Posts Tagged ‘chassidic’

In Search of Nachas

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

by Sam Glaser

In order for the Jewish People to have a fighting chance at survival we need to connect with nachas.  Nachas is the simple feeling of satisfaction when connecting Jewishly.  It is a uniquely Jewish sensation and is therefore tough to define for those outside of the tribe.  All Jews have had nachas moments. Usually at lifecycle events when we perceive that thanks to this event, all will be well for the Jewish future.  Brises, baby-namings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs and Jewish weddings are all nachas moments.  Nachas isn’t quite pride, although that’s a big part of it.  All parents swell up with pride when a kid has an accomplishment in the world.  But a pride moment is an A on an algebra test or passing the Bar Exam.  A nachas moment is when that kid can read Hebrew well enough to be called to the Torah.  Or when a bride and groom exchange vows under a chuppah. Nachas involves continuity.  When the synagogues and federations around the world worry about connecting with the next generation, what they are really saying is that they are concerned about nachas.

My rabbi, Rav Moshe Cohen of Aish LA was giving an overview of the etymology of the word nachas on a recent Shabbas (or nachat on a recent Shabbat!)  The root of the word is Nach, like the name Noach (the guy who built the ark.)  Other similar words are menucha and nechama.  Rest and comfort.  Peace of mind.  A nachas moment is one where we can be confident that all is well in creation, that God’s well-managed world is working smoothly and that Jewish survival is assured.  A deeper meaning comes from the word l’haniach, as in the prayer when we are putting on our arm tefillin.  Nachas is about “placing” or putting down firmly the foundation of our Jewish destiny, just like we firmly place our tefillin on our bicep. The word intimates “resting” assured, feeling cool confidence in Jewish long-term spiritual outlook.

Nachas isn’t only for parents and children. Siblings can have nachas for one another. So can dear friends and even strangers. You don’t even need kids of your own: I’m a decades old veteran of Jewish Big Brothers and I have huge nachas seeing the accomplishments of my “little” bro. Unselfish gestures on another’s behalf inspire feelings of nachas for all who hear about it. Established Jewish neighborhoods like Pico, the Five Towns and Boro Park are nachas factories. Their free Jewish ambulance-paramedic service Hatzolah inspires tremendous nachas. They have gemachs (free loan societies) for just about everything: strollers, high chairs, wedding dresses, center pieces, children’s clothing, shoes, shtick, tefillin. Yes, even free loans of cash! Our LA Jewish Federation has a new campaign featuring the faces of those in the community that create nachas. Great Jewish organizations can give one nachas, as can great Jewish leaders who publicly acknowledge their Jewish roots and stay out of trouble. Eli Wiesel: big nachas. Anthony Weiner: not so much.

I remember meeting a wealthy individual on aconcierge tour of Israel who seemed to have the best of everything. He had recently been divorced from his non-Jewish wife and was rediscovering his roots.  I sensed there was an emptiness that he was trying to fill with this short visit to the Holy Land.  My rabbi brother turned to me and said, “He has everything except nachas.” Money can’t buy nachas. It’s a human pleasure on a higher plateau, up there with love, power, divine connection. Nachas takes investment, sacrifice and wisdom. In Jewish life, it’s not “he who dies with the most toys wins.” Go to any Jewish funeral; we don’t do roasts or talk about real estate acquisitions. Those properly eulogizing the dead are talking about nachas moments, the impact he or she had on loved ones, acts of charity and loving-kindness.

My parents used the nachas word frequently.  By doing so they ingrained in their four boys that all the success in the world is worthless without it. This is a message that only a few of my friends picked up from their parents. What happened to my generation? Many of them had grandparents who preferred the country club to the kiddush club. It seems that connecting with nachas requires “yichus” or direct connection to one’s Jewishly enlightened ancestry. That’s why Jews get nostalgic when we think of bubbies, Yiddish and chicken soup. Unfortunately, Jewish kitsch cannot replace the influence of a flesh and blood mentor; when we lose the link with those who lived and died for nachas, we lose our awareness of what we stand for and barring radical anti-Semitism, inevitably melt into the greater culture.

I’m grateful that my parents subconsciously taught us that the only access to nachas is an intact family with a Jewish spouse, with kids on a clear-cut path to living a Jewish life.  They got the same message from their own parents.  My dad only half jokingly would state that we were out of the will if we married out of the faith.  And this was in a home without kashrut or Sabbath observance and only a vague sense of the existence of Halacha.  In other words, one does not have keep all 613 mitzvot to pass on Jewish values. Assuring nachas does require affiliation, even it’s with the shul you only go to a few times a year. If you want nachas in your life it means you understand that there is no “free lunch.” You’ve got to give to Jewish causes, care about Israel, embrace Jewish culture. If you are lucky enough to have Jewish kids, you can’t teach them nachas by talking about it. They have to witness you in the act of helping to build the Jewish People in some small way. You can’t “phone it in.”

With our own children, my wife and I have emphasized nachas at the expense of luxury and even fiscal responsibility.  Nurturing our three kids through Jewish day school K-12 and beyond has been a financially draining and exhausting.  Kosher food, Pesach retreats, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs in Israel, guests for Shabbat and holidays…the whole megila!  Their father is on a perpetual treadmill where the larder never quite fills up and their mother, who keeps the family books, loses sleep and wears yesterday’s fashions.  But the sacrifices

we make are a small price to pay for the rewards of nurturing Jewishly alive offspring.  We’re “paying it forward,” laying the seeds for the future joy of our own kid’s Jewish grandchildren, God willing. Thanks to my prodigious frequent flyer miles we just returned from a two-week family vacation in Israel to visit our oldest son Max who is spending a year learning in yeshiva. He showed up at Ben Gurion airport to pick us up on a Friday afternoon already decked out in his form-fitting Shabbas suit. Clean cut, tanned, in top shape (thanks to the yeshiva gym) and with tzitzit dangling. Can you imagine my slack-jawed, overwhelming rush of nachas?

There were times that I was critical of my brother Yom Tov’s affiliation with the Chassidic veldt in Jerusalem, especially with his patchy facial hair and impractical outfits.  I felt he was losing touch with Western culture in his reticence to go to a musical or a movie, or his lack of interest in attending ball games with my father.  As much as I tried to convince him of the importance of remaining connected with the world at large, he insisted that his recoiling from “culture” was necessary to regain a sense of purity.  I retorted that we have the ability to filter the good stuff from the bad, that you don’t have throw the baby out with the bathwater.  He responded by saying that he doesn’t want to have filters, that he hopes for a completely open heart and the ability to hear God’s voice with clarity.  I lost these arguments; he moved near the ultra religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim, married a like-minded wife and raised eight beautiful peyos-wearing kids.  His oldest daughter recently got engaged at the ripe old age of seventeen.  Criticize this lifestyle if you must but I now see that my brother is “laughing all the way to the nachas bank.”  His kids will likely live close, marry early, have huge families and give him an exponential number of nachas moments.

So what are the rest of us supposed to do to maximize nachas, to assure Jewish survival? I realize that the gist of all my monthly newsletters is to try to steer my readers into bringing nachas into their lives.  Not just for future generations but for here and now satisfaction. Nachas comes one mitzvah at a time. Our sages tell us that the reward for a mitzvah is another mitzvah, in other words, the subtle pleasure from one act multiplies exponentially and launches one on a powerful pathway. Building one’s nachas reservoir requires patience, there’s no rushing this stuff. It’s a quality over quantity thing. We can start now with simple, positive steps. No need to point fingers, no need for panic.

I believe we can take responsibility in our own lives by learning and teaching Torah at any level and serving as an example of a mensch in our communities and in the workforce. The Ba’al Teshuva movement has shown that it’s possible to reclaim nachas even without direct contact to Jewishly aware relatives. Caring, concerned clergy must be out of the ivory tower and boardroom and be out in the field inspiring the performance of mitzvot. Adult education and adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs are crucial. Consistent communal Shabbat and holiday celebration is the nursery where nachas can flourish. That’s right, you have to go to the synagogue once in a while, even on sunny days. Lifecycle events should be as overtly Jewish as the participants can handle…these are opportunities to reach beyond one’s comfort zone and get REALLY Jewish.  Every step we take to grow Jewishly sends a strong signal to others that increasing nachas is a prerequisite to all our accomplishment and acquisition.

The recent Pew study has awakened Jewish leadership to the need for radical transformation of models of engagement. I think our leaders just need to singularly focus on creating nachas moments. We need to recognize the mensches in the trenches. We need to get beyond our denominational barriers and support one another. I think Jewish parents need a wake up call: Do you really want to be the end of the line of this unique and miraculous people? It’s up to you! Only you can inspire your kids to love their Judaism, to marry Jews. Don’t assume anything…drop lots of hints and if you’re brave enough, have an actual discussion! Your kids DO care what you think.

Let me close by offering a self-serving plug: listen to spiritual Jewish music! In your car, on your ipod, on your couch. There are hundreds of amazing artists out there with songs that will nourish your soul and connect you deeply with your own Jewish journey. Jewish music bolsters feelings of unity with the Jewish People and our Creator. Music can make you sing and dance…it is the antidote to lethargy and hopelessness. In fact, music is often the transport medium of nachas. At my own wedding, one of my friends helped settle my nerves by advising me to sum up all my needs and concerns with one simple prayer under the chuppah: that I be able to give God nachas. May we all have lifecycle events filled with sweet song and abundant nachas. May we all serve God with joy and merit a speedy redemption for our troubled world.

The Family Portrait

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

By Sam Glaser

I was mortified by the videos of Charedim taunting school-children in Beit Shemesh. I didn’t see them until I was asked to participate in the recording of a new song composed as a response of US Jewry. I immediately watched the plethora of YouTube versions of the incidents and had a visceral reaction of nausea. I had to ask myself: obviously this is horrible but why is this having such a profound impact on me?

This tragedy helped me realize that my dedication to bringing Jews together is more than skin deep. My parents made unity an essential part of my upbringing and clearly it has played a central role in my career choice. Situations that divide us as a people undo something fundamental within me. Also, becoming observant over the course of my life has given me deep respect for rabbinic authority and the realm of Charedim. I am sickened by news reports of corrupt Orthodox rabbis trafficking human organs or covering up child abuse. But that’s criminal greed and depravity behind the scenes, and depraved individuals infect every culture. There’s something uniquely damaging in blatant, public hatred for fellow Jews. Spitting on children? Throwing rocks? Disrupting school? This is my people? What can we do?

While discussing my feelings with my wise wife she directed my attention to our family portrait shot at a recent reunion. She recommended that I analyze our unique clan and expound on the differences that exist while we manage to remain a core unit of love and compassion. I have to give her credit for reminding me that if we can all get along in our microcosm, perhaps there is hope for our diverse people.

Allow me to take you on a tour of adults seated in this sweet portrait, from oldest to youngest. My dad, seated on the couch, is looking somewhat haggard thanks to the 15 grandchildren that invaded his peaceful Pacific Palisades home for the week of Sukkot.   He was raised in a WWII-era Bronx family that moved in LA while he was a teenager. He went to LA High, rebelled and joined the army instead of going to college and then took over a division of his dad’s garment company. He went from his Orthodox upbringing to eventually join one of the largest Conservative synagogues in LA, Sinai Temple, the congregation in which I grew up. Nowadays he regularly leins the Torah for his local Chabad and actively engages in the passion of his retirement years: studying and teaching Jewish history.

Next to him with a baby on her lap is my beloved mom who was able to cook for this whole crew and still keep a smile on her face. She grew up in a staunch left wing Reform household in Sacramento. Her dad, Bill Berman, blew the shofar in their temple on Rosh Hashana, led epic seders for all of us happy grandkids and her mom founded the local Hadassah chapter. Thanks to her love of Israeli folk dancing and handsome Israeli men, we had a continuous stream of sabras in our home. These contacts provided us with scores of Israeli friends to visit on our frequent trips to the Holy Land and a comfort level with folk dancing that would get us through many an Oneg Shabbat. Thanks to the influence of her sons, my mom became a founding member of her Chabad and her famously open home is one of the few in the area in which the kashrut is trusted.

Next comes me and my wife Shira. We both came from an observance-free singlehood knowing that eventually we wanted community in our lives. We fell in love with a neighborhood that came to life each Shabbat and where family life was the rule rather than the beachside exception. Our children are a spicy mix of my Romanian and Lithuanian background and her Italian and Argentine roots, worldly, Modern Orthodox and hip. My brother Aharon, seated on the far left, is a powerful rabbi influenced by the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. He and his wife Chava Dena excel in Jewish outreach to twenty-something singles near Toronto, where they live with their two young daughters. He is living proof that you can have s’micha and still wear jeans.

Next brother, on the far right, is Yom Tov. I guess it’s appropriate that he’s sitting on the far right. He’s the frumest person I have ever met, other than his wife Leah, and yet he insists to me that he’s not frum. He is raising his eight amazing kids near Mea Shearim in Jerusalem and has dedicated his life to loving the Jewish people with Torah and song. If Charedim ever needed a poster child it’s right now; and I elect my brother. Finally, my youngest brother Joey and his wife Jen are raising their two boys (and another on the way!) in San Diego. These rambunctious guys are a potent mix of Glaser/Berman genes and Jennifer’s Dutch and Indonesian beauty. Their kids attend a Reform Hebrew school and they belong to both Reform and Conservative synagogues. They have a beautiful Shabbat ceremony in their home every Friday night, have an epic Sukkah in their lush suburban backyard and serve as role models to their fortunate friends.

I’m sharing this gory detail to point out that in spite of our many differences we find common ground and celebrate our love for one another. Yes, there are frustrating moments like dealing with degrees of kashrut on Pesach and accepted sleeve length. Certain cousins hug the opposite sex, others can’t be touched. We have to negotiate how to attend extended family simchas when they fall on Shabbat but we ALWAYS go. The cousins may come from three countries and dress differently but perceive they are one family. Jennifer told me that her kids went into mourning when their Chassidic cousins returned to Israel. We know that together we are strong and we need desperately each other and we have far more in common than those details that divide us. Sound familiar? This is the story of the Jewish people. We are like five fingers on one hand.

My dad has had a recurring mantra throughout his life. He wants his four boys to get along. Any time we are bickering or if any of us is in need, my dad gets on the phone and prods us to call and check in with the relevant brother. He is a fan of intervention and has taught us the value of facing issues and not sweeping our pain under the rug. I intuit that God feels the same way with God’s own children. Our internal strife as a people creates disunity in the heavens. Want to make God happy? Get God’s chosen people on the same page, not just tolerating each other but looking out for and loving one another.

Back to Beit Shemesh, the answer, I believe has to come from responding to radical hatred with radical love for all Jews. We have to redouble our efforts to find common ground, to expose our unity in YouTube videos highlighting our cooperation. The overwhelming majority of Charedim are peace loving and tolerant and they must be first in line to fill the airwaves with their outrage and protest in the streets. More than ever, they need to leave their cocoons and hit the streets looking for relationships with those less religious. My family thrives even amidst our myriad theological conflicts. Spending time together forces biases and stereotypes on the table, requiring that we find solutions to survive. The problems start when we are only functioning in isolation from one another. Imagine the kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s Name) if the response to this current media-fueled debacle becomes a worldwide campaign for reconciliation between our various movements.

Clearly, healing for the Beit Shemesh community must begin

with the punishment of the perpetrators of this desecration. They cannot continue to abuse the system and avoid the consequences of the ripple effect of their insensitivity. One of the basic seven laws of humanity is to set up a system of courts and uphold justice. Israeli police cannot tiptoe around the offenders for fear of Charedi riots. There must be teeth in the punishment of hate crimes for us to hold up our heads up as a Light unto Nations. As the Midrash says, “Whoever is kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind.” Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of the UK stated, “We must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love. Such ‘acts of terror’ have no place in any democratic society, let alone a Jewish State, whose “ways are kind ways, and all her paths are peace.”

Mirroring the diversity of Jewish people, the Glaser family is a diverse tapestry of colorful personalities. The backside of any tapestry is a chaotic series of clashing threads and knots. The media, in its effort to be newsworthy and controversial, directs our gaze at the knots of life. Our job as a people is to focus our attention on the heavenly view of the tapestry, on the smoothly presented work of art that is our national destiny. There must be recrimination for those who choose to destroy our work of art.   But at the same time we can make it our personal responsibility to tie more knots, weave more patterns and repair the rent masterpiece.

It is not by coincidence that the code of Jewish law that guides Jewish lives is called the Shulchan Aruch, the set table. Our golden path, halacha, can resemble a sumptuous banquet that would make anyone salivate, whetting their appetite for more. A true tzadik has magnetism and warmth, a harmonious, peaceful neshama where the inside is at parity with the outside. Righteousness is not determined by wearing long black coats, beards and peyot. Let our generation be known as master chefs, those who create a heaven on earth, a feast of life grounded in tradition and filled with love and compassion. This is the Judaism that is in our grasp. This is the Judaism that is beyond denominations. Let us become the role models that will inspire our children and children’s children. God can handle affronts to God. Our job on earth is to look out for each other.