As a member of a family whose Gur roots run deep, I have tried hard, over the last few years, to distance myself from the conflict that has been making headlines in recent weeks. Having relatives who are split in their allegiances to the Rebbe and the RoshYeshiva, I made a conscious decision to stay as far away from the "machlokes", but unfortunately, the situation has spun far out of control.
Several months ago, I found out that two children of a family that I have known since childhood were kidnapped by the Rebbe’s followers to “save” them from their parents, who are followers of the Rosh Yeshiva. Gur leaders on the Rebbe’s side went so far as to force the children’s school to file a report alleging that their parents had sexually abused them at home. While these actions are utterly despicable, Gur has a long history of protecting sexual predators which includes witness tampering as we saw in both the Mondrowitz and Leifer cases. There are also stories of high-ranking community members being involved in sexual abuse and covering for others, as well as reports of Gur supervisors known as “kamendants” chemically castrating those found guilty of impure thoughts or actions.
Still, I did my best to stay silent until I found myself in Jerusalem on a Friday night that will live in infamy, when violence between acheinu Bnei Yisroel spilled out onto the streets. A proclamation issued by the Rebbe’s leadership urging his followers to protest had hundreds, if not thousands, of chasidim surrounding the shul where the Rosh Yeshiva was davening. Although the Rebbe’s order did not call for violence, there is no doubt that it incited an angry mob, and what can only be classified as a mob attacked the Rosh Yeshiva’s followers in or near their homes. The tranquility of Shabbos was shattered by young adults and married men in spodiks armed with sticks, bricks, rocks, glass bottles and other items violently hurling their weapons at people, buildings, and cars. There was absolute rage in their eyes as they rampaged through the streets, breaking bones and inflicting head wounds and other life sustaining injuries on their victims. At least a dozen people were hospitalized, including a wheelchair bound man with multiple sclerosis, and approximately ten people who were attacked by the mob simply because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though they had nothing to do with the conflict (not that anyone in the conflict should be attacked).
I sent a message after Shabbos to Gur’s leadership asking for an apology for the injured, as well as a call to order and an end to the violence. They responded with a message telling me to mind my own business or risk bodily injury but having seen with my own eyes that the Gur’s leadership had set the stage for people to be hurt and possibly even killed, I felt that there was too much at stake to simply walk away. Living as we are in 2022, I decided to take another tack, bringing the discussion to my personal social media platforms, hoping that there was a way to end the violence.
My first post, a quote from the fourth Rebbe of Gur, the Imrei Emes, saying that people had the right to follow another Rebbe, and that their decision to do so should never be met with violence. My second explained that I had no political motivations but was simply looking to hear Gur’s leadership condemning the violence and ending the conflict. Both posts received similar responses – messages of support, threats, and hateful comments. I made one more effort, posting a screenshot from Mein Kampf, in which Hitler, yimach shmo, discussed how Jews are always fighting amongst themselves and dragging the names of their leaders through the mud and added my own thoughts, that as the chosen nation, we shouldn’t be giving ammunition to the haters and the anti-Semites. I never compared the leaders of Gur to the Nazis, but when I realized that that post was being viewed in that light, I deleted it and I apologize wholeheartedly to anyone who was offended.
My next attempt to bring peace had me contacting senior communal leaders and philanthropists with close ties to Gur. Once again, I was met with bullying and intimidation, and I was warned that my actions would have repercussions that would affect me personally and would have funding pulled from causes that are dear to my heart. So far, my refusal to look away from the disgraceful violence in Gur has led to nearly $300,000 in funding being rescinded from those causes, as well as threats that further monies will also be pulled, actions that will hurt thousands of members of Klal Yisroel who are facing serious and potentially life saving issues. I have also been told by my Israeli connections with close ties to the police that there will be no investigations or arrests made thanks to a deal arranged by MK Yaakov Litzman, a chosid of the Rebbe.
What has taken place in Gur is unacceptable and the only statement that has been released so far by its leadership acknowledges nothing more than that a “few” “angry” and “pained” individuals went too far in response to a call to action. Those hollow words do nothing to right the terrible wrongs that belie our reputation as the am hanivchar.
I respectfully call on anyone with influence in the Gur community to do their part to put an end to the violence and restore the peace and tranquility that is the hallmark of Klal Yisroel.
Thoughts expressed in this article are my personal opinions and are in no way connected to Amudim, its leadership or any of its staff and/or volunteers.