Chavi Israel
Chavi Israel

Fitting the mould

Hi, my fellow readers.

For those who don’t know me, my name is Chavi Israel (nee Block).

I was born in Melbourne, Australia, to two international parents, my dad, Canadian/American, my mum European/English. Being a first-generation Australian was not super uncommon in my circles; you see, I am from a Chabad family. For those who have not heard of Chabad, though as the joke goes, wherever you can find Coco-Cola, you can find Chabad; Chabad is part of the Chassidic movement coming from the Russian town Lubavitch. Hence, Chabad and Lubavitch are synonymous with one another. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), was and still is my mentor and leader. He spearheaded this idea that every Jew is a lamplighter and that all his followers would become leaders, spreading G-ds ways of goodness and kindness and making this world a better place. Therefore, wherever you go in the world, a Jew will most likely find a Chabad house – a Jewish home where he can pray, eat kosher food, learn Torah and just be – similarly, like Abraham, our forefather’s tent. Chabad houses are super handy when you’re travelling either for business or pleasure. For me, it’s incredible wherever I travel in the world; I always have family.

Many of my friends, who are not Chabad, some not even religious or Jewish, make fun of me of how ‘Chabad I am.’ I take this as a genuine compliment, and my ‘Chabadness’, which I would really call Jewishness, is part of every fibre of my being. My Rebbe and the Chassidic masters’ teachings infuse me daily and remind me what actually matters in life. Yet, even with all this inspiration, I am no Rebbetzin (a righteous lady), and I have to actively work on myself every day. I also firmly believe that my religiosity does not make me a ‘closed’ person; on the contrary, I am a fully-fledged participant of society, whilst my life is enriched with an inner deepness and purpose. As cliché or flowery as this sounds, it is my truth and the essence of my being – and I love being a Chasidic Jew.

That being said, that does not mean that my life (or anyone’s life in that matter) is perfect; indeed, my life is far from perfect. Therefore, I feel like sharing with my readers something that fascinates me and grapples me every day of my life – fitting the mould.

Let me explain: In short, living in the religious world is the biggest blessing, but it comes with a lot (to say the least) of responsibility, and within religious circles, lots of social pressures to conform. For instance, though I fit the mould according to some (not all haha), I feel that if I would wear a particular piece of clothing or get an extra piercing, some in my community would frown upon me. Now, it’s not that I care what they think. I always say the people that love and care about me don’t judge, and anyone else can jump in the lake! (As my late Zaidy, Professor Block would say in his last years of life whilst suffering from Alzheimer’s). What I care about is that here I am calling myself a Chassidic Jew, and my life may not equate to the standards and expectations as the Chassidic Rabbi’s would teach and preach. I feel that this existential crisis extends not only to Chassidic Jews but to religious Jews as a whole. Here we are actively and openly living and breathing a particular way of life. Therefore if G-d forbid a religious person would do something wrong (which alas, since they are most definitely human, they do), many would scrawl at them, saying comments such as, “and they call themselves religious….” Indeed, being religious comes with responsibility.

So how do I manage to live my authentic life and also fit the mould?
Some may argue that ‘the mould’ is my most accurate of selves since ‘the mould’ is what’s best for my soul. Other readers may be finding this article amusing. Yet, as a deep thinker who wants to live not like a sheep but to be fully content and conscious, these are the questions I have asked and continue to ask myself every day. Here are some answers that I have discovered and realised throughout the years that console me.

1. I have realised that life is not black and white (even if some look it ;)), and that I am simply a human being with a good inclination (Yetzer Tov) and a bad inclination (Yetzer Hara). Accordingly, I will constantly experience highs and lows in my religiosity since those two inclinations are ALWAYS battling it out. I am not a hypocrite if one moment I am going against G-ds will and the next praying devoutly. I am human, and I am truly living and experiencing life’s journey.

2. I have learnt to stop caring what others think, including my loved ones and the prestigious family lineage that I have at times felt the need to live up to. In the religious world, there is a saying that Yichus (lineage) is zeros; it is up to the person’s quality whether or not he adds the one, making the zeros worth something.

3. Whatever goes on in my religious life is personal and remains between G-d and myself. If others judge or gossip about me, that is their business and not mine. I am in charge of what I allow to enter my realm of reality, and I make every effort not to allow it to enter my world.

4. I have learned to balance living for myself and happily ‘sacrificing’ for what I believe is for the greater good or something personal between G-d and myself. As the great Babylonian Sage Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? (Ethics of our forefathers/Pirkei Avot 1:14).

5. What matters most is to truly utilise my potential and gifts that G-d gave me to benefit others and the world. As the great Chassidic master Reb Zushe of Anipoli (1718-1800) said. When I go up to heavens, they are not going to ask me, Reb Zushe, why weren’t you as great as Avraham Avinu or Moshe Rabeinu… They will ask, Reb Zushe, why weren’t you the best Reb Zushe that you could be! This story never grows old and is the go-to story that motivates me continuously.

6. To look at my religiosity as a glass half full, rather than half empty, which means that whatever good I do is impressive, and I am proud of all of my accomplishments. As one of my favourite Chassidic Rebbe’s, Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740–1809), known as the Guardian Angel of the Jewish people, would constantly echo as he would view each Jew, no matter how simple or learned, as G-ds treasures.

7. Lastly, and most importantly, I have realised that there is no such thing as fitting the mould. That is merely an impossibility and perhaps a fantasy to some. Each person was created delicately by G-d with their unique abilities and talents, thoughts and ways, mission and purpose. As the holy founder of the Chassidic movement, Reb Yisrael the Bael Shem Tov (1698-1760), said, one can come into this life with their mission solely to do a favour for another. (Hayom Yom 5 Iyar). That is the mould, spreading G-d’s mission of making this world a better place.

Live your life, live your own life, don’t fit the mould, you be the mould.

Here is a picture of me at my wedding, right before the Chuppah ceremony. As per Chassidic tradition, my face is fully covered. Personally, I loved it since I could focus on praying to G-d without any distractions.
About the Author
Born and raised in the heart of Melbourne's Jewish Community, Chavi now resides in Sydney (Bondi) with her husband Ezry, and works as a Jewish Studies Educator at Moriah College. Currently studying a double degree, majoring in history and philosophy, Chavi is passionate about the Chassidic masters and the mystical teachings of the Torah.
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