Postscript: Shabbos - An Urban Oasis

Many Jews from the Diaspora who visit Israel are fascinated with the Shabbos oases which they discover in this sacred land. They therefore miss the elevated atmosphere of these oases when they return to the Diaspora. Hazon participant, Erich Kauffman, who lives in Baltimore, U.S.A., had studied in Jerusalem, and in the following letter, he describes how he found two places in the United States which give him a taste of the Shabbos oases which he experienced in Jerusalem neighborhoods like Bayit Vegan and Har Nof, the city of Bnei Brak, and the city of Tzfat, in the northern mountains of Israel:


After leaving the other-worldly Friday evening sunsets of Bayit Vegan and Har Nof, and the still small voice reverberating through Bnei Brak and Tzfat on Shabbos afternoon, I found my consolation at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, which is located in Owings Mills, Maryland - just fifteen minutes from my house. I had never spent a Shabbos on "Yeshiva Lane" - the main street of the yeshiva campus where teachers and students live - until I returned from my two-year learning experience in Israel. But it felt like home - like Jerusalem, like a taste of the world to come. Many acres of green, a clear sky filled with stars and thick (and humid!) silence, combined with friendly faces, wise teachers and traditional Shabbos foods, all contributed to a sense of wholeness and holiness.

The time came, however, to move on in my studies. This took me to the hustle and bustle of Washington Heights, New York City. Indeed there is a certain beauty in having a yeshiva in the middle of a city; like a bastion of spirituality in a transient world. Yet, I longed for that other-worldly Shabbos again. And I found it in a little town, a modern day "shtetl," called New Square, which is located in the mountains of New York State. "Skver" was the name of the town in Ukraine and the members of the Chassidic community from this town are called Skverer Chasidim. In 1958, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky, the previous Skever Rebbe, founded the new Chassidic town in New York State in hope of reclaiming the rich spiritual life he knew in Ukraine, and away from the moral pollution of the city. And did he succeed! Yiddish is heard throughout the streets, little boys play with their side curls flying round their heads, and thousands flood the synagogue to pray on Shabbos (it may be the only town in the world with only one synagogue!). Once again I had found an island of sanctity.

I must record one last impression so as to not give you a wrong impression! These two islands, or shtetls, are two of the most open and welcoming places I have ever merited to see. Just a few weeks ago I visited Ner Israel and was amazed to see every type of head covering represented.

So too, the current Skverer Rebbe, with everyone following his lead, gives a loving ear to every person who passes through the town. I myself have deeply benefited from his warmth and guidance and have found a second home, full of laughter and wisdom, with my hosts in New Square.


Hazon Note: New Square also attracts Jewish spiritual seekers.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision