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Diaspora 9:1 2000 "Crown Heights is the Center of the World": Reterritorializing a Jewish Diaspora1 Henry Goldschmidt University of California, Santa Cruz A story is sometimes told about a disciple of the Baal Shem ??? (the eighteenth-century founder of Hasidic Judaism) who yearned to see the Holy Land—or at least the story was told to me, one night in 1997, by a Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi in Crown Heights, the multiracial neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where many Lubavitch Hasidim make their homes. It was late on a Friday evening, and the rabbi and I were walking together through the dimly lit and quiet streets of Crown Heights—past modest brick row houses and low-rise apartment buildings; the graffiti-tagged walls of garages and grocery stores; the tiny spots of grass that pass for lawns in Brooklyn; and the occasional group of Blacks or Jews, headed out for the evening or in for the night, enjoying the unseasonably warm winter weather. I'd been the rabbi's guest that night for a festive Sabbath meal, and he was walking me home. Among the other guests at his family's Sabbath table were a Lubavitch rabbi from San Francisco and his wife, who had regaled us with stories of their work as Lubavitch "emissaries" (a job I will describe below) in California—stories populated by a diverse cast ofcharacters, including kabbalah-crazed rock stars, wayward hippies seduced by Jews for Jesus, lesbian moms circumcising their adopted sons, and a yeshiva-educated Israeli transsexual. The rabbi from San Francisco seemed to love this decidedly unorthodox Jewish milieu; he had, in fact, just been profiled as a "Rock'n'Roll Rabbi" in a new magazine devoted to alternative Jewish arts and culture (Kaufman and Hanschen 24-5). I was struck by the unexpected presence of Jews and stories— orthodox and otherwise—from around the world, seated and narrated around a single Sabbath table, in a cramped apartment in Crown Heights. I commented to my host, as we walked, that Crown Heights was full of surprises, that quite a few paths seemed to cross in this small corner of Brooklyn. He smiled and responded, with a storyteller's lilt in his voice, "You know, there's a famous story about a disciple of the Baal Shem ??? . . ." 84 Diaspora 9:1 2000 The Baal Shem ??? (literally, "Master of the Good Name") was a mystic and teacher who lived for most of his life in the Polish town of Medziboz. His disciples flocked there, from throughout Eastern Europe, to learn the popular kabbalism that would develop, in time, into Hasidic Judaism, as it is practiced today by Lubavitchers and other Hasidim in the United States, in Israel, and around the world.2 But one ofthe Baal Shem Tov's disciples was not content to stay in Medziboz with his master; he longed to see Jerusalem , to visit the ruins ofthe Temple where the Children of Israel once gathered to worship their God. Like many other Jews in diaspora , before and since, this eighteenth-century Hasid dreamed of his ancient and fabled homeland. The Baal Shem ??? gave his disciple leave to go—who could forbid such a pilgrimage?—but would not give his blessing to the trip. The disciple hesitated in the face of his master's reluctance, but eventually he decided to go, with or without a blessing. When the disciple told his master ofthis decision, the Baal Shem ??? implored him to stay in Medziboz for one more Sabbath. And as he slept that Friday night, after a long dinner at his master's table, he had three dreams. He dreamed ofhis homeland, as he had so often before, but this time with an unexpected twist. In each dream he drew closer to the Holy Land, until finally he arrived at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, miraculously restored to its former glory. He proceeded through its gates and entered its innermost sanctum, the Holy of Holies, the spiritual center of the Israelite polity, where the Ark of the Covenant holds the stone Tablets of the Law (in Ashkenazic Hebrew, the "Luchos") that Moses received on Mount Sinai. An angel appeared and opened the Ark...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 83-106
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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