I

wrote the following ode to summer a few years back, and the words, for me at least, still ring true:

Home or away, summer was when time just stood still. That’s it, that’s summer’s sweet secret, that you can make time, that inexorable, relentless march, come to a stop. Almost.

And I wonder: Was it only back then, when the world was saner, slower, simpler, steadier, that summers could make time stand still? Or can it still be done?

Those words came back to me as I read a piece by Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard, reflecting on a 2007 essay by Charles Krauthammer. It was one of the late writer’s own favorites — an appreciation of his older brother Marcel, who had just died — in which he reminisced about the summers the Montreal-based Krauthammers spent vacationing on Long Island:

For those three months of endless summer, Marcel and I were inseparable, vagabond brothers shuttling endlessly on our Schwinns from beach to beach, ballgame to ballgame. Day and night we played every sport ever invented, and some games, such as three-step stoopball and sidewalk Spaldeen, we just made up ourselves. For a couple of summers we even wangled ourselves jobs teaching sailing at the splendidly named Treasure Island day camp nearby. It was paradise.

Krauthammer ended with a recollection of a photograph of him and Marcel as youngsters, looking, in Hayes’s words, “tanned and relaxed and best friends in the way that only brothers can be”:

Whenever I look at that picture, I know what we were thinking at the moment it was taken: It will forever be thus. Ever brothers. Ever young. Ever summer.

My brother Marcel died on Tuesday, Jan. 17. It was winter. He was 59.

It once occurred to me to suggest an explanation of the word in Lashon Kodesh for eternity, which is netzach. Adding the letters yud and nun to a word acts as a diminutive suffix, reducing the effect of the original word’s meaning. For example, “etzev” means sadness, and “itzavon” denotes a milder form of sadness.

Applying this philological axiom to the word for victory — nitzachon — yields a new understanding of netzach, since it enables us to understand nitzachon as a diminutive form of netzach. Nitzachon is how we describe all the victories, large and small, that we can experience in This World, because they are all, ultimately, inconsequential in comparison to the one great victory that remains elusive — that of eternity.

Man can confront every enemy he has in his time on Earth and hope to vanquish it. Illness, poverty, deprivation of all sorts of essential needs — he can at least aspire to overcome them all. But there isn’t a chance in the world of surmounting mortality, of stopping the advance of time.

In this phase of our existence, time is the implacable foe of us all; everyone is eventually overtaken by the undertaker. Our besting of time will not occur in this fleeting existence; that triumph of triumphs we call netzach will have to wait for another world.

Perhaps the great emotional pull of the “endless summer,” of this time of year when the impossible — time itself slowing to a standstill — seems tantalizingly within reach, is rooted in the truth that real pleasure, the one yet to come, will truly never end. And for that the soul longs. 

 

WHAT, ME ANXIOUS?

My feature on attorney Avi Schick, which appeared in these pages two weeks ago, touched upon the challenge to chassidic schools mounted by some people gathered under the banner of something called YAFFED. I’d refer to it as an organization, but I’m just not sure I want to use that term for a group whose board of directors includes members who identify as L.S. and M.B. (Who do they think they are — letter writers to Mishpacha?)

Schick pithily explained that its agenda is “being pushed by people to whom Torah values are anathema, who’ve made that clear in public statements… where they complain about the yeshivos not offering their students the perspective of progressive societal values.” I’ll say it a bit less diplomatically: The agenda is the one now being aggressively pursued by governments or secular activists on three continents, in New York, Britain, and Israel. It seeks to permanently disable the Torah educational system by stripping parents and educators of the right to spiritual and moral self-determination.

On the group’s website is an article entitled “Who Are the Haredim?” Its author is sociology professor Samuel Heilman, who’s on the speed dial of everyone in the general and secular Jewish media as the go-to authority on the frum community. We’re a regular meal ticket for him, but all we get in return is the venom he disseminates through slanderous media sound-bites and highly tendentious books.

So, who are we Haredim, anyway? Here’s a synopsis of what I learned about myself and a few hundred thousand of my relatives and friends from this instructive essay.

First, we’re “anxious,” which is the very definition of what it means to be “Haredi Orthodox.” And Heaven knows we have more than enough reason for anxiety.

A basic premise of Heilman is that the Haredi Jew is never motivated by positive, worthwhile beliefs or feelings, such as love, commitment, optimism, altruism, or generosity. Nothing he or she does is based on aspirations of spiritual growth and meaning and emotional and mental wellbeing for self and family.

The Haredi Jew is, instead, gripped by perpetual angst and fear of dark forces seeking to destroy his community and the very future of Yiddishkeit, and everything he does is explained only by that. Even more, in the world according to Heilman,

Haredim have been traumatized by the events of the twentieth century…. Centuries of anti-Semitism, secularization, and assimilation… and finally the horrors of the Holocaust, have left those who remain most visibly traditional to view themselves as beleaguered survivors… With only a fraction of their leadership surviving the war, post-Holocaust, new world Haredim have a special sense of mission…[to] resurrect the world they seek to remember.

There, in a nutshell, is the Heilman Doctrine: Haredim are traumatized, beleaguered survivors on a mission to resurrect a lost world.

You, the Haredi parent, claim to send your child to yeshivah to discover the joy and pride of being a Jew, to imbibe middos tovos, to explore ahavas Hashem and ahavas habriyos, to learn how to pray to Hashem, learn His Torah, and do His mitzvos? Just whom do you think you’re fooling with such high-minded talk? Not Samuel Heilman. He’s onto you: “Private schools allow them to retain greater control over curricula and social exposure, so as to sustain their culture and in their own minds guarantee their future survival.”

But, you protest, “How dare Heilman tell me from his cushy academic chair that the reason I work myself ragged to pay tuitions is not out of love for my kids and for Yiddishkeit but to guarantee our future survival?” Silly frum Jew, Heilman doesn’t get research grants and book contracts for nothing; the man’s ingenious:

Private Orthodox education is an expensive proposition…. There is an important communal factor that also helps explain why Haredi Jews follow this norm…. The Haredi Orthodox world… demands a high level of conformity to group norms, and… those who fail to maintain norms… are often stigmatized and may even be banned.

In short, you send your kids to yeshivah under threat of stigma and excommunication.

I don’t often throw around weighty words like “demonization” and “dehumanization.” And although Heilman lobs the former slur at us, I won’t respond in kind. But there’s no escaping that this essay does dehumanize my community, in the most literal way. It strips hundreds of thousands of intelligent, caring, principled Jews of their sincere beliefs and deeply held feelings, seeing them instead as an undifferentiated black blob of trauma victims living in perpetual terror from yesterday’s Nazis and today’s tyrannical rabbis.

And thus is a foundation laid for what L.S., M.B., and their YAFFED friends want to do to the yeshivos.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 719. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com