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Union City Tzedek

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He was 33, gaunt to point of bones. His long, thin fingers, raw, as if washed over and over trying to get something. Long coarse black beard with silver strands and thick glasses dominated his eyes. His eyes have a piercing black look that is attentive, kind and completely disarming. When he prays, he bows maniacally and words are wails of a man not praying but begging while others around him murmur mechanically without thought or feeling. In this man there is genius and suffering at the same time.  Had Jesus been a Chassid, he’d look just like Jeshua from New Jersey.

Jeshua’s wife, Lea takes care of the home on a daily basis while he works nearby. What he does, I don’t quiet understand but somehow he sustains the large family. Five kids in a two bedroom Union City apartment, one of whom spends most days and nights at a Yeshiva across the bridge.

There is no TV, just a large table, large book cases filled with rabbinical texts and a couch from which the toddlers leap off as if it were a trampoline onto a bundle of blankets as if they were a styrofoam pit. Their laughter is never ending and their running back and forth on a third story floor and the sound it produces for the people bellow is of little concern for the father. They bring over colorful books full of stories about families just like them, with excitement showing me the world that existed before I was born and hasn’t changed nor will it change unless they choose to leave their family and community.

Their shrieks of glee seem to bring happiness to their father. He has seen his share of angst as a younger man. As a younger man, he has seen demons that no one else saw. Demons which brought about this Yiddish community to seek doctors not normally seen.

Psychiatry and psychology  are generally the work of Rabbis here. They are the mayors, the politicians, the judges and the doctors of the soul. Sometimes, however, one does need to leave the tight Yiddish-speaking community and cross the cultural divide. When one of your own seems to make little sense to anyone including himself, as bi-polar, depression or schizophrenia take their hold in the usual mid-twenties, the community asked for one that is not their own to help. At some point, one cares little for the effects of that help as long is it ends a behavior, no matter what that behavior happens to be. In this case, deep psychosis was ended by heavy medicine. But a psychosis that is visible isn’t better than one that isn’t invisible.

“I had a feeling.” He said with the usual stutter of a man speaking a second or third language even though he was born less then ten miles away. “A very strong feeling to end my life.” There is nothing like the present he tells me. It is so powerful and there is now way to get out of it. One cannot see the future or the past, the good or the bad. When a drug induces one to end their life and takes over ones mind, what can one do?

It is all encompassing, all driving, it is the only thing you can think about ad it can take a divine power of something forbidden to do and a deep faith in that forbidden to trust the law and not the insanity of the temporary medicine. How many were not so lucky, without the moment to doubt or the drive and will and principle.

“I thought about it but I knew the Torah forbade it.”

Rarely does our secular world respect the spiritual. We laugh at it and we poke fun at it and we ridicule its old ways and lack of rationality. But when all rationality says to die and the irrationality says to live, isn’t it better to trust the irrationality?

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