The most romantic couple in my Hasidic city: Preparation for the Jewish Holidays

20170810_092515Last week, I walked on the streets of my childhood Hasidic city Bnei-Braq and I saw what I have never seen before — a couple walking together hand in hand. I was in shock, since, truly, I have never witnessed such simple, humanistic touch before between different genders in this city. I came closer and understood that both are mentally handicapped. Yes, the most romantic couple in Bnei-Braq are unique in every part of their lives.

It reminds me of the interview of Krista Tippet with Jean Vanier, who opened 147 L’Arche communities, where mental disabled people live together with “regular people.” Vanier speaks of the pure love that the mental handicapped can give the rest of us, the broken people who have lost the capacity for pure, joyful living. After listening to the podcast, I couldn’t help but contact Jean. Even though he is 89 years old, sick, and has difficulty hearing, he gave me all the time I needed. His voice was warm and full of love, deeply human. I asked him about the meaning of continuing work with Kids4Peace, creating change in Jerusalem, a place with such suffering on both sides that most have lost the ability and faith for any possibility of peace? He replied, and I quote the answer from his podcast: “What we can do is what Gandhi says, we can’t change the world, but I can change. And if I change, and I seek to be more open to people and less frightened of relationship, if I begin to see what is beautiful within them, if I recognize also that there’s brokenness because I’m also broken, and that’s OK, then there’s something that begins to happen.”

Last week, we started the unique month of Elul, dedicated to self-reflection, prayer and forgiveness. The Hasidic culture where I grew up, has many stories about rabbis who struggle with God every year during this month, questioning why the world deserves to have God’s mercy, what good we did to deserve life. Like my ancestral Hasidic leaders, I too struggle with God each year over life and death. This year, I’ll share with God about this couple, showing their love and tenderness by walking hand in hand, man and woman, in a place where such pure, simple love can’t even be imagined, teaching me and all of us about the beauty of life.

The blog was published first here first.


About the Author
Dr. Yakir Englander is working to create Jewish and Israeli leadership in the US at the IAC. Originally from the ultra-Orthodox community of Israel, the Viznitz Hasidic dynasty, Englander earned a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in Jewish philosophy and gender studies. He is a Fulbright scholar and was a visiting professor of Religion at Northwestern and Rutgers universities and Harvard Divinity School. In addition, he was a Shalom Hartman scholar in Jerusalem. Englander served as the Jerusalem director of Kids4Peace and later as the vice president of the organization. All of my blogs were translated by Dr. Henry R. Carse