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Come with Me: In memory of Rav B.C. Shloime Twerski ztz”l, Hornosteipler Rebbe

Ruchama Feuerman

We had been told that a famous chassidic rabbi — a rebbe — was coming to the Shabbaton. And there he was. He was bony with a pear-shaped head and deep-set aristocratic eyes — like the old Jews Rembrandt painted. To my 14-year-old eyes, he looked ready to keel over, but he couldn’t have been more than 60.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

pathI was attending an NCSY weekend, the purpose of which was to draw Jewish teenagers nearer to the Torah’s traditions. Although I went to an Orthodox high school and observed Shabbos and kept kosher, I (along with a number of my classmates) was on a trajectory toward assimilating into the American melting pot. Yeshivah was no match for the glittering jewels of disco dancing and popular culture.

It was my fifth time at a NCSY Shabbaton. I maintained a sly, subversive presence. I called out inappropriate phrases in Hebrew or Yiddish during peak moments, when a rabbi or staff member was trying to get across an important religious message. The staff didn’t care for my attitude, but didn’t kick me out either.

Sometimes, though, the lectures or the beautiful songs got to me, and I fought the hot lump climbing up my throat. No one was going to make me more religious. I would never give up my beloved overalls to wear long Ortho skirts outside of school, or mutter blessings under my breath before I ate. No way. And no one was going to manipulate me into crying.

I was in terrible pain then. My parents’ marriage was disintegrating, month by month, meal by meal. As soon as my parents came home from work, I hid in my room so as to avoid the tense and desolate atmosphere of our family dinner. I was already envisioning their split-up and which parent I’d have to stay with, when I really wanted to live with the other parent but didn’t dare admit it. I didn’t dare feel anything, because then everything would fall apart. Feelings were suspect, treif. And so there, at the Shabbaton, I stayed dry-eyed — no matter what.

So why did I keep coming back? The chance to meet other people was a big draw — my class at the yeshivah high school consisted of nine girls. And of course, I leapt at any chance to get away from home.

On that particular weekend, this chassidic rebbe from Denverjoined us. At one point during the sit-down meal, he got up to don a gold brocade beketshe — some kind of smoking jacket worn by rebbes, said my friend who knew about such things. For the rest of the Shabbaton, though, he walked around without any jacket or hat, just in a white shirt and black pants, slouching a little, or sitting inclined to one side, leaning on a flinty elbow. Despite his low-key demeanor, he had an undeniably strong presence. When he gave a dvar Torah, I noticed how all the teenagers tilted toward him in that unconscious way young children lean toward parents when they tell a story.

 

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