Posts Tagged ‘Hasidim’

‘Heretics’ Hum Hasidic Harmonies

December 23, 2013

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

Sam 'Ushy' Katz rocks out to a hassidic niggun in the lab. (photo credit: screenshot)

Sam ‘Ushy’ Katz rocks out to a hassidic niggun in the lab. (photo credit: screenshot)

We’ve all caught ourselves suddenly humming a favorite tune from our childhood while going about our daily business. For most of us, this is comforting. But for young Jews who are OTD (“off the derech”), who have left the ultra-Orthodox community, subconsciously recalling a song from the past can be an emotionally loaded thing.

Singing or listening to these songs may be difficult, but it’s also important, says Sam “Ushy” Katz, co-creator of It Gets Besser, a project for and about young OTD Jews. He is making a video of formerly Haredi Jews listening or singing along to the tunes that have stayed with them despite the distance they have put between their current selves and the people they used to be. He’s asked fellow OTD individuals to tape themselves and send the clips in to be included in the crowdsourced video.

“It’s okay to say that we miss our old self, our old community,” Katz tells the Times of Israel from Berlin, where he is a Fulbright Scholar this year. Having graduated last May from Stony Brook University with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and theater arts, Katz is doing research on direct cell programming at theBerlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology before returning to the U.S. for graduate school.

Katz, 24, was raised in the Satmar Hasidic community in Boro Park, Brooklyn. At 16, he went to Israel to study at the Slabodka Yeshiva in B’nai Brak. While in Israel, he began questioning whether he wanted to remain Hasidic, and when he returned to New York at age 18, he studied for his GED. At 19, he left the ultra-Orthodox way of life and went to college. He was helped along the way by Footsteps, an organization that supports individuals seeking to leave the Haredi communities they grew up in.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Measles Vaccine Developer Warns Jewish Anti-Vaxxers

December 11, 2013

This article was originally published in The Times of Israel.

An illustrative photo of a patient receiving a vaccination. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

An illustrative photo of a patient receiving a vaccination. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

With almost no measles in the United States since the 1990s, today’s generation of American parents are not familiar with the disease and buy in too easily to the anti-vaccination movement currently in vogue, said measles vaccine developer Dr. Samuel Katz.

“Unless you have worked in Sub-Saharan Africa, you have no anxiety to protect against it,” Katz said.

The last surviving member of the team of researchers that developed the measles vaccine 50 years ago believes it is “ludicrous,” however, to get upset over the Center for Disease Control’s December 5 announcement that there were 175 casesof the disease in the United States in 2013, a tripling of the annual average.

Notably, 58 of those cases were among Hasidic Jews in the Brooklyn’s Boro Park and Williamsburg neighborhoods. It was the largest outbreak of measles in the US since 1996.

“It’s all so relative,” said Katz, who was honored last week by the CDC. “True, there were 175 cases in the US so far this year, but there are 3-4 million cases a year worldwide. In Western Europe alone there are 25,000 cases per year.”

On an average day, 430 children die of measles worldwide. In 2011, there were an estimated 158,000 measles deaths.

In a phone interview with The Times of Israel, Katz, professor emeritus of pediatrics at Duke University, emphasized that the measles cases in the US were all the result of the importation of the virus from other countries.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.



New Documentary Opens a Hermetically Closed World

October 29, 2013

This review was first published in The Times of Israel.

At Rebbe Schneerson’s grave

In photographic and film images, we almost always see Hasidic Jews in urban settings. We see them on the crowded streets of Brooklyn, or walking in the narrow alleyways of their crowded neighborhoods in Jerusalem. However, a new documentary feature film about Hasidic women and girls surprises by being set in bucolic Ste. Agathe, Quebec, a resort town north of Montreal.

Although “Shekinah: The Intimate Life of Hasidic Women” is about women in Hasidic Judaism, it also about the role played by a specific group of teenage girls at a Chabad seminary in this French Canadian town. Not all of Ste. Agathe’s residents are thrilled by the girls’ presence, as can be attested to by a history of anti-Semitic incidents in the picturesque locale. The film chronicles attempts by the Hasidim to counter these acts of hatred with outreach to the local population.

The filmmakers couldn’t be happier about the timing of its premiere this week in Montreal, as well as at the Crown Heights Film Festival in Brooklyn. Although they did not set out to make a political statement with the documentary, they are glad it is out in theaters at a time when there is strong support among the Quebec electorate for a proposed “Charter of Values,” which would ban the wearing and display of religious symbols in the public sphere.

“What we are trying to do with this film is open a door to a world that is closed,” says Montreal-based director Abbey Neidik. “There is a lot of hostility against the Hasidim in Quebec, and this film lets people see how Hasidim see the world.”

“There’s room for all ways. We need to not only tolerate diversity, but also embrace it,” says producer Irene Angelico, who is Neidik’s wife. “Even Jews have a million misconceptions about Hasidim,” she adds.

Filmed over four years, “Shekinah,” gives audiences a significant glimpse into the Hasidic way of life in general.  In particular, it sheds light on how Hasidic women (at least, from Chabad) understand their sexuality and roles in their marriage, family and community.

Click here to read more and watch the trailer.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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