I wasn’t going to go to the ‘big gathering’ scheduled for last Thursday night in Beer Sheva with Rabbi Berland (Eliezer ben Etia).
I live two minutes away from the Rav’s kehilla here in Jerusalem, I go most nights to sit in the women’s section, outside in the big white tent they’ve erected to keep the rain off the congregants. Should it ever show up.
So I wasn’t really in the mood to drive two hours to Beer Sheva for more of the same….
But then, I had an email exchange with someone who was going, and who was making the effort, and then I heard the recording where the Rav was promising some big salvations for anyone who attended, and what can I tell you? I’m a sucker for the Rav’s brachot.
More than two years’ ago now, I paid a pidyon Nefesh to the Rav to deal with some chronic, disturbing health issues that had plagued me for years. Even after I just found out how much I’d have to pay, I started to feel so much better.
When I bought one of the Rav’s mezuzahs for my front door a few months’ back, I could literally feel the angels rushing around my home when my husband fixed it to the doorpost.
When my husband switched yeshiva to Shuvu Banim on the Rav’s say-so last year, he got so, so, so much happier.
On Shabbat, I pulled out my diary spanning 2016-2017 (the first half of the year) and I was amazed to see how many things have changed, improved and got better since I got closer to Rav Berland.
Some of these things are tangible – like my finances – and others are ephemeral, but so much more impressive.
Like my peace of mind. Like my shalom bayit. Like my general level of happiness in life, which had pretty much tanked for a good three years, until I hit the Rav.
So anyway, I’m a sucker for a bracha from the Rav, and when one of my daughter’s announced she had organized a bake-off in our (small…) home for 10 of her best teenage friends that same night, I took it as a sign that if we wouldn’t go for the carrot, we should probably go to avoid the stick.
My husband agreed, and we set off.
There was just one problem: We had no idea where we were going. It said on the website the heichal hatarbut in Beer Sheva central, but then someone else told me it was at the Narnia halls. So I printed off both sets of Google Maps, and we headed off into the night.
The heichal hatarbut was completely deserted when we got there. My husband mumbled: “There’s not enough payot here for this to be the place” and truly, there wasn’t so much as a pay in sight. So we got a bit lost, and then after a bit of aimless driving we found ourselves outside the Narnia halls of Beer Sheva.
There were a couple of cars full of payot-ed people waiting outside, and when my husband waved his payot at them, they came over and gave us directions to the new venue for the Rav Berland meet. We’ve been with the Rav long enough now to know there’s nearly always a surreal twist waiting in the wings somewhere.
That’s part of what I love about Rav Berland, it’s never dull.
So we got a bit lost again, then found ourselves in the hard-core industrial estate of Southern Beer Sheva, in what looked to be the courtyard of a tile warehouse. They’d set up two big white tents – one for men, and one for women, and us being anglos, we were among the first 20 people there.
I wondered to myself why they’d downscaled so radically, from the heichal hatarbut to the tile factory in the industrial area, but I’d only find that out later. Rav Succot was there strumming his guitar, and there was also a small band with a guy on electric guitar that rocked the place.
The only thing I love more than a bracha from a Tzaddik is hearing a great electric guitar riff live, so I was thrilled. There was one toilet between 400 people, so I got in there early, while it was still usable, and waited for the Rav to arrive.
And waited. And waited.
In the meantime, one of the ladies next to me told me some protesters had showed up outside on the street. I went to look, and saw around 7 shouting women (one with a bull-horn), 2 ‘artistic’ looking men and a bunch of signs decrying the terrible thing being done to the visitors of Beer Sheva.
There were five cops there, looking bored and a bit bemused, and it wasn’t really clear to me if they were there to protect the 10 protesters from the ‘terrible, violent and threatening cultish followers of Rav Berland’ – as the secular press undoubtedly described all us ladies with our knitted hats and scarves on our heads, and strollers, and the ‘cultish, brutish’ people like my sweet, gentle husband, who must be ‘bad’ because he has payot and doesn’t use Facebook – or vice-versa.
Try as they might to make their point, they were no match for the guy on the electric guitar, and he started whacking out some Uman anthems so loudly it was like being a frum Guns n’ Roses concert.
I loved it!
It was about a 60th of Uman, when all these different types of Jews get together and just dance, and chill and hang, and no-one cares who’s wearing a kippa or not, or how long your skrit is, or even if you’re wearing a skirt.
So, that continued for around three hours, until the Rav finally made it into the courtyard, and started singing niggunim with the crowd. At that point, me and my husband left to come home. I usually go to sleep at 10, and it was easily pushing midnight.
I reckon around 400 people showed up, all told, and again, I wondered why they’d moved it from the heichal hatarbut, and then moved it again from Narnia.
Today, I found out.
That little band of protesters had been whipping up a huge storm on Facebook, which seems to be the lashon hara and anti-tzaddik social media tool of choice for crazy psychos with axes to grind against religious Jews.
Apparently, the fact that the Rav was drawing bigger and bigger crowds had got up their nose, and they did what the liberal peace n’ love crowd excel at the most, i.e. borrowing tactics from the Third Reich to close down and eliminate anything that they don’t agree with. They waged a hate campaign against the Mann auditorium in Beer Sheva and threatened all sorts of reprisals until the manager caved in and cancelled the event.
When the Rav’s followers moved the venue to the Narnia halls last minute, the protesters repeated their campaign of hate and intimidation, and again, the manager folded.
So then, the Rav’s followers came up with the plan of hiring two enormous marquees, and setting them up in some tile factory courtyard in the industrial area. I didn’t know all this at the time, but it’s truly amazing that any event occurred given all that, and that anyone showed up for it, let alone 400 people.
Strangely, it’s reassuring to me that the opposition against the Rav is starting up again. If I’ve learned one thing the last few months, it’s that being dissed actually brings a lot of blessings in its wake, sweetens a lot of judgments, and helps you to get the really important things done.
But at the same time, I can see that this book is not going to come out unremarked, and that it may well get a little hairy.
I mean, the people who are against Rabbi Berland, aka Eliezer ben Etia, are completely psycho….
It’s probably going to be an interesting few weeks.
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