Weekly Chasidic Story #1075 (s5778-44/ 26 Tammuz 5778)

When Smart Jews are not Smart

"I used to hang out with one of your buddies. Ever heard of Rabbi Yoel Teitlebaum [the Satmar Rebbe]?" said the non-Jew from AAA.

Connection: Seasonal -- Nine Days + Tisha b'Av

When Smart Jews are Not Smart

Rabbi Moshe Greene, who was a teacher in "Yeshiva Sh'or Yoshuv" (when it was located in Far Rockaway, Queens, NY -- now in Lawrence, Long Island, NY), reported the following startling encounter:

I was driving in New York City, and everyone knows NYC is no easy place to drive in. One day the inevitable happened. While I was driving from my home in Queens, I hit something hard and my tire went flat. I pulled over and called AAA, and sat back to wait for help to come.

About a half hour later, a Latino man in his sixties pulled up. He introduced himself as Donny and, to my shock, started speaking in Yiddish.

"Are you Jewish?" I asked him, completely caught off guard. He shook his head with a smile and said, "No."

I laughed and then asked him the obvious question, "Well, if you are not Jewish, where did you learn to speak Yiddish?"

While crouching down to examine the damaged tire he said, "I picked it up many years ago when I was hanging out with one of your buddies. Ever heard of Rabbi Yoel Teitlebaum?"

I was shocked yet again. "You mean the great leader of Satmar? In Williamsburg (a neighborhood in Brooklyn)?" I asked in disbelief.

"The one and only," he chuckled.

He then went on to explain how he was a retired N.Y.P.D. (New York City Police Department] cop who on numerous occasions in the 1960's and 70's was assigned to protect the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitlebaum. Not only would he defend him from outsiders, but also from the throngs of chasidim who wanted to get near him. Donny was assigned to be his bodyguard at home, in shul (synagogue) and at public gatherings. He would dress up as a Satmar chasid with a beard, peyos (sidelocks), and a bekesheh (Chasidic robe), and scan the crowds while trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.

I just had to ask, "How were you able to tell a Satmar chassid from an impersonator?"

"Oh it was easy" he joked. "You guys are always hunched over your books. If I saw a man standing a little too straight, I kept my eye on him. He was either an impersonator or someone who wasn't taking his studies seriously!"

He then asked me if I knew the term "Yiddisheh Kop."

"Of course," I replied, wondering where this was heading. "It refers to Jews being smart and clever people."

[Editor's interruption to jolly up these Nine Days of Sadness:
Honestly, when I first read "Yiddisheh Kop," I thought he was playfully referring to himself as a Yiddish-speaking cop. Then I got it. Perhaps if the source had spelled it 'Kopp ' I would have caught right away it was the Yiddish word for head. I left the Kop spelling unchanged to test you, dear Reader, but from here on I'll use the less ambiguous orthography.]

Suddenly, Donny turned serious and said, "I heard you Jews used to live in Israel where you had a special temple in Jerusalem, a glorious place where you all got together for your holidays. Right?"

I nodded.

"I also heard about two thousand years ago after the Temple was destroyed you were exiled because you couldn't get along with each other. Correct?"

I nodded again. But he continued. "I also heard if you guys could just get along, G-d will move you back to Israel and He'll rebuild your Temple."


Donny than leaned towards me and looked me straight in the eye.
"So if you guys are so smart with your Yiddisheh Kopps, how come in two thousand years you haven't figured out how to get along?"

I just looked at him...I had no answer.

Sometimes it takes a Latino to prove a simple point,

But his message still rings true.

If we could just stop being so judgmental and critical with each other, and once a day greet someone with a smile, we would then be able to sit on the ground on Tisha b'Av with justified hope, having proven Donny wrong.

Source: Adapted and annotated by Yerachmiel Tilles from Torah Tavlin on Tisha Bav [2005], by Rabbi Dovid Hoffman.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum [of blessed memory: 5648 - 26 Av 5739 (1888 - August 1979 C.E.)], was part of an miraculous escape from Bergen-Belsen in 1944, after which he went to the Holy Land. In 1947 he moved to the USA, where he established himself as the Satmar Rebbe, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, doing extensive work in establishing Torah education networks. Famed as the leader of Hungarian Jewry and the largest Chassidic group in the world, and as the spiritual leader of the opposition to a secular-based Jewish government in Israel, he was also one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation.

Connection: Seasonal - This entire week is part of the Nine Days leading into Tisha b'Av.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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