To the many blog readers’s who over the years have asked me about my background , My memoir titled ” The Rebel and the Rabbi’s Son” has just been released.
Below is the synopsis:
The closed world of ultra-Orthodox Jews in America is a subject of much curiosity and intrigue as they coexist, just barely, with the outside world in day-to-day business dealings. Bonded by history, culture, and sacrifice, they will do whatever is necessary to protect their own kind, even if that means squashing the spirit of a young man or woman who doesn’t “fit in” or choose to practice this very spiritually and physically demanding way of life.
This is my story , I was born into a Chasidic dynasty and expected to carry on the traditions of my forefathers and virtually all the male elders of my extended family,in becoming a spiritual leader. This is also a story of my spiritual birth into a family who had high expectations for me that I could never meet.
With their long beards, side curls, high black hats and long black coats, the Chasidic Jews of America have always kept their lives separate from modern-day American life. Living in a way that closely mirrors their seventeenth-century founders in Eastern Europe, TV watching and going to movies are forbidden, listening to the sound of a woman singing is a sin, as is mixing with outsiders beyond their closed communities. While m home life was not quite this vigilant, the rest of my family were entirely comfortable living within these strict religious confines.
In The Rebel and the Rabbi’s Son, I take the reader on a journey inside the sacred world of the ultra-orthodox Chasidic community, off-limits to not only those of other religions, but also to other Jews who are not considered “religious enough” or “worthy” of entrance. It is a world where rites, rituals, and absolute adherence to religious scripture dominate every move and every decision one makes, and those who do not comply are subject to punitive actions including “shunning.”
For me religious expectations came with the territory: On my father’s side, he was one of the grandsons of Rabbi Y. Eichenstein, the leader of Chicago’s Ziditshov Chasidic dynasty, while on his mother’s side, he was a direct descendant of the equally imposing Novominsk Chasidic dynasty, originally from Mińsk Mazowiecki, Poland. From early on, I straddled two worlds: that of my family and the world outside and the divide widened with his growing awareness of the difference.
In my book, I chronicle the challenges I faced in order to find my own path, starting early on in life in childhood where my love for baseball overpowered my interest in religious and academic studies. Trying to please my idealistic father and devout mother, I learned that love was not unconditional, but rather, based on my achieving a long list of expectations and goals that came with my birthright.
In my yearning to please my family, I decided to fall into line. I attend one highly acclaimed yeshiva after another, with its intensive schooling and prayer, starting with the modern yeshiva in his hometown of Chicago, later to the ultra-Orthodox, black-hat-only yeshiva in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and finally, at an eminent yeshiva in Israel. But despite all his efforts, I remained torn. I was more enlivened by the pop culture of the 1960s and sports than by the promise of leadership as a rabbi carrying on his family’s tradition.
With my constant spiritual battle raging inside of me , I reached out to an outsider for help. That man turns out to be the illustrious counter-culture icon, Jewish songwriter and recording artist the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who invited me to join him on a whirlwind journey that changes my life. In the process, I gained a foothold into building a religious identity of my own. While it does not resemble that of his family’s, it carries forward Izzy’s respect and love for Judaism, and adds a new layer of depth.
In the years that follow, I become Shlomo’s manager and booking agent. I meet and hang out with world-changing recording artist Bob Dylan, with whom he cements a friendship that lasts for years. As he travels the world with Rabbi Carlebach, I discovered that I had a talent for negotiating business contracts, a skill that will serve me well in the years to come.
When life on the road takes its toll, I returned to my parents’ home to recover my health. There, in my hometown of Chicago, I meet the woman of my dreams. With her, I found a soul mate who understands the religious demands of my family, coming from a similar background herself, with roots to pre-World War II Chasidic royalty in Warsaw, Poland. The two make a pact to forge forward, leaving their families to start a new life in Los Angeles.
However, Los Angeles brings a new level of culture shock as we find ourselves outsiders, again, in a city where “who you know”and “where you live” appear to matter more than who you are. Over the years, as I build a successful career in the world of industrial real estate, and have a family of my own. But while I am now now free to choose how to raise my children and to make religious choices that are integral to who they are, the chains to my past continue to confuse and haunt me.
Finally, it is a school teacher at my son’s secular high school who boldly challenges me to choose: either bring up my children with the same constraints that shadowed my life—and win the love of his large, extended family— or choose to honor my children’s interests and cut off his family forever. This painful choice allows me to find my soul beyond the sacred tribe. It is a heart-rending moment of decision for me that encapsulates my very essence as a member of what some might call a fundamentalist upbringing.
In this straightforward memoir, readers can see that there are many ways, not just one way, to love one’s religion. Also, as one of the remaining members of a family torn apart by the Holocaust, this book challenges the way children of survivors think about carrying on their heritage; that they can carry it forward while still respecting their own belief systems.
This story is a must-read for anyone who has experienced the bondage of fundamentalist religion, whether it be Chaidic Jews, fundamentalist Mormons, Amish, Born Again Christians, Scientologists, or any other movement that claims to have the “only answer.” Most importantly, it tells the story of how the spirit can survive untold hardship and remain strong and true.