August 1, 2008

Too much remembering

Filed under: My childhood, What went wrong, What went right? — Reb Moshe @ 5:33 am

Tonight I have a bit of a migrain so I have been stuck in bed remembering old times and struggles. I think if I shared some of it, nobody would believe me. It wasn’t an easy life being one of the few Jews in my city. Of course, we were the only ones who lived the life openly with kipahs, tzitzis and even payis. Yeah, unlike some might think, I grew up religious my entire life. It is unusual for someone like myself to have an understanding of people who come from secular backgrounds but for me, I learned to understand both worlds. Since this was the case, going into outreach naturally was my destiny. I learned to be understanding of people the hard way though.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the best way to remain alive and healthy was to become cool enough that people wouldn’t want to mess with me. Through sports and my athletic abilities, I became friends with gang members, KKK members, drug dealers and you name it. Now I don’t know if I was really a friend but enough to have protective status most of the time. I really can’t explain it all. Just imagine a KKK guy telling his buddies to leave me alone since I was cool. Now picture dangling payis, a bulls hat and a short kid. Doesn’t really make very much sense does it? I can’t really explain how I pulled this off but between the skateboarding, bike jumping, basketball and running home to put on tefillin, it somehow worked out though. But it wasn’t always so quiet.
Now I didn’t live in the inner city or anything like that but our township decided to move in section 8 into our area to help clean up the inner city streets. This brought our suburb house value down and before we knew it, our nice neighborhood was different. People moved in that hated Jews and when the police got a call for any violence in the neighborhood, they would know our street address. In fact, some of the officers knew our first names. We were the religious Jews in the wrong place.
While most of the violence was limited to snow balls, firecrackers and name calling. Sometimes things got really at of hand. So much for me personally that I decided to keep things to myself. It was already painful enough for my parents and they had no money to move. They never really knew what I confronted daily. Even so, I had my protection in place or at least I had dreamed that part up well enough. It would take hundreds of pages and a auto biography to write it all down but tonight I am remembering some small details. Like I said though, you wouldn’t believe all the details if I spoke of them.

I still remember the light reflecting off the knife as it pushed against my neck. Seeing the riffle aimed at me, the pickup truck at my bumper chasing me at high speeds, rallies of people outside our house chanting Jew… maybe it was 50 of them night after night. So how could such a place of such misery even today bring me comfort? How can it be a place that I miss with all my heart and wish I could visit again? Did I dream up all this violence?

I learned by age 21 that your biggest fears, you have to face head on. Running away is never the answer. In fact, all your answers are in the fears and problems themselves. When I realized that I had to make the best of what I had, used this energy to study more Torah, and the neighborhood slowly improved. For an entire year and a half, not one incident accrued and those who troubled me, moved out. I found the place a sanctuary for learning Torah and improvement. Too me, this place was like the Baal Shem Tovs forest, I could turn it around for the better.

I know what you are all thinking, I should write an auto-biography but I am afraid to do this for Loshon Hara because as you can imagine, why hadn’t other Jews come to our aid? Didn’t anyone know of our troubles?

Looking back, is my true pain from those who wanted to cause me harm or from those who could have done more to help out but looked away? Then again, maybe today I am no different then them with my shiny white shirt and black shoes. Maybe I have forgotten what it is like to be alone in the world with just Hashem. It could be, this is why I want to return to my roots, to remember the great Shabbos meals I used to have where my only friend was Hashem. Where I understood the importance of even the smallest pain of a Jew. The days when I felt Hashem protecting me at every moment. The first days when I began ilovetorah. It was all in this place, Walkersville, Maryland.
Good Shabbos


  1. For you to have a migraine doesn’t seem fair. After all, doesn’t the Talmud say that the antidote for migraines is immersing oneself in Torah? It is interesting, even as I was typing this, I got a mild migraine.

    I used to be friendly with the two most extreme groups in school. The “coolest” or those with the most iniquities (Hashem spare us), and the “intellectuals.” In high school, at the same time I was introduced to discussions both illegal and inappropriate in most probably any civilized society, I was asked to assist with the construction of a robot.

    This isn’t my blog, but sometimes in life you meet up with others who have led parallel lives … at least in some ways.

    Comment by Yonason Shlomo — August 3, 2008 @ 7:15 am

  2. Thank you for being transparent for our benefit. It helps me realize how much we all suffer abuse. I believe there is an anointing on certain souls who have a high calling, a destiny to fulfill. To be anointed means to be placed in a hostile environment and flourish anyway. The evil one can smell this anointing because he spent enough time before the Throne of G-d to know what the anointing smells like. Take yourself for example. No doubt the enemy wanted to take your life before you could fulfill your destiny. I believe this is why some people innocently suffer more during their lifetime than others.

    Comment by jodi — August 3, 2008 @ 7:53 am

  3. “I still remember the light reflecting off the knife as it pushed against my neck. Seeing the riffle aimed at me, the pickup truck at my bumper chasing me at high speeds…”
    Could you elaborate on one of these stories, just slightly?

    Comment by Michael Berg — August 3, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

  4. I was with some friends outside once and a KKK member grabbed my neck from behind and put a 8inch hunting knife to my neck. At first people thought he was joking but then everyone kept telling him it isn’t worth it and he was debating if he should kill me. The knife was poking my neck and it was extremely sharp as it was designed to kill. I closed my eyes and started saying shema. There were about 20 people around, half were his friends and half mine. The person had been in jail before and so his father. We were both sweating me and him and his friends were really scared he was going to kill me as were mine. We all knew he was crazy enough to do it. There were other previous encounters with this guy (a few other stories)
    I told the guy to put the knife down also though I could barely move my jaw without the blade slicing me. I was very good with talking my way out of problems, but then I continued with saying shema and when i finished, he put the knife down. I started walking away in shock and breathless and his friends and mine starting walking after me. They were pleading with me not to tell my father and to let it go cause he was drunk. Everyone was scared of my father. That day, I went right to my room and I thought about what happened. I decided that the pain it would cause my father was too much (in the past, whenever we called police for anything, it never helped & nobody would be a witness out of fear) and from this moment on, whatever happened in the future, I would deal with myself. I mean, how would you react to someone trying to kill your kid? People were shocked I didn’t tell and everyone there that day kept it a secret and this person never bothered me again. As I walked away, everyone was still in shock and we all knew how close this was.
    This is just one story but i was tempted to delete the entire post.

    Comment by Reb Moshe — August 3, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  5. “…I should write an auto-biography but I am afraid to do this for Loshon Hara because as you can imagine, why hadn’t other Jews come to our aid? Didn’t anyone know of our troubles?”

    – well… Have you ever read “The Unheeded cry” or Min Hametzar by R’ Michoel Dov Weissmandel? It talks about how Jews in the west turned their eyes from the war, or even interfeared and made it worse.

    Its not Loshen Haro if its common knowledge that they do these things, right?

    Comment by Asa Yitzchak — August 3, 2008 @ 9:13 pm

  6. Well before I write an autobiography, I think I should get edited and published my other works. It would be difficult since I lived in not such populated areas to not hint which people I was hurt by and when. Plus many people asked mechilah years later and if they were to read the real truth of their harm, it might hurt them. It just isn’t so simple to just write it. Certainly it would be theriputic for me to do so and entertaining for you though. At the same time, I wonder often if I talk too much on the blog about shtuot, nonsense that you dont’ need to hear. Then again, if the blog were only Torah, who would come? Asa, I davened for you in tiberias last week.

    Comment by Reb Moshe — August 3, 2008 @ 10:55 pm

  7. Oh, thank you.

    I daven for you in Detroit HaKodesh all the time!
    (And Peshischa, Ger, Krakow, Piazezna, Warsaw, Aleksander…)

    Comment by Asa Yitzchak — August 4, 2008 @ 1:36 am

  8. Saturday, July 14, 2007 on my MySpace site

    Category: Dreams and the Supernatural

    It was Nova Scotia in the early seventies.

    Turning my back on fortune and responsibility, I took to the woods, ‘hiking in’ the three miles to Pollet’s Cove, to walk and lie among the summering cattle and the bleak meadows and hills…the craggy waterfront with its isolated beaches… Not a human within miles—Me, a shtikle plastic, some rope and a blanket, a few more provisions so I’m not dependent on, say, spear fishing…’ I was shadowed by a creature—a neighbor’s dog, who saw me leaving Red River on foot and sensed that there was fun to be had by following behind…Dogs, all animals, love me, especially, because I am irrationally affectionate. They respect that kind of ‘insanity.’

    I lay down to sleep, snuggled deep beneath the blanket—the dog stood guard, or slept by my side with ‘one eye open.’

    In the middle of the night, in my dream, I became aware that the three-year malaise of undiagnosed, untreated Major Depression was a tip of an iceberg, a precursor of a great darkness which was descending. The rush of anxiety began to sweep down upon me like the waves beating upon the beach nearby. Just as I was feeling OVERCOME by the horror of the realization about what faces me, I felt, in the depth of the covered-up blanket, a coarse, wet tongue from a hairy creature—waking me…reassuring me that I do not have to be feeling this desperation now. I knew that mystery was alive and well! Somehow this German Shepherd knew that I was in need ! I was likely in for ‘the ride of a lifetime’ with the Pearly Gates at the ‘end of the rainbow!’

    The lonesome highway can be as gentle or as dangerous as good sense, a good heart and a trust in Our Maker will permit it to be!

    Comment by Paul Chipkin — August 9, 2008 @ 5:54 am

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