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We Won’t Let Go

Riki Goldstein

Your zeide was an Oberlander, tenaciously clinging to the old nusach and minhagim his family lived by for generations. But you live among 21st-century Yidden who are neatly grouped into categories of “chassid” or “Litvak.” Why hold on to those unfashionable customs, continuing to daven, dress, and act in the ancient style of a group whose ranks are shrinking?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

If you’re an Oberlander, chassidim call you a Litvak and the litvish call you a chassid. But while the heimishe style of dress might look chassidish, an Oberlander Yid davens Nusach Ashkenaz and his minhagim bear a definite Ashkenaz stamp. While the frum world tends to clump everyone into easily identifiable boxes, Oberlanders — Jews whose ancestors came from neighboring Austria and Czechoslovakia to settle in the “Oberland” (the “highlands,” or northwestern Hungary), as opposed to the “lowlanders,” who later immigrated to eastern Hungary from the borders of Galicia, Ukraine, and Romania — bear their own distinct heritage, stubbornly clinging to the customs of their oft-misunderstood historic communities. Your zeide lived in Nitra, in Unsdorf, in Paks, or in Szerdehel. He lived according to the mesorah of his fathers and grandfathers, the community following their rav in matters big and small, and the way forward was clear and uncompromising — there were no shortcuts yet no complications. But you live in Yerushalayim, Boro Park, or London. On the corner is a chassidishe shtiebel, the next block yeshivah alumni. Your neighbors, lovely upright Yidden, are all serving the same G-d. So why hold on to the nusach and the minhagim that are so unfashionable today? Why continue to daven and dress in the style of a group that seems to be shrinking? Reb Baruch Weissmandl is a scion of a prominent Oberlander family, a baal tefillah, and a staunch member of the Viener shul in Boro Park. He stands up for every last Hungarian custom, but his reasoning is not petty or nostalgic. “Today people tell themselves, ‘I’m more educated than my father, I have bigger nisyonos, I face challenges he never faced — what did my father know about life today?’ We Hungarians don’t say that,” affirms Reb Weissmandl. “We’re hanging on to what our fathers and zeides did for generations. Why? Because if I change one thing today, tomorrow it’ll be something else, and what will hold me back? Let’s say today I’m rushing. But if I skip Tachanun, tomorrow it’ll be Korbanos… I’ve been fasting Beha”b [the Monday-Thursday-Monday fasts following aYomTov] all my life, but this year I have a cold. If I skip it and I live out the year, next year I probably won’t fast, and then I will have lost something…”

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