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joined Catholics in an attempt to defeat
the gay rights bill before New York's city
council. The effort was far from united,
however, says Rabbi Jacob Bronner, a
Chasidic member of the city's Commission
on Human Rights and advisor to Mayor
Koch, who sat this battle out: "It was a no-
But Chasidim have shown their fellow
New Yorkers more than just their conten-
tious side. In a city that thrives on spec-
tacle, they've proven that they can throw
a party. Within the last two years alone,
they have commandeered vast armories
and mammoth convention centers to put
on a series of dynastic weddings —
ceremonies joining some of the great
families of modern Chasidism — on a scale,
with tens of thousands of guests, that ap-
proaches that of the historical unions of
Europe's royal houses. The latest ex-
travaganza, sponsored by the Munkacs
Chasidim, filled Manhattan's sprawling
new Javitz Convention Center and sent
back bumper-to-bumper truck convoys of
dirty dishes to Borough Park to be wash-
ed in proper kosher style.
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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 1988
Chasidim have put down roots in the
American soil, but they are far from com-
pletely secure there. Most likely they never
will be, remaining objects of both intense
fascination and resentment, not the least
of all by their fellow Jews.
On the one hand, Chasidim are thought
to possess some exotic key to spiritual hap-
piness, and are seen as colorful holdovers
from a vanished European past, stepping
from the pages of a Martin Buber treatise,
a canvas by Chagall or a story of Shalom
On the other hand, their unflattering
stereotypes have long been current in the
non-Chasidic community; generalizations
that come uncomfortably close to classic
gentile derogations of Jews as pushy,
money hungry, clannish, unwashed,
It is true that Chasidim are occasional-
ly caught in a social welfare scam, arrested
in a pill-smuggling scheme or seen visiting
a Manhattan brothel. But this is less a
testimony to pervasive group hypocrisy
than a revelation that Chasidim are sim-
ply more conspicuous when they become
susceptible to the weaknesses of the flesh.
Even more important, in a world where
the only constant is jet-paced change,
Chasidim pose a profoundly relevant alter-
native of unshakable social stability and
time-tested spiritual gratification. Simply
put, the system works.
Explains Rabbi Meir Fund of the Flat-
bush Minyan and a leader in the restless
countercuitural movement that has been
called "New Age Judaism": "lbday there's
a shift away from science. People are once
again aware of spiritual levels of existence.
There are inner questions within Judaism
that Kabbalah and Chasidus are uniquely
equipped to answer.
"People are less inclined to be observant
but are inclined to be, spiritual. Kabbalah
and Chasidus are a bridge into Judaism."
It's a bridge leading from the 18th cen-
tury clear to the 21st. And for those who
are sworn to pay the toll, it's as sturdy and
serviceable as ever. El