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 The Story of the Three Dimes

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: The Story of the Three Dimes   Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:37 am

First topic message reminder :

In the spring of 1977, I was making plans to leave Shasta. It had been in the works for sometime. Officially, I was going on an “angya,”a classic Zen practice of visiting other Zen temples and teachers, going on a personal pilgrimage and retreats.

Actually, I did not really ask Kennett’s permission. I told her honestly that after much personal mediation and reflection that it was time for me to do tak ea break and do an extended angya. She acquiesced,but she was obviously not happy, but the way I positioned my leave-taking made it problematic for her to say no.

Just to set the table, I was one of the original group of disciples from 1969-70. I had experienced kensho, received transmission in 1971, completed the 5-year teacher’s training, and Kennett had officially named me a “roshi.” And, by the way, I had never made any vows or promise that I would never leave.

I had served as guestmaster for many years and taught most of the lay people that came to Shasta. And for a year, while Kennett was going through her personal turmoil(more on that in later posts), I actually served as the President of Shasta Abbey. So I was one of the senior dharma heirs at that time.

From the day I said I was leaving, Kennett continuously tried to get me to change my mind, delay my departure, put off the trip. She would constantly say negative things about me and my decision; try to make me feel guilty. As many us experienced, there was no easy exit from Shasta. And when people did manage to leave, they were all invariably demonized – over and over again.

My dharma brothers – Daiji, Gensho, Keitetsu had all left and been subsequently vilified. There was absolutely no room for people to find their own a different path. Leave-takers became part of the mythology of the fallen ones and the stories of their “betrayals” were repeated over and over again. So I knew that when I finally did leave, I would also be similarly re-cast from being a leading “dharma heir” into some version of a defective villain. So be it.

I bought a big used Dodge van for my travels and had it converted to be used for sleeping and camping. My plan was to travel the country, visit other Zen centers and Buddhist teachers,participate in different types of retreats and generally get out from under Kennett’s influence – which is precisely what I did.

A week before my departure, Kennett invited me to tea to give me a “going away present.” Over the years, she had given me gifts – a purple silk kesa and some raksus and other things like that. So I went to see her.

She started by once again trying to talk me out of leaving, but I stood my ground and said this was the time and I was departing on schedule. She then presented me with an envelope which contained three small folded pieces of paper and said that inside each one was a dime. .“Dimes?” I asked somewhat confused. The gift was dimes?

She handed me the first little package on which she had written the word, JAIL. Kennett said, “Here is the first dime. After you leave the Abbey, when you get arrested, use this dime to call me from jail and I will come and bail you out.” Remember, in those days, telephone calls were ten cents.

To be clear, Kennett wasn’t kidding. This wasn’t a joke. I thought to myself – this is getting really weird, even creepy.

Then she gave me the second package on which was written, LOONEY BIN. “After you leave Shasta, when you fall apart and end up in a mental institution, use this dime to call me and I will come to get you.”

A mental institution? This was so bizarre. I couldn’t wait to find out the promise of the third dime.

The third package said BROKE. Kennett said, “When you totally run out of money and have nothing, use this last dime to call me and we will come and rescue you.”

(Some context – I came from an upper middle class Jewish Los Angeles family. I attended Reed College and the University of California, and had no past history of crime or insanity.)

What an astonishing going away “gift.”

The story of three dimes that Kennett shared with me that afternoon reflected her distorted and paranoid view / story about the “outside world” which later I realized was wholly based on the consequences of her loveless childhood and lonely life in England. To her, the world was a place of danger, hostility, insanity, cruelty, and failure -- where only terrible things happened. At least, that’s how she saw it.

Secondly, she created this isolated culture at Shasta where she taught that it was only through HER protection and continuous control that anyone was safe. She was the savior and no matter how long we trained with her, we couldn’t survive without her management.

Her underlying message: You leave me and you will go crazy. Without me, you have no personal power or integrity or sanity. You certainly can’t control your own life or behavior. Without me, you will fall. Without me, you will lose the Buddha’s Way. Without me, you are doomed.

YIKES!!!! This was all total, unmitigated nonsense!!!

Instead of giving me even the simplest of good wishes for whatever journey I felt I needed to take, she predicted darkness, nightmare and chaos. Even though she had trained me for nearly seven years and said I was a “roshi,” the minute I left the monastery where she couldn’t control me 24 hours a day, her assumption was that I would lose it and immediately start robbing banks, molesting children, go mad, and end up wandering homeless on the streets of some dark evil city.

And then, she and only she would save me.

Clearly, she didn’t think her training was very effective.

Sitting in her cottage, as I was holding the three dimes, I sat there nodding in silence. One thing everyone learned at Shasta was NEVER to share your feelings or ever say anything that challenged Kennett. NEVER. Anything less than total adoration was met with rage, retaliation and banishment. Honest response was unacceptable. As some of you who are posting on this site know, I am not exaggerating.

I sat there quite tongue-tied and also I felt very sad for her. The “master”was giving me this “gift,” and by definition, all such gifts are blessings, so the only acceptable reaction from a disciple was total gratitude. Just bow deeply – that’s what Dogen taught. But this master was certainly not teaching “the truth.” She was teaching fear and dependency. But I did need to say something, so I gave a short no-hearted version of thanks, but it was completely false. I wasn’t grateful for this so-called gift.

To me the three dimes was not a blessing, but a kind of wacko,ridiculous curse. This was her koan, not mine. And if there was any koan for me to answer, the response was to walk away.

And I wasn’t buying this absurd story Kennett was weaving. She wasn’t selling water by the river – she was selling mud. No thanks.

My real reaction frankly was: GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE.

My honest reaction would have to be to say, Keep your [banned term] dimes. What a mean and heartless thing to give me. What are you thinking? Why can’t you respect my decision to continue my Zen training in my own way?

For the two previous years, my inner guidance / intuition was screaming at me to leave. Shasta was turning devotees into dependent children, not spiritual adults. Kennett was becoming increasing abusive, possessive,isolated, and had lost any possibility of self-reflection. Daizui had become her main enabler. Shasta had become a humiliation factory where Kennett’s shadow was running amok. This was a loveless place where compassion was merely some un-lived concept. She recreated her dysfunctional family.
And her three dime gift was a reflection of her state ofmind.

This gift had nothing to do with me, but was a classic example of psychological projection. In her mind, we were all damaged children and without her constant correction and total control, we would end up in San Quentin or the looney bin. And leaving her was the ultimate sin. What did any of this have to do with Zen?

And who was the damaged child? You tell me.

It didn’t start this way. For the first 3-4 years, Kennett’s teaching was grounded in basic Soto Zen teachings and meditation. She could be tough, but mostly it was not excessive. But in the last few years, things had taken a serious downward turn. Shasta had become a toxic spiritual kindergarten.

Years later, I would see similar situations in other spiritual groups – where “perfect” masters infantilized their followers. Rather than encouraging their students to grow into fully awakened adults, Kennett’s path took people back to a state of childish dependence. And yes, indeed, there is a kind of false and limited liberation you can experience by giving up your will and adulthood, but it is shallow, short-lived and has nothing to do with the Buddha’s way. This state creates more “endarkenment”than genuine enlightenment.

As I left Kennett’s house, I shoved the dimes into the pocket of my robes and thought, “Thank goodness I am on my way.” Yes, my way. Following my intuition, my inner Dharma, my path – which lead me to Shasta when I was 19 and was now leading me out the door. I was not depending on Kennett’s guidance, but on my own inner guidance. Giving that up was not an option. It was never an option.

I put the envelope with the dimes somewhere in the back of the van as I pulled out of the gates of Shasta. As I traveled the country, I forgot about the dimes and their message. I saw my family in Los Angeles. I visited various Zen teachers and stayed at different centers. I was in Arizona teaching meditation and counseled and gave the refuges and precepts to a woman dying of cancer. I mediated a crisis at the Lama Foundation. I taught meditation in many prisons in Texas. I attended teachings with Kalu Rinpoche, a senior Tibetan Lama, and eventually ended up settling down in Atlanta for a year.

During the middle of my trip, when I was staying in Austin,I was cleaning my van and found the dime envelope under some books. I unwrapped the three little packages and held the 30 cents in my hand. What should I do with this? I thought of giving it to a one of the homeless people panhandling near where I was staying, but that didn’t see right. The dimes were sort of tainted and I didn’t want to share that “energy” with someone else. What would be appropriate? Then I made my decision and went out and treated myself to a rocky road ice cream cone.
Oh, by the way, I never did end up in the looney bin or rob any 7-Elevens. Instead, I continue to do the best I can in realizing and practicing the Dharma / compassion of the present moment (not always easy) and I find my life an unfolding wonder.

Sorry, Kennett, to disappoint, but I didn’t live out your nightmares for my life. But thanks so much for the ice cream cone.
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Sara H



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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Wed May 01, 2013 2:01 pm

I think I should say something here,
I think my own experience may be of value in this context.

It's funny that it never occurs to Josh, the that the whole point of that teaching might have been that since she knew he was leaving, she used his "rebellious streak" to show him what three possible negative outcomes of his life could be, and so helped caution him to be extra vigilant against them, and tried to fuel that vigilance with his rebelliousness against her. (Whatever works). Indeed, he seems quite proud that he proved her wrong, and it's possible that that was the whole idea.

People who are ex monks or even just people with some spiritual experience certainly have ended up in some pretty bad situations.

I had my first kensho when I was 18, but since that time, since for a long time I didn't have any spiritual guidance or anybody I could talk to about it, or help me with my training, I ended up in jail twice, as well as homeless three times. Years later now, my life and training is stable, but I went through hell for a while getting there. I learned very much from a school of hard knocks, combined with a very good, wise, and patient teacher, when I finally found someone to teach me.

That's no joke. I had essentially stopped training for a while after my kensho, because I didn't know how, or how to develop it. It wasn't until later that I was able to establish a practice, and be able to talk to spiritual teachers on a regular basis, and even then, it wasn't until I found someone who could really teach me that my life began stabilizing.

For whatever reason, it's a real enough phenomenon, that it's worth cautioning people about, even if in really scary or dramatic terms, out of compassion for them and to try to prevent it.

It might be, because all those three things are essentially, "hitting bottom" in our society. Which, when on the one hand if you were doing some really good training before, there is always the tendency (because people tend to oscillate back and forth between opposites and extremes) that someone might get off-track or get off-center and sortof flip to the other extreme and "crash." This happened to me.

The worst that could happen in such a scenario by her cautioning him about such things, was that he could have had things happen, in which case, she let him know that if they did happen, she was willing to be there for him, and help him out. If such things had actually occurred he'd be pretty grateful that he had a friend who was there for him.

And that at best, if he didn't, then his rebellion and determination to "prove her wrong" could only help keep him out of trouble, by fueling a caution and determination against those things.

Either way, considering it may have been her last chance to try and teach him something, it seems like it may have been good to say, to try and help him be a success, in whatever way that was good for him to do.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Wed May 01, 2013 4:21 pm

Sara H wrote:
It's funny that it never occurs to Josh, the that the whole point of that teaching might have been that since she knew he was leaving, she used his "rebellious streak" to show him what three possible negative outcomes of his life could be, and so helped caution him to be extra vigilant against them, and tried to fuel that vigilance with his rebelliousness against her. (Whatever works). Indeed, he seems quite proud that he proved her wrong, and it's possible that that was the whole idea.

Josh may want to answer you specifically, but here's what I think. This is a great example of how something which initially appears negative can be re-framed into the positive. I feel that it can be helpful to be open to different interpretations of one's life experience. The problem is almost anything can be turned around this way. On what basis do you choose one viewpoint over another? If a teacher demonstrates that they have the student's best interests at heart and establishes enough trust over time then the student may be able to learn from episodes of "black is white" crazy wisdom. On the other hand if trust is eroded over time by constant manipulation then crazy wisdom teaching is just abuse. The essential criteria by which to judge the validity of teaching is to determine whether the student is learning or just being harmed. A teacher who cannot make that assessment and be guided by it is not safe to be around.
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Sara H



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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Wed May 01, 2013 4:59 pm

I don't think that's "crazy wisdom."

I think it's trying to do the least amount of harm possible in a difficult situation.

Trungpa stripping people naked and getting drunk was "crazy" and probably not wisdom.

Giving someone some loose change as a lesson on making them mindful about going splat in society seems a little more on the side of wise than "crazy."

And, this is basic Zen. "Because delusions in the trainees minds were topsy-turvy," the sages true did use all means so varied, even though to say that black was white."

People who participate in Zen are consenting individuals. That line I just quoted is stated so much on an everyday basis in temples, to disregard any idea of lack of "informed consent."

If this practice isn't suited for everybody, that's fine, but it doesn't have to be perfect, nor do people teaching it have to be, or get it right every time.

People are allowed to make mistakes. Maybe that teaching wasn't as profound to him, or come across as intended. It doesn't mean it wasn't good to try.

We're human beings, not the Eternal, human beings make mistakes.

As the old saying goes; "to err, is human."

Zen masters are not gods.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Wed May 01, 2013 7:41 pm

Sara H wrote:
Giving someone some loose change as a lesson on making them mindful about going splat in society seems a little more on the side of wise than "crazy."

Any opinion you or I have about Josh's experience is based on a view from the outside. What he experienced is something we're not really privy to, and how he understands it going forward is his process and responsibility. It's not just a question of respect, but of acknowledging that we really don't know. Everything you've said about Josh's experience is really a reflection of your own, not his.
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Sara H



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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Wed May 01, 2013 8:33 pm

She knew him better than any other teacher could know a disciple, looking at those things, if it were me, I might have done the exact same thing as she did, if he were my disciple.

The point is not a matter of who's right and who's wrong. That's beside the point.

The point was that she was trying one last time, to send him in a good direction, as best she possibly could.

The fact that she gave him something physical to hold on to, reminds him of those three things, but also deepens his hate for her in the process. But that doesn't diminish the help that she tried to give him. Even at her very last, she was trying to help him.
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Wed May 01, 2013 8:43 pm

Sara I'm afraid informed consent does not hold in this case. For a start Josh had clearly withdrawn his consent by saying he was leaving. And in any case informed consent is only a partial mitigation there are many cases where it does not really apply because the relationship is so unequal. Under those circumstances, and the teacher pupil relationship in all of its forms is certainly one of them, the duty of care has primacy. As to ones own actions one is always responsible for them, good or bad, with intended consequences and unintended consequences; teaching, crazy or sane, is never an excuse. That's where Nansen's cat points. You argue that JK was giving a final teaching out of compassion; my experience of her attitude towards a number of leavers was that she was fond of final 'teachings' that showed her superiority and caused nothing but turmoil to the taught. I've seen people leaving in this kind of situation on a number of occasions and under a number of circumstances, and seen them handled well and handled badly, sometimes even vindictively. I fear JK veered towards the latter.
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Thu May 02, 2013 12:45 am

And these actions along with the actions of other disgraced 'teachers' were actions of incredible cruelty.This cruelty was indeed handed down to Eko, who would make his followers live one way whilst he lived by a different set of rules,he forbade his followers certain aspects of normal life ,whilst he indulged himself. Until he ( along with the disgraced teachers) were caught with their hands down their pants.
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Thu May 02, 2013 1:03 am

Michael, you have a way with words!
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Thu May 02, 2013 1:06 am

Here's something amazing about this Forum. Somehow I missed reading the story of the 3 Dimes. But Sara's recent contribution got me reading from the beginning. Thank you (belatedly), Josh, for sharing this amazing story. What a cruel thing to do -- even if it was intended as "humor" or "teaching." Just a cruel, nasty thing to do to a colleague who was venturing out on a spiritual search.
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Thu May 02, 2013 1:51 am

Carol I think cruelty is a good word to use and there is no room for this in Buddhism or religion,for me Buddhism is not carrying around a set of rules in ones head,nor is it what one wears what ones name is, how old one is, where one is,whether one belongs, is in or out; for me it is seeing or being the spirituality of the present moment.
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Sat May 04, 2013 9:56 am

It is very simple, believe in yourself,trust in yourself.if you practice zazen it will lead you,and guide you through life,help you pick your way through troubled times,zazen will allow greater awareness and depth of being. It will not make you immune from difficulties or life itself,zazen will help find the right way to live.
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Sun May 05, 2013 2:15 am

Below is an excerpt from a review of the book THE GURU PAPERS. The book itself is well worth reading and is now available as an e-book. the writer of the review is Julian Walker. I thought Julian made some good points that relates to this discussion.

What is important to me is that we are not just talking about Kennett's personality or that she had a few quirks or faults -- We are talking about a culture of spiritual and psychological dis-empowerment that continued well beyond the death of the founder - Kennett's shadows were and are still deified, misunderstood, and then lived out by her devotees often unconsciously. I understand that things have changed to some extent at Shasta - mostly since the Eko scandal and the subsequent report, and perhaps because of this forum or at least the reality that there is public accountability -- and there is now many points of view about what happened.

And we have seen abuse of power and institutional blindness in so many Zen and other spiritual groups, over and over again, the behavior of the "masters" are copied and glorified. If you really want to create compassionate enlightened communities, then it is time to truly face the shadows honestly, openly and not blame those that are speaking out, engage in dialogue, learn how to be emotionally intelligent and psychologically self-aware. Welcome to the 21st century.

Also recommend you look at the post in the reading section about Amma, the hugging saint. Amma has the same personality style as Kennett, although Kennett never physically struck people, the pattern was similar.


From the review -- i have bolded some key points

Authoritarian Power

While Part One of the Guru Papers does focus in on the problems with the guru model in particular, the book is also concerned with how the guru model is a variation of the kind of authoritarianism we can see on every level of society, from politics to religion to the family to intimate relationships.

This provides for potent meditation, genuinely life-changing food for thought, and a real shot in the arm of bracing clarity for the yoga community.

Central to their thesis is that we need to find ways to go beyond authoritarian mental conditioning and systems if we are to truly grow up as human beings and survive on this planet together.

Though there have been many communities organized around the guru-disciple model, and though so many of these have gone horribly wrong, The Guru Papers does not focus on any particular communities. It does not name names, or make any personal critiques. Rather, it seeks to illuminate the underlying problemthat of giving away one’s power to an authority figure.

The book makes a case for authoritarian power structures as explicitly being ways to enforce control over people’s minds. I have never come a cross a more comprehensive treatment of both the various methods of enacting “spiritual” control and disempowerment, and how various belief systems and philosophical strategies make this possible.

The irony of course is that as seekers, we are in search of freedom, healing and personal awakening, but the very structure of the guru-model itself prevents such aspirations from being attained. In their place it exploits vulnerability and the need to belong, and assuages our existential anxiety by using ever more sophisticated forms of abstract belief to create a sense of having found an ultimate spiritual truth.

This “truth,” however, comes at a cost, and the authors masterfully point out how philosophies based on abstract conceptions of “oneness” and “non-duality” are often actually variations on familiar religious themes that encourage in-group identification and psychological fragmentation, while perpetuating an unwillingness to see reality for what it is.

The Dialectic

What then is this reality? Well, it is dialectical. Central to the lucid philosophical analysis here is that we human beings struggle to both comprehend and accept the dialectical nature of existence. In this life, there is always a blend of opposites: meaning and randomness, change and continuity, causation and free will, victimization and responsibility, joy and suffering, individuation and merging, oneness and multiplicity, control and surrender, selflessness and self-centeredness, competition and cooperation, unity and diversity.

Simply put, whenever we deny one side of the dialectic by over-identifying with its opposite, we have lost the plot.

The above statement is not as simple as saying, “Yea man—it’s all one,” or “It’s all perfect.” This would again fall into the pervasive and subtle dualism that denies half of the dialectic. Notice that if “it is all one,” this negates multiplicity, and if it is “all perfect,” this denies imperfection and distorts the reality of suffering. Not to mention the dualism hidden in dividing reality into oneness and illusion (or Maya)—that’s two things: spirit and matter, the spiritual and the mundane.

The point is that we are as much individuals as we are members of a collective, and both matter. We cannot sacrifice our individuality on the altar of the collective, nor should we just egoistically ignore the collective in the name of self-realization.

Likewise, healthy spirituality should be as much about being present to our true feelings of anxiety, grief, isolation, anger or powerlessness as it is about getting in touch with gratitude, communion, forgiveness and empowerment.

In becoming more comfortable with this dialectic —this recognition of the inseparable nature of opposites, we can think more clearly, live more honestly and come to greater self-acceptance.

Life and death are two sides of the same coin, and systems of thought that either deny death or make us yearn for death and deny life are essentially distortions of reality that promise us otherworldly rewards as a way to gain worldly control over us.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Sat May 11, 2013 10:09 pm

back to the three dimes "blessing" - here is something that relates - see how the Hasids view the outside world - not unlike Kennett - i am bolding a key point below. Pretty much the same fearful mindset.

Many of the ultra orthodox groups are very cultic and their rabbi is treated like a guru. Group think dominates and they live in a closed bubble. This bubble can be very comforting and supportive - not unlike the Mormon Church or Scientology - and works really well - as long as you don't question, play along, and remain submissive. Also just like Shasta. Also note how they totally cut people off who leave. Old story. So insular. I will also post this in the reading corner.


(To see the video version of the story: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/may-10-2013/leaving-ultra-orthodox-judaism/16364/

May 10th, 2013 - PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly
Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism


LUCKY SEVERSON: They live conspicuously pious lives in a secular world, especially in enclaves and suburbs of New York. Ultra Orthodox Hasidic Jews observe the strict rules of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and its 613 commandments.

Their structured lifestyle seems to work for the majority. But, for some, the lack of choices is too rigid, so they choose to leave, even though doing so can be very painful. Hasidic groups remain some of the most insular religious sects in the U.S. Sol Feuerwerker knows, he was one of them.

SOL FEUERWERKER: I think that’s what surprises most people, you know, most outsiders, is that how can something this insular be happening right here in the middle of New York City. You know, as I’ve moved farther away from it, it kind of shocks me too actually.

CHANI GETTER: When I tell people that I grew up 30 miles north of New York, that I went into the city and I had never seen a movie before I was in my 20s, they think I’m insane.

SEVERSON: Chani Getter grew up, married and had three children before she broke away from her Hasidic community. Those who leave Hasidism paint a picture of a very puritanical and sheltered way of life.

Chani Gette

GETTER: When I left, I moved into my own apartment and I started driving, and as a woman who was driving, my parents disowned me. In our sect, women did not drive. And so, for eight years, they didn’t talk to me.

SEVERSON: In Hebrew, the word Hasidim translates to mean the “pious ones.” They are defined by their devotion to a hereditary leader known as the “Rebbe”, by their distinctive clothing and Yiddish language. Professor Samuel Heilman is a Jewish scholar at Queens College.

PROFESSOR SAMUEL HEILMAN: They have everything that makes up a culture, social norms, language, a career pattern in life. Even the ones who leave say that there are aspects of their lives that they left behind that they miss. To go to a Hasidic gathering and to sing the songs and to dance in the circle and to be enfolded into the community, and to hear your voice in a chorus of other voices. This is a tremendously exciting experience and when you leave and you’re all alone, all alone in the city…

SEVERSON: Professor Heilman says there are as many as 350 thousand Hasidic Orthodox in the U.S. and Canada, and an even larger population in Israel. And the numbers are increasing fast, he says, because Hasidism strongly encourages very large families.

PROFESSOR HEILMAN: They don’t believe in birth control. They believe that the commandment of “be fruitful and multiply” is incumbent upon all Jewish people and they practice it. Not only do they have large families but they are the poorest of all Jews because they don’t go to college, so they lack often some of the skills that are necessary for high income. They are all literate in Jewish education, but their secular education is limited. That is not to say there are not some who are successful…in the diamond business, electronics business, in trading on Wall Street.

SEVERSON: Relatively few leave, in professor Heilman’s view, because they’ve been taught to shun the secular world.

PROFESSOR HEILMAN: They’ve been told that the world outside their own is demonic, corrosive, dangerous, they wouldn’t want to be part of it, that they live a superior kind of life.

GETTER: One of the things that they teach you is that we get to choose what we allow our eyes to see. We get to choose what we allow our ears to hear. And so when you go into the city, you make a conscious choice not to allow your eyes to see.

Sol Feuerwerker

FEUERWERKER: There’s this whole, like belief or narrative in the community that if you, if you try to break away or change you will fail and you won’t be happy and you’ll just end up on drugs.

SEVERSON: Lani Santo is the Executive Director of a non-profit group called Footsteps, founded in 2003, not to proselytize but to provide counsel and support to those who want to explore life outside the confines of the world in which they were raised. They’ve assisted over 700 altogether so far, a majority are young men.

FOOTSTEPS GROUP DISCUSSION: “I mean my mother still hasn’t called me. My mother hasn’t spoken to me this whole time.”

LANI SANTO: We are seeing a lot more, just in this year alone, we’ve seen a 60% increase in our membership and in new people coming to us, and that’s compared to a 35% increase that we’ve been on for the last few years.

SEVERSON: In the past, it was easier to shelter those in ultra religious communities from the outside world. Television, magazines, radio, even libraries were off limits. Then along came the internet.

Prof. Samuel Heilman

PROFESSOR HEILMAN: The internet is a real problem for them. There has been, there have been efforts, for example there was a recent gathering at Citi Field here in New York that was against the internet. But it’s a case of trying to close the barn after the horses are out.

SEVERSON: Lani Santo says those who do leave suffer serious bouts of loneliness and guilt.

SANTO: It’s more about guilt in terms of impacting their families. If they have younger siblings, the fact that they’re leaving is putting at risk the marriage prospects for their younger siblings and that’s a real challenge.

PROFESSOR HEILMAN: Marriage is critical. And it’s all by matchmaking. Finding single people in this community is rare, and if they’re single then it means they’re problematic…and problematic can be that you have someone in the family who’s not Orthodox or that there’s some mental or physical ailment in the family or that there are, it can even be somebody has too many people with red hair in the family.

SANTO: Any mark of difference is a mark of shame. So whether it’s a mark of having a child that’s leaving the community, whether it’s a mark of having a child that’s sexually abused or whether there’s some sort of ailment in the family, um, or someone who’s committed suicide, all of that will be covered up.

Footsteps meeting

MICHAEL JENKINS: The first thing that really struck me was the courage in the room.

SEVERSON: Michael Jenkins is Footsteps’ senior social worker. He says he’s amazed at the risks young Hasidim are taking by even walking through the front door. He conducts group therapy and private counseling, says a number of people he meets with lead dual and deeply conflicted lives, with one foot in their Hasidic community and one foot out.

JENKINS: There’s things in the community that I love, that work for me, family, friendships, relationships … this is where I’ve always been and this is where I want to be, yet there are things that I disagree with…and I want to be able to talk about that or express that somewhere else.

FOOTSTEPS GROUP DISCUSSION: “I want to be who I want to be. And if I find God, I find God on my own, you know? I don’t go any more according to what I was told as a kid.”

SEVERSON: In Hasidic communities, young men study the Torah in Hebrew at least 7 hours a day and spend only one hour on secular education. So those who leave are woefully unprepared to go out on their own. Sol was 19 when he broke away.

(to Feuerwerker): What was your education level at that point?

FEUERWERKER: If I had to estimate it would probably be, you know 4th or 5th grade.

SEVERSON: Was that pretty standard for most of the men of your age?

FEUERWERKER: That’s the norm, yeah. And in fact I believe I was actually a little bit more advanced than some of my friends at the time.

SEVERSON: Another consequence of the insularity is that if a crime is committed, it often goes unreported.

FEUERWERKER: I have many friends, men and women who have been abused, sexually, physically, emotionally…

SEVERSON: Sol is now in his 4th year as a pre-med student. He says it hasn’t been easy. Some old friends speak to him, some don’t. He says he has a message for others who are worried about leaving the sheltered world of Hasidism.

FEUERWERKER: My point is it’s challenging and it looks really, really scary at the beginning. Um, but it’s, it’s possible.

SEVERSON: Chani Getter says Footsteps has made leaving the Hasidic community a little less scary.

GETTER: Since Footsteps opened the thing that I saw different is that when people used to leave the community before it would be through alcohol and drugs. In order for them to leave, they had to become a total outcast.

SEVERSON: When Chani left, her parents were traumatized, and then she announced that she is gay. Now she’s studying to be a rabbi.

GETTER: They’re hurt by the fact that I will not live, you know, that kind of life, because my soul is in danger. And yet they don’t understand why my eyes sparkle and why I’m so happy.

SEVERSON: As the world continues to shrink because of access to modern technology, like the internet, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for anyone or any group to shield their families from the outside world.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in New York.
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Sun May 12, 2013 2:06 pm

I hope no one will mind too much if this thread to split (by 1 pm PT) in order to preserve the original poster's topic and give the new material a place of its own.

Very good discussions are branching off - the split is not intended to stop that and I hope it won't.

UPDATE - please look for the tangent discussion under the category "In Theory and Practice", and titled "Loose Change".

Apologies in advance for any clumsiness with the split.
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PostSubject: Re: The Story of the Three Dimes   Mon May 13, 2013 5:02 pm

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