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How a visit to Mea Shearim changed my view of haredi Jews

Haredi Judaism is not always something looked upon positively by Jews in the Conservative, Reform, and even Orthodox communities. “Haredi” is a term some of us avoid mentioning, unless it is to denounce ultra-Orthodoxy or to separate ourselves from its practitioners – “I’m not one of those ‘black hats.’” Liberal Jews can be embarrassed by their connection with Haredim and quick to defend themselves to non-Jews by saying that they themselves are not so religious and, like many people, see Haredim as “weird.”

Before going to Meah Shearim and learning about Haredi Judaism this past week, I felt the same way.

Prior to TRY, my only experience and knowledge of Haredim was from the book, “Unorthodox” by Deborah Feldman. It is the memoir of a young woman who grew up in the Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Feldman discusses the absolute narrow-mindedness of her family and community. She recounts how she was told to never mention her male cousin molesting her,
and how she was forbidden from
reading anything English or modern. This, of course, gave me a very negative view of Hasidism and Haredim. However, after going to Mea Shearim this past week, my views changed.

Seeing the community there was very interesting. Instead of the destitute, dark place I expected, I found smiling children and laughing teenagers. What really struck me as I ambled through those busy streets were the people my age. Although they wore different clothing, these teenagers seemed surprisingly “normal.” They were walking together, ate at the same Brooklyn-style bakery I was at, and perused various jewelry and clothing stores.

As eye opening as was visiting Mea Shearim and observing the people there, learning about the Haredi conception of community was even more so. Mea Shearim is one of the poorest areas in Jerusalem. However, tzedakah is of the utmost importance in this community. As my ICC teache Betsalel, explained, no one is ever in need in the Haredi community; if you need a home for Shabbat, you’ll be greeted with open arms.

Granted, the Haredi community is not perfect. I’m sure that just as was detailed in the book, “Unorthodox,” there are a lot of things that could be changed. However, isn’t the beauty of Judaism that it embraces all different viewpoints? Judaism is a religion that unites us as a people and that also allows for many different perspectives and choices. Going to Mea Shearim showed me that Haredi Jewry is not a detestable sect of Judaism, but rather that it is -and has historically been-an important group within the global Jewish community.

 

Hannah Y. Kressel, 17, grew up in Wayne, NJ and will be attending Brandeis university in the fall. In her (minimal) free time, she enjoys reading anything she can get her hands on, planning imaginary vacations and drawing.