Orthodox goes Unorthodox

26 Oct

What would you do if you were told what to think, what to say, what to read, who to socialize with?

This is not an idea lifted from George Orwell’s book “1984.”  This Mind-Control is taking place in 2013, in some of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.  Israel is predominantly secular (75%), but if you were to go into Mea Shearim (One-Hundred Gates, in English), one of Jerusalem’s inner-neighborhoods – you step back in time and space.  Jews there don’t live in the 21st century; they live in a world all their own.  The men wear all black, the women are rarely seen or heard – they want nothing to do with the State of Israel.

Bella Mendel Today

Bella Mendel, Center

They await the coming Messiah to redeem the “true” Israel.  Until that day, they live in a separate state within a state.  They spend their days in prayer.  They don’t get involved with any of Israel’s citizens, and they refuse to enlist in the military.  To many secular Israelis, this “Neturei Karta” sect (Guardians of the City) is a thorn in their side.  And a pain in the rear.

Bella Mendel, age 24, and the mother of two, “escaped” from Mea Shearim.  Bella appeared on a much-watched TV talk show this week.  The moderator, Dan Shilon, asked her to share her story.  The first thing you notice is her constant smile.  She’s wearing a fashionable purple dress and knee-high boots.  Her luscious brown hair hangs on her relaxed shoulders.  “I grew up in Mea Shearim,” she starts, “I’m one of 14 brothers and sisters.  I was told what to do and what not to do since I was little.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hills, London

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hills, London

The Neturie Karta Jews settled in Jerusalem some 200 years ago, originally from Hungary and Lithuania.  To this day they speak Yiddish, not Hebrew.  Bella Mendel didn’t know any Hebrew until age 10, when she secretly “smuggled” in a radio.  The broadcasts opened her hears.  And her eyes.

She rebelled.

She was beaten.

At 15, a matchmaker “introduced” her to her husband-to-be.  Bella says to the camera:  “My family thought I was a trouble-maker.  They sent us off to London, to my aunt, to the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Stamford Hill.”

Stamford Hill?

I stare at the TV screen.  That’s where I grew up as an eleven-year old, decades ago.  I can still remember the black-clad men rushing off to synagogue.  Even then, as a boy, I stepped off the sidewalk anytime I saw them coming my way.  I can still smell the London bakery, the Kosher butcher.

My old stomping ground in London's Stamford Hill

My old stomping ground in London’s Stamford Hill

Bella continues: “I ended up in London’s shelter for battered women.  I couldn’t endure any more beatings from my husband.”

“What about your two children?”

“They were taken from me.  But civil rights groups won them back for me.”

“Now that you broke away from the life you know, do you keep in touch with family?”

“They’re still in Jerusalem.  I live in Tel Aviv – ‘City of Sins,’ according to them.”

“What do you want to do in the future?”

“I don’t have a university degree; I never went to high school.  I was kept at home, underfoot.  So I have a lot of catching up to do.  Now I live every moment to its fullest.”

Do you still believe in the Torah (bible)?

“Yes.  Only one verse: ‘Love your Neighbor as Yourself.'”

I switch off the TV.  I can live with that.

What about you?

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

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6 Responses to “Orthodox goes Unorthodox”

  1. Sandy Galfas October 26, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    I once worked with a young woman who married an orthodox Jew. They settled in Jerusalem where she donned the full regalia, wig et al., and disappeared from secular society. Let’s hope that Hannah, a brilliant Yale graduate, is content while shut away in her house with umpteen kids. What a waste. Sandy

  2. rachel bar October 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Very interesting piece. But then why would you have a Kiddush on Friday night? How does one make a decision what’s worth following and what should be discarded?

    • Maurice Labi October 27, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

      I’m all for rituals and traditions and keeping one’s history and religion so long as we don’t lose track of what’s important: be a man (or woman)

  3. Vanessa labi October 28, 2013 at 5:20 am #

    Wow, interesting how the media covered her story as if she emerged from a cult. Thanks for shedding light on that sect of the population, Dad. I’d be interested to hear more about the Orthodox experience, especially since it’s so enigmatic.

    • WALLY October 29, 2013 at 5:56 am #

      W-O-W—THIS BLEW ME AWAY—-SOUNDED LIKE SOME OF THE ARAB COUNTRY”S—-ALL FANATICS. ITS JUST AS BAD AS THAT YOUNG ARAB GAL MAKING HER WAY THRU THE TV STATIONS ABOUT WOMENS RIGHT TO GO TO SCHOOL ETC –THAT WAS SHOT ON A BUS ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL BUT LUCKY TO BE ALIVE.I HAD NEVER HEARD OR READ ANYTHING ABOUT THIS ASIDE FROM KNOWING ABOUT THOSE HARDCORE ULTRA OTHODOX–BUT FOR SURE NOT TO THIS DEGREE–PLUS THE MEN SHOULD ALL BE MADE TO SERVE IN THE MILITARY–IT WAS BIG NEWS MONTHS AGO BUT SEEMED TO DIE OFF.

      JUST LIKE YOUR DAUGHTER WOULD LIKE TO HEAR MORE ABOUT THIS.I JUST WONDER WHAT PERCENT OF THE ORTHODOX FALL INTO THIS GROUP.

      THANKS MAURICE–AS ALWAYS GREAT READING

      WALLY

  4. Meg October 29, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    Extreme Orthodoxy, no matter the religion, isn’t in Anybody’s best interests in my humble opinion. Like Wally said, this smacks of Talaban thinking; very 8th Century to this history geekette. LOVE reading about your views/outlook/adventures. Keep it up.
    cheers
    Meg

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