Friday, October 23, 2009

The faces of Simcha Pt. 2

As the sun closed on the last day of the festival, Succot, some friends convinced me to walk to Meah Shaarim for an annual concert given by none other than Yaakov Hillel, one of the generation's leading Kabbalists. He is the Dean of Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom in Meah Shaarim/Geula, and apparently also a rock star.

I was originally hesitant to leave the opportunity of a quiet evening with my book (Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom). My friend, and chevrusa (trans.: study partnert), Vladimir Fefer spent the better part of a half hour convincing me why it was a necessity that I go.

Vlad had gone last year and it was one of the best decisions he made for the year. Using his quasi-mystical incantations and lyrics, Yaakov Hillel transfixed the crowd into one harmonious mind. Vlad informed me, when one person dropped his glasses, instantaneously a five- foot vacuum dilated around him. Like the Borg, with a shared mind oriented to the collective. Once he located his spectacles the vacuum closed around him.

The prospect of a cumulative 2 hour walk didn't sit well with me, but Vlad's extended plea ultimately stifled my more troglodytic tendencies. We set off around one o'clock ante meridiem after the last member of our outfit returned to the Yeshiva. To pass the time, Vlad and I mentally reviewed our Gemara along the way.

As we approached Meah Shaarim close to 2 in the morning, hundreds of people from toddlers to elderly were out walking. And as we approached the epicenter of the concert, hundreds of ultra-orthodox men stood chatting on the outside of the shul with a pungent aroma of cigarettes weaving in the cool night air. Sunflower seed shells scattered in small piles on the road (smoking and eating sunflower seeds are the new Israeli national pass times).

We shoved our way into the (Hexagonal Closest) packed Shul. The field of vision was entirely filled by the black and white Charedim (lit.: tremblers (before G-d), fig.:ultra-orthadox Jews). Any traces of colored clothing had already dissipated upon entering Meah Shaarim. Moving soon became impossible, at least motion of our own volition. Once in the central hall, we became subject to the waves of humans swaying back and forth. Our buddy system quickly deteriorated as we dissolved in the crowd like sugar into tea.

At the far front of the hall was a stage with Yaakov Hillel and a sizable posse of thirty chassidim. A few had microphones, and positioned off-stage right was a backing band. Most were singing from small esoteric siddurim (lit.: orderings, fig.:prayer/song books). I was not familiar with a single song, a rarity for Jewish musical outings.

I don't know how many concert reviews I'm going to do since I'm packed away in a Yeshiva all day. The music was other-wordly, and certainly worth the trip. But the concert was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an entirely different reason. The crowds were so overwhelming (90 degree heat with, 4 layers of clothing (undershirt, tzitzit, shirt, and jacket) is a formula for massive amounts of perspiration). After a half hour of trying to nullify my ego in the jumping and swaying of the greater crowd conscience, I had enough.

I signaled to my buddy, Vlad, that I was heading out, and began the arduous push outward. My other friend, Danny Solganik was on the same page as me and also chose the moment to duck out, and we began the long walk back to Har Nof together.


  1. That sounds wild, but slightly intense. If only I could stomach the more radical חרדים in the community!
    I really liked your videos from the completion of the ספר תורה. Looks like you and R' Billowitz had quite a time; though we kept it pretty hopping at the Agudah in his absence.

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