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Kindness, Zeal, and Old-Time Appeal

Yerucham Landesman

Walking down Rechov Meah Shearim in their striped caftans, they seem to be symbols of peace and simplicity. Yet they are often portrayed in the media – whose attention they shun – in far harsher colors. Misphacha met with leading figures in Toldos Aharon, for a first-ever comprehensive look at the introverted chassidus.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Walking down Jerusalem’s Rechov Meah Shearim and nearing its eastern end, where it intersects with Rechov Shivtei Yisrael, is like entering a time warp. The streets, buildings, and the residents seem to have been frozen in the era when this neighborhood was first inhabited some 130 years ago.

Young people stride alongside old men hobbling on canes, but all seem united in purpose. Adorned in striped caftans and wide-brimmed hats (called “supers” by the locals), with their white, crocheted yarlmulkas peeking out from beneath, they forge ahead, head bent forward and eyes to the ground. 

Across the street, a group of sweet young Yerushalmi children amble along in clothes that seem to have survived for a century, a thick, rich Yiddish dialect rises up from the group.

On this Friday night, I turn off of Rechov Meah Shearim and enter a Beis Midrash filled to capacity by Chassidim adorned in golden-striped caftans, wrapped in taleisim donned in honor of Mincha and Kabbolas Shabbos, in keeping with the Yerushalmi custom.

The huge crowd is dotted with Yidden who seem to have fallen into this scene by chance, their black hats or knitted, colorful kipot in stark contrast to the otherwise uniform crowd. The unique nussach filled with energy, yearning, and passion, along with scene of the hundreds of taleisim glowing in the bright room against the backdrop of the darkening skies behind the windows, are reminiscent of Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur eve in other shuls.

The nights of Chol HaMoed Succos find this very room filled with thousands of Jews of every stripe and color. They are greeted with warmth and quickly join the circles of dancing men, celebrating the Simchas Beis Hasho’evah in fine Yerushalmi fashion – though they will be exhorted not to film or take photos. And they are welcome to step out into the succah, where they can grab a bite to eat and experience the true happiness that fills the souls of the Yidden who live simply, yet fulfilling lives.

Welcome to the world of the Toldos Aharon Chassidim, or the “Rav Aralech,” as they are commonly known.

 

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