Mrs. Glenn that it is “often the women who serve as the ‘bread-winners’. They seem comfortable with their roles”. She suggests that “even if I don’t see myself living like that, it works for them”. After a brief exploration of Chassidut, Mrs. Glenn explained the traditional functioning of a Tisch. She then guided us to experience a conventional Tisch at Nedvorna. It was a more solemn affair than expected. We saw the Rebbe sitting at the head of the table – a shining silver cup at his place – tapping his hand to the niggunim of his Chassidim in the rows and bleachers in front of him. We then watched two silver platters of lima beans being tasted by the Rebbe and passed around as ‘Shirayim’.  
The second Tisch in the Viznitz shul had a more vivacious, engaging quality (not least because we met the Midreshet Tehilla girls). Shira Greenberg was “astounded by the sheer number of Chassidim gathered to celebrate the spirit of Shabbos”. It was a late but lovely Friday night.


At some inhuman hour of the morning, girls with a zest for experience ventured out to the Ponovitch Yeshiva for a very different style of davening. We then scattered ourselves amongst different families in Bnei Brak for Shabbat lunch. Walking through the streets in the sublime spring sunshine can be enlightening (*no pun intended). One talks to one’s friends about the events of the Shabbaton – which inevitably expands to life in general depending on how long one is walking for. In addition to walking and talking, one observes the residents going to and from their own Shabbat meals; the men in their Streimels and Bekkeshas; the women dressed with regal modesty; and the children in sweet matching outfits. One also notices the infrastructure of Bnei Brak, such as the many Yeshivot dotting the streets, and, in general, an air of fulfilment and joy in their Torah-centred lives.
Everyone’s lunch experiences were unique. Some girls had discussion -based meals; others found themselves set up with less didactic families. Some families were Chassidish, others were more mainstream Charedi. It was interesting to discuss our individual experiences during ‘Menucha’ time in the hotel.  


The afternoon programme consisted of two speakers and Seudah Shelishit. The first speaker, Rabbi Bloch, was one of the founders of Nachal Charedi. What we understood of his speech (for many of us are still striving to perfect our Hebrew) was objective and insightful into this controversial topic. Judith Schächter was impressed by the way he “clarified the debate on Charedim in the army as well as the general Charedi approach to this issue. He cultivated Ahavat Chinam”. Following this, we had a pleasant Seudah Shelishit before the final speaker arrived. Mrs. Kosman came to present her own perspective of Chassidut as well as her organisation which reaches out to secular Israelis on college campuses. She invoked a lot of discussion and provided us with the opportunity to express our own perceptions of the Bnei Brak lifestyle (pre- and post-Shabbaton).


Regardless of whether or not we align ourselves as a school, or as individuals, to this way of life, it was heart-warming to experience the tolerance and acceptance between two truthful paths to Avodat Hashem. MMY exposes us to such communities to instil these values within us. There is always something to learn from others, even if they think differently, dress uniquely and follow different (or additional) Gedolim.  All in all the Shabbaton engendered increased Ahavat Yisrael, and that would seem to have been the goal from the start. So a successful and uplifting Shabbaton it was!

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