Richmond, VA – The Charedi Rebbi From Virginia And His Wife Two Devout Jews


    Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski featured as the cover story in this month Style magazineRichmond, VA – In search of tradition and truth in a modern world, Richmond’s tiny population of Hasidic Jews practice quiet, strict yet joyful lives.

    Hasidic Judaism summons images of wide-brim black hats, curling side-locks called payots and Polish noblemen. Of stern veneers and high-minded, ritualistic devotion to religious study. It probably doesn’t conjure up the Kolakowski household in the near West End.

    There are signs of a strict Hasidic lifestyle, albeit a cluttered one: religious texts piled high on the dining-room table, a stack of boxes containing a variety of black felt hats threatening to avalanche onto the couch, not to mention a second-hand piano with replacement front legs made from what appears to be scrap lumber.

    The austere clothing and seemingly equally austere approach to religious life plainly identify Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski and his wife, Chavah, as among a handful of strictly observant Hasidic Jewish families in the Richmond area. But appearances are deceiving; this community also knows how to let their payots down.
    Chavah and Joseph Kolakowski with their daughter Faith at home. Photo by Scott Elmquist

    There’s a common misconception that Hasidic Jews, with their plain, almost Amish-looking clothing, general desire to live in homogeneous enclaves and awkward interactions with the non-Hasidic world — even with other Jews — aren’t exactly joyful in their celebration of faith. But it’s a religion, Rabbi Kolakowski explains, that also demands partaking in some worldly indulgences.
    Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski, his wife Chavah and their daughter Faith. Photo by Scott Elmquist
    The Kolakowskis and their fellow Hasidic Jews — and other Ultra-Orthodox Jews like them — are far from opposed to a little faith on the rocks, recognizing that God hath provided good whiskey to enjoy. Boisterous expressions of devotion through song and dance that at times are almost raucously charismatic are fundamental to Hasid faith.

    “It’s a movement based on joy,” says Rabbi Kolakowski. He’s a member at Congregation Kol Emes, a tiny Ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregation on Patterson Avenue within walking distance of his house, that’s welcomed him — despite the departure that Hasidism represents even from Ultra-Orthodox. Kolakowski says he understands how it’s difficult for outsiders to believe that the sect’s 18th-century founder, the Ba’al Shem Tov, rejected then-prevalent views that Judaism should be religion for scholars, and that God was best found through strict and continuous study.

    Kolakowski looks the part of the Hasidic Jew so often stereotyped by Hollywood, and he realizes how outsiders might struggle to reconcile his appearance with the seemingly contradictory premise of Hasidism preached by the Ba’al Shem Tov: “He said you can be the best Jew just by being you.”

    Hidden behind the uniform black clothes, the frequent whispered prayers that add ritualistic meaning to performance of simple daily tasks, there’s a near ecstatic joyfulness — an almost playful celebratory acknowledgement of God in everything.

    “That was very revolutionary,” Kolakowski says of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s premise, which extended to encourage enjoyment of many worldly things, including drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco. “In Orthodox Judaism, all of these things … are made holy,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to feel good and to thank God for something that God gave us.”

    This little house just across the city line in Henrico County is the center of the Kolakowski’s spiritual world. It’s located within a few blocks of Congregation Kol Emes, and just a few steps through high weeds and a bent chain-link fence from the Jewish Community Center on Monument Avenue where Rabbi Kolakowski teaches regular Bible classes. God is as much a part of this house as the couple’s toddler daughter.

    At first blush, the Kolakowskis seem as unlikely an association as Hasidism and good times.

    Rabbi Kolakowski, still in his mid-20s, is a nearly lifelong adherent to Hasidism and to Ultra-Orthodox beliefs. Tall and pale, he’s a little awkward in his movements and his heavily lidded eyes have a naturally sad look. But they frequently sparkle with joy when he talks about his faith or his family.

    Chavah is just as young, but her round, smiling face contrasts with her husband’s completely. She came late to her Hasidic lifestyle, and really only slightly earlier to her Jewish faith.

    Born with the very much un-Jewish name Melissa Hayes into a devoted Mormon family in Idaho, Chavah traces her roots directly to the first followers of Latter Day Saints who followed Brigham Young into Utah.

    While her husband was born to Judaism, Chavah literally arrived at her faith on a New York City subway.

    “We were, like, progressive Mormons,” she says, her casual, easy speech belying an upbringing far away from the Hasidic world. “My father told me when I was 16, you should find your own faith.”

    She spent years searching, attending college and eventually becoming an opera singer in New York. The search became desperate one afternoon on a subway ride home after discovering the store where she worked was closing — she was devastated and fearful of her future.

    “I was crying,” she says. “This Hasidic man and woman got on. She asked me, ‘Why are you crying?’ We had a five-minute conversation — nothing spiritual.”

    Yet Chavah found a lifeline during those few minutes.

    “Something about the woman really touched me,” she says, recalling how easily she could look beyond the woman’s seemingly restrictive religious clothing to see the inner peace. “She knew where she was going. I wanted that.”

    Not long after, during a life-altering medical crisis, she found out through her hospital roommate that Jews took converts.

    “My world was stopped,” she says.

    It wasn’t long afterward that Chavah met her husband, perhaps through the most thoroughly modern means possible. She’d posted a Craigslist ad looking for a teacher and Joseph Kolakowski answered.

    After a few months, Rabbi Kolakowski’s mentor, a respected Hasidic teacher, the Biala Rebbe, thought there should be more to the relationship.

    “He said, you know, maybe it’s a good match,” says Rabbi Kolakowski, a toothy grin spreading across his face. “In the Hasidic world, converts are really respected. It says in the Bible you should love the stranger and the same word for stranger is [for] convert.”

    They married soon after, and moved to Richmond about two years ago when Kolakowski was brought on by Congregation Kol Emes as a rabbi with hopes he might help breathe a bit of new life into the synagogue‘s dwindling membership.

    Kol Emes has perhaps the most Ultra-Orthodox reputation of all of Richmond’s Orthodox congregations. That’s been both its strength and its weakness.

    The history of Kol Emes begins in 1964 with its founding by two brothers, Emil and Abraham Dere. David Lowitz, a retired physicist with Philip Morris, was among the congregation’s first members.

    “I arrived in 1967,” Lowitz says, not long after those brothers “decided Richmond needed a genuine Jewish congregation.”

    In the Ultra-Orthodox tradition, the brothers built a synagogue that set strict partitions between men and women — a high wall separates the two groups.

    “It’s not so much to keep the women out of sight,” Lowitz says, jokingly dismissing liberal preconceptions that might see this as dismissive of women. “It’s to keep the communal traffic down. Us Mediterranean people are easily distracted.”

    The brothers’ influence was felt not only within these walls, but also throughout Richmond’s historic Jewish community.

    “There’s more observation of Jewish traditions as a result of this synagogue,” Lowitz says, now laughing at his fellow Richmond Jews who 40 years ago believed women would reject being separated from men during services.

    For Chavah Kolakowski and other Ultra-Orthodox women, it’s exactly this segregation, the recognition of the weaknesses inherent in both sexes, from which she draws comfort.

    “Being modest is hard,” says Chavah, who in the tradition of Hasidic married women cuts her hair razor-short and wears a wig and scarf to cover that bow to modesty. High-necked shirts and thick stockings complete the look. It seems an unlikely path to freedom, giving up society’s notion of beauty as central to a woman’s character, but Chavah’s spiritual comfort is somewhat synonymous to a Moslem woman’s adoption of the Chador.

    “It’s worth it, and I feel a sense of pride,” she says. “There’s no pressure anymore to reveal certain aspects of my body — because the attraction [with her husband] is not physical anymore, it’s spiritual.”

    That load off her mind has freed her to more fully evolve in her faith, she says. “When I found Judaism, I felt like I could breathe again,” she says. “I feel very blessed because I feel like some people never find that.”
    Blake Glover, 13, participates in his bar mitzvah. Unlike more mainstream Jewish groups, where boys learn to recite lengthy passages from the Torah to complete the initiation, Ultra-Orthodox bar mitzvahs put emphasis on the passage as a beginning of learning. Photo by Christine Lockerby

    Paradoxically, it was the very influence of Kol Emes on other less-observant Jewish congregations that has slowly led to its membership anemia. As years went by, its traditions rubbed off on a larger congregation nearby in Richmond’s West End that previously had been less observant to Orthodoxy. As that congregation began to adopt more of the Orthodox observances, the smaller synagogue’s membership dwindled.

    Youth offers renewed strength. Since Kolakowski’s arrival two years ago, the congregation is able to hold services with its Biblically required “minyan” or quorum of 10 men “most weeks,” Kolakowski says.

    Today Kol Emes is an unusual blend of Jewish traditions. Kolakowski is the lone strictly observant Hasidic member.

    Like Kol Emes with its struggle to maintain itself in the face of newer, less Orthodox ideals, Jewish history is peppered with adversity, with seemingly epic and continuous stories of decline and renewal.

    As Kolakowski sees it, Judaism is different from other major world religions, most of which were founded on the word of a single prophet or messiah who claimed to have been given all the answers by God. According Biblical tradition, Kolakowski notes, no single witness convinced the first Jewish follows to trust blind faith. Rather, it was 600,000 men who saw God at once.

    “That’s unique in human history,” Kolakowski says. “This was something that was clear. This is really truth. This was really the word of God.”

    Call it human nature that when 600,000 men see God, they’re not necessarily likely to have the same takeaway. And so it’s not unexpected that Judaism is filled — much like Christianity — with its share of splits, schisms and ideological differences.

    And unsurprising in a religion filled with so many strong-minded philosophers and thinkers, the schisms are not so simple. Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jewish movements all ascribe to various degrees of observance to traditional Jewish law. Reform and Conservative Jews tend toward the more liberal observances, some eat pork, Jewish rules are suggestions rather than law. Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox both ascribe to a view that the law is the law and is not there for believers to pick and choose from at their convenience.

    Hasidic Jews like Rabbi Kolakowski are on the ultra end of Ultra-Orthodox observance, but Hasidism still is a major departure that is not well understood, even by other Ultra-Orthodox sects.

    Founded in the mid-18th century in modern-day Ukraine by a common laborer named Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, Hasidism is a rejection of more austere Jewish traditions that long emphasized study of the Torah as the only way to be close to God. Instead, ben Eliezer, who became know as the Ba’al Shem Tov, taught joyful expression and spirituality attainable by the common man.

     Bar mitzvah is a time for celebration, and Orthodox Jewish congregations celebrate with gusto. Despite public conceptions of Orthodoxy as staid and reserved, many of these traditions emphasize enjoyment of all of Gods bounty.  Photo by Christine Lockerby

    The Ba’al Shem Tov was a teacher who taught largely through parables and cryptic sayings. He wrote nothing down, leaving that to his followers. he emphasized emotional and spiritual awakening over legalistic study. He performed miracles and taught that God is good and observable in everything.

    What he didn’t teach — and for that matter though it certainly didn’t stop his followers from making the logical leap — was that he was the Messiah.

    In the Jewish faith, where believers also await the arrival of a messiah (and other sects have occasionally claimed to have found him without being tossed out as heretics), that messiah is seen “not so much as a savior as an earthly king,” Kolakowski says. “Everyone will like him and he’ll be a wise man, maybe as great as a Moses. But he’s not God.”

    The men of Congregation Kol Emes filter casually in and out of the sanctuary throughout Sabbath service, though they keep a lookout to ensure they’re available at the certain important times when a minyan — a kind of quorum — is required to continue.

    While they enter they join in with the rhythmic swaying and chanting.

    At the front of the sanctuary is the Ark, a simple, curtain-shrouded vestibule that contains the holy Torah scrolls. The Torah, each of four separate scrolls, is adorned in a dark-blue, velvet covering with a silver shield on a silver chain draped around it. On top is a silver crown with twinkling bells around its edges.

    “Arise, oh Lord,” Kolakowski chants. “Blessed is your name, the master of the universe.” The ceremony continues as the Torah is brought from the Ark to the Bima, a central raised platform, where Kolakowski waits, reading passionately from another book of prayers, his voice rising occasionally for emphasis and his fist hammering the Bima occasionally.

    When the Torah arrives, Kolakowski dons a massive mink hat called a shtreimel, an eastern European or Russian style that seems exaggeratedly large.

    Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski making the pilgrimage to the grave of another rabbi At the Sir Moses Montefiore Cemetery in Richmonds East End. Photo by Scott Elmquist

    Hasidic dress ascribes to an early tenant of Judaism, a commandment to Jews not to look like other nations of the world.

    They don’t.

    And their religious services likewise set Jews apart. An almost paradoxical relaxed formality flows through the service.

    Unlike Christian traditions in which such ceremonies are performed with uninterrupted reverence, or even less rigid Protestant traditions where the line between sacred and profane maintains the boundary between minister and flock, this high ceremony occasionally gives way to light conversation and laughter.

    Today the congregation celebrates the bar mitzvah of Blake Glover, 13. He’s an unbelievably fresh-faced kid from Mechanicsville with longish curly hair in the current style; he chews gum throughout the service. Only the yarmulke from which his curls splay indicates he’s not on the way to hang out at the mall.

    When Glover finishes his brief part in the ceremony — he’s not made to read long passages from the Torah as is common in Reform and Conservative Jewish tradition — the handful of men still in the pews begins throwing hard candy at him and the other men gathered around the Bima. Tradition calls for them to try to hit the boy who’s celebrating his mitzvah.

    They clap and sing, holding hands as they dance.

    At the back of the sanctuary, another rabbi looks on, smiling, as he unwraps a piece of the hard candy and pops it in his mouth.

    “Rabbi, you’re supposed to throw it, not eat it,” a celebrant says, jokingly admonishing him.

    Glover’s arrival in this Ultra-Orthodox community is another unlikely tale. His dad is Baptist, his mother is Jewish.

    “My brother, he doesn’t know what to believe,” says Glover, who says he’s never had his mother’s faith thrust on him.

    Despite this, “I knew I was Jewish,” he says. “I always felt like I needed to learn. [And now], I feel a lot better and a lot closer to God.”

    Hurtling hard candies at congregants and laughing during the proceedings aren’t the only joyful expressions that work their way into the ceremony.

    This is, after all, a bar mitzvah — a celebration. As the service ends, members head to a table filled with food and booze. Another table nearby is filled with Manishevitz, a traditional sweet Jewish wine, as well as not-so-traditional bottles of scotch, whiskey and beer.

    Rabbi Kolakowski has changed into a long, shimmery white silken robe. Around him, people drink, eat and laugh.

    Again, for all of Hasidic Judaism’s pretense of formality, it’s remarkably relaxed in practice. The simple approach to bar mitzvah is a perfect example.

    “The bar mitzvah isn’t something you do — it’s not a graduation from Judaism,” Kolakowski says. “A bar mitzvah is just something that happens.”

    The words themselves mean “son of the commandment,” Kolakowski says, and celebrating it is simply an acknowledgement of a 13-year-old having reached the age where he’s old enough to participate as part of the required minyan of 10 men needed to hold a service.

    Today, Glover is a son of that commandment. And, Kolakowski hopes, he’ll be another son to share a sacred spot at the Kol Emes’ table each Saturday. One more step toward rebuilding this congregation.

    “I guess that’s the commandment, really,” Kolakowski says, “God’s first commandment is faith.”

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    1. Ummm…
      “What he didn’t teach — and for that matter though it certainly didn’t stop his followers from making the logical leap — was that he was the Messiah.”

      Also: The Baal Shem Tov was a common laborer


      I love when people write articles about things they know very little about.

      • Also: The Baal Shem Tov was a common laborer


        what fo you think he was born a rebbie, like many rebbies today

        many rabbies in that time had jobs and was not like today that they are treated to a house money and royalty.

        BTY began his career as a Beihilfer, a German or Yiddish word for assistant. He was assigned the job of teacher’s assistant, a job even lower in the esteem of the community than teacher. This didn’t work out for him and so he was assigned the job of assistant to the shammes,hat do

        • “what fo you think he was born a rebbie, like many rebbies today”

          What I mean’t was that the Baal Shem Tov was not a common person at all.
          It is true that he disguised himself for many years as a simple person but in fact he was already a talmid chacham and genuine tzaddik and a member of the secret society.

          The article makes it sound like a common laborer got up one day and said “Hey let me turn Judaism upside down”

          Anyways Kol HaKavod to the Rabbi!

          • I did not get that impression, I think the point is that he was not born into a royal rebbieshie family. Yet, he was able to rise and be a godol with his wisdom. a positive point

            That was my impression

    2. chillul hashem. why interview a chabadnik? seems nice in gesture but really has some anti-semetic undertones, especially wwhen describing them and the house. damn media!

      • a beautiful and touching story, no antisemitism at all he wrote a beautiful story.

        A great idea he had to see and check Caigslist to see if anybody wants to know Judaism how was he supposed to know if she was Jewish or not.
        He met her and figured she was sincere and taught her. Who teaches woman who want to be Jewish or a non religious person woman a guess a male so its not so different than any other case.

        They seem great we all should be proud of them, and hope that more stories like these written in the media.

      • This isn’t the only mistake in the article; but it is nevertheless well written. You can’t expect someone who knows nothing of Judaism to describe it properly. Their story is what makes it interesting although his background isn’t discussed.

    3. This is what you people pick up on? That her name is listed as faith? Nothing regarding the fact that this man answered a craigslist ad and did kiruv as a single man for a single woman? Although it worked out in this case, that does not seem so appropriate. Its not even like a Jewish neshama was saved since she was not Jewish at the time. This seems stranger than the name faith in an english magazine!

      • What’s so strange about a Rabbi teaching someone who is converting. Shame on you for being so critical. If you want females to only be converted by females, then you will need woman rabbis.

    4. What a kiddush hashem. This is exactly what the Torah says that if we live a true torah life then the peoples of the world will look at us and say, how great and wonderful is this jewish nation and its people, how great and wonderful is the torah that teaches them how to live and how great and wonderful is their G-d. This article was beautifully written by a non jewish reporter. It can only bring a better understanding of us to the outside world.

    5. They had a few articles about the couple in Jewish magazines. They are good people, but seem not to understand that becoming a member of the community involves a long blending process. There is such thing as שמוש תלמידי חכמים Since he has only been observant for under 10 years, spent much of this time outside of Jewish surroundings and not known to be a genius, his Torah knowledge is limited. The most important Kiruv project for them is themselves and their children. Otherwise, there is a major risk of them falling off ח”ו , sadly there have been many cases. Hopefully, they should find a real Kiruv professional as opposed to a chassidic Rebbe (with all due respect for the Rebbe in the field of his expertise) who will successfully explain it to them.

      • By the tone and content of your comments perhaps you are not known to be a genius either. What in the world make you think to say such a thing? For once there is a nice, positive article and you have to make such a mean comment. Now tell me, who is more jewish, you with your “I’m FFB so I can demean others attitude” or this nice, sincere family?

      • To a point I agree with you , that’s the way it seems, that he knows little, he certainly means it seriously, but why this whole “rebbishe” levush with the cane, etc. what does that help for kirruv” its not like he’s becoming some Rebbe of Chasiddim…and she going total extreme as well, what is that whole issue with the hair shaving, she’s taking it as an essential part of Judaism , when in fact, its only an Hungarian custom, and clearly omitted in the Talmud, and Sulchan Aruch. and the Messiah issue as well …obviously his perception of the Bash”t is that he’s some kind of messiah, as Christians have in ….it all points out to your above assumption that as righteous as he is, he certainly has a lot to learn still…and I sure hope he’s affiliated with others for proper guidance!

        • Hair shaving is not an Hungarian Minhag, only that they are the most Makpid on it. According to my knowledge this Minhag started with the Vaad Arba Arutzos (1530-1773). In Galicia, in Sanz and in Belz they were also very Makpid on this.

          The Sefardim follow the Rambam who holds that it is forbidden. Lita (Lithuania) and Poland were mixed; some were Makpid and some not. You can be sure that the Vilna Gaon’s mother shaved her hair as did the Chofetz Chaim’s mother and the Chazon Ish’s mother.

          • The Rambam did not assur a woman from shaving her head. If she shaves her head like man, leaving the payis, she lokeh. If she shaves her head completely there is no problem with lo silbash. The problem is with those Jews that have forgotton that Payis is a mitzvah dioireisa, not a hungarian custon.

            • “The problem is with those Jews that have forgotton that Payis is a mitzvah dioireisa, not a hungarian custon.”

              I don’t know what Payos you referring to, ” mitzvah dioireisa” is only if you “shave it I think less than #2-3 blade, NOT hanging long payos, which may be “al pi Kabalah” but certainly no D’Oraisa in any way….(see beg of me’sachet Shavuos)

              *wondering* …what’s wrong with the Yeshivos these days?!…

          • “Lita (Lithuania) and Poland were mixed; some were Makpid and some not. You can be sure that the Vilna Gaon’s mother shaved her hair as did the Chofetz Chaim’s mother and the Chazon Ish’s mother.”

            You might be right about the Vaad ,although about the Chazon Ish’s mothers in her times, it has long been diminished in all of Russia’s territories incl. white Poland (excluding Galicia) incl. Chasidei Chabad, Gur, Alexander, Karlin, Breslov, etc. it seems more likely that it stemmed from the decrees of the “gracious Raminov Tsar in combination of the Orthodox church, Regardless of the reason and prior facts, it has lost its status of a minhag for anyone from those parts of Europe.
            And even in Jerusalem the “Perushim” who follow the Gr”a m’Vilna all the way to his minuet details, either do not follow that minhag !

            In our case: The above rebbitzen certainly does not apply to that minhag, and certainly not to take as an essential part per modesty of Judaism.

            Anyways, even according to the minhag it was NEVER intended for “modesty” purposes, rather as halachik ge’dorim for Am harotzim in those times (i.e. se’chitah b’shabbos,etc)

            For we find numerous times in Chazal that their wives had long hair i.e. Rabbi Akivah’s wife sold her “long hair” etc. (Would you consider them as “immodest”)

            The only time we find “hair shaving” as a commandment, is non other than the parsha of “yefas to’ar and obviously done for negative reasons!

    6. I had to be in Richmond on business several months ago and stayed for shabbos and ate by this rabbi. He’s a wonderful man. Great to see him getting this recognition.

    7. Why is Soshe, Shprintze, Dvoshe or Shlumtze better than Faith? Because those are Polish, Russian or Hungarian? At least Faith means something yiddishlach.

      • Actually Shprintze is Ladino, from the Spanish Esperanza… It means Hope. We laugh at it, but it’s actually a beautiful name, as is Faith. I personally love the name Chastity. Anyone agree?

      • Because Soshe, Shprintze, Dvoshe or Shlumtze are Jewish names. There are no goyim named Sara Sosha. When the medresh says that jews merited redemption from Egypt due to the fact that they did not change their language dress or their names, it obviously does not mean they kept exactly the same seventy names that with which Yaakov and his family came down from Canaan. If so, how is it possible for there to be names like Aharon, Moshe, Kalev, Zimri, Nadav, Avihu, Oin, Nachson, and the 12 nesi’im, whose names are not found amongst the original 70 names? The obvious answer is that it means they kept seperate recognizeable Jewish names, Jewish Dress, and and a Jewish Language it does not mean that we should be wearing sandals, camelskins and speaking Canaanish. When Jews translated or hinted to Jewish names like Faige from Tzipporah or Aryeh from Yehuda, they remained Jewish names. Unlike modern orthodox rabbis that go by names like Scott, Bruce, or Brian, Speak English as a first language and dress like the politicians, lawyers, businessmen of the country in which we are currently exiled.

      • He is an online friend of mine, and he is close to the Biala rebbe shlita of Boro Park.

        The Biala Rebbe is his Rebbe and he is very well grounded in Yiddishkeit and Chassidishkeit and not in danger of falling R”L.

    8. Chava looks EXACTLY like a young veibel from Williamsburg. How can it be that she was born a Mormon? It’s amazing how people find their true place in life through hashgacha pratis, and nowadays that hashgacha pratis involves the internet. Yasher Koach to Chava. May she be zoche to Yiddische doros and Yiddische nachas.

    9. Kol HaKaovod to this chassidish couple for being friendly to the outside world and not shunning and snobbing out the media. Hopefully it will change the way the secular world views frum Jews and especially chassidim.

    10. Very inspiring article.

      One note:

      I agree with the “Rebatzin” that there is much more then beauty to a women’s character. However, beauty is still “part” of a women’s character (at least for the common people).

      The Jewish religion is balanced.

    11. one would think there is no religious jews in richmond from this article and with out this chassid richmond would be a waste land funny there is a religious population with yeshivahs as well

    12. I am deeply saddened by some of the critical and often snarky comments here about Rabbi Kolakowski. R’Yosef is a deeply commited, learned and pious young man. He is both humble and, frankly, brilliant at the same time. His youthful energy and genuine compassion have transformed an otherwise dying “old” synagogue into a thriving community brimming with Torah, chassidus, and chesed. His presense has raised the level of Torah learning and observance for the ENTIRE Richmond community which was, before his arrival, very liberal, even among the orthodox. I would challenge any of you critics to make a shabbos road trip (I’m sure he andchavah would be delighted to host you) and see for yourself the nes this young man has accomplished. He is deserving of nothing but praise for such a kiddush HaShem and I for one wish him nothing but blessings and continued success.

      A couple of details: he is absolutely NOT a chabadnik in any way shape or form. He is a chossid of the Biala Rebbe and he is also “close” (for lack of a better word) with Satmar and (I believe) Tosh.

      As to the article, I genuinely think those that feel it was tinged with anti-Semitism are being more than just a little bit defensive. Remember the goyim see religion differently than we do and they view Judaism as dour, glum. Remember… this is VIRGINIA where TV wrestling and Nascar are considered high value entertainment. It is “normal” in VA for christian clergy to play with poisonous snakes while parishoners writhe in the aisles, froth at the mouth, and babble incoherently whilst “speaking in tongues.” Compared to that, I suppose ANYTHING is dour! Their bible portrays Jews as obsessively ritualistic without understanding that those rituals are derived from Torah commandments (most of them genuinely believe that there are ONLY 10 Commandments). As a result, they are genuinely surprised, if not shocked, when the encounter the love and joy that Orthodox jews, and especially Chassidim, demonstrate and discover that, yes, their really is meaning behind those “meaningless rituals.” Rather than being anti-semitic, I think this article breaks through those stereotypes and may well serve to enlighten the goyim. That too is a kiddush HaShem.

      • Whatever you have to say about the Rabbi – fine and good, go right ahead. But please, please – refrain from making comments about a community (Richmond)that you know nothing about. I am an Othodox Jew actually living in Richmond, and I am far from being “very liberal”, as is true of many of my chevra here. There is in fact quite an impressive growing kehila here, which includes a Torah Umesorah day school, a girls high school, a boys Yeshiva high school and a new Yeshiva Gedola. Believe me – Rabbi Kolokowki may be a very nice person, but he has absolutely nothing to do with these remarkable and successful Torah institutions. Please give crdeit where credit is due, and stick to chosamo shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu, included in your “pen” name – emes.

    13. It takes courage to be different and it takes Siyata dishmaya to make a difference.
      I challenge all the critics to do a real soul searching, non of them would be able to match what the rabbi and his Rebitzen do. They don’t belong to an organization funded to do Kiruv, they simply serve the tzibur b’emuna (and I don’t mean their daughter). Take pride. Mikamchah Yisrael!

    14. Stunning !
      An absolutely heartwarming real life story.
      If only we had more like him (and her !).
      I believe I read somewhere that the shul is an officiail Young Israel shul and that he is the only Young Israel rabbi to wear a shtreimel.
      How beautiful we would all be if we had hundreds, if not thousands, of couples like them leading our shuls across all of America.
      There should be a whole lot more of reporting about them and about those like them.
      I don’t have enough good words to express my overwhelming good feelings.
      Thank you !!!!!!!!!!

    15. “The words themselves mean son of the commandment, Kolakowski says, and celebrating it is simply an acknowledgement of a 13-year-old having reached the age where hes old enough to participate as part of the required minyan of 10 men needed to hold a service”. really? is that simply all we acknowledge at a bar mitzva, that he can join a minyan? what happened to becoming mechuyav bemitzvos? this poor Rebbe desperatly needs a rebbe! he reminds me of the old bar mitzva speech – Today I am a fountain pen…(i’m sure some of you are old enough to remember that one).

    16. Yes, Biala does do some kiruv in a way. They also have their own website. I met the Rebbe that way.

      And the Ba’al Shem Tov did start out as a common laborer. He transported materials by horse and wagon.

    17. He seems like a very well meaning person, but the article is vrey very fishy and it seems like this very well meaning person is not necessarily very learned and clearly not in Chassidus. His Rebbe is the Biala Rebbe, who is that? This guy wears a white beketshe and cane, is he the Satmar Rebbe?
      Many things he said in the article are well meaning but slightly off.
      I wish him much hatzlacha, but it clearly seems this yid needs desperate hadracha and needs to develop himself. The Baal Shem Tov’s talmidim spent years and year learning and developing before they “went out”

      • I agree with you, though take away, all the external shtick, he will be fine: He should focus on what’s important, and not on these “chizoniyos” issues ….and be connected to someone who knows and has experience on these issues, for he sure seems to have at least the potential of being “mashpiya” his warmth and charisma to other Jews in need…I would say that even If he saves just ONE Jew —-Kol Hakavod !

        BTW – I know who the Biyala rebbe is, better, I know him from before he became a rebbe, his father was the Rebbe from Bnei Brak, and was nifter about 10 yrs ago, the Rebbe is a fine fellow, but I wouldn’t say a “Gadol” or leader in any way…

        p.s I’m not trying to degrade anyone, but you got to know where you standing..!

        • I agree with you that if this Rabbi even saves one life Kol Hakavod. One also has a great responsibility representing Klal Yisrael in this manner and can do a lot of positive or chalila…..
          I dont know this Rabbi, but I am sure he is an ehrliche Yid and has proper hadracha and experience in Torah.
          Things like the craigslist story and the Rebbishe clothing raise an eyebrow but are in no way a right to passul someone chas vshalom
          I am sure he has and will continue to be mekadeish sheim shamayim!

    18. Look, it’s an article written by a not-very-knowledgeable non-Jewish reporter who clearly did not run it by the Kolakowskis for corrections. The reporter presumably heard Faige as Faith. And peyots?! I guess he found the “proper” spelling is the Sefardi peyot and then decided it needed to be plural! The whole comparison of the Besh”t to Yoshke is the reporter’s own invention. All in all, it’s a positive but flawed article.

    19. I was one of the bochurim there in richmond last week . He is a great man with even greater potential. His wife”s name is faige , he is a satmar chossid with a close relationship to the biala Rebbe.

    20. I think he is close with the Kalover Rebbe from Williamsburg – the Kalover Rebbe came to Richmond 2 years ago and was also Mesader Kiddushin at Rabbi Kolakowski’s chasunah (there is a picture on the Kalover Rebbe’s website). I think Rabbi Kolakowski was also hoiz bucher for a few other Rebbes, too, and also was close with a lot of rabbunim in Queens where he learned, and in the Catskills where he grew up.

    21. It is quite ridiculous that you think this is a positive article. This article might have been an atempt to highlight what seems to be an amazing family, but in the process, it degraded mainstream Judaism, [pointing out several times that Hassidim are not the norm] and brought Chasidus to the lowest level – flaunting their love of alcohol & smoking as a means to spirituality..this article made Chasidus seem like the very same snake handling and spirit talking preachers that was discussed above. While I’m sure the Kolokowki are amazing people, I don’t see the point of publishing this article in a secular venue – what Kiddush Hashem was accomplished? And what Chillul Hashem and misinterpertation of the Jewish religion is this article causing. Don’t be so quick to fawn over the fact that Yiddim were written about in the mainstream media, but realize the potential of harm such an article can cause. And no, I’m not parinoid, just a simple Yid who couldn’t believe some of the things being said about Orthodox Jews in this seemingly “wonderful” article. And then all the comments can discuss are why the daughter’s name is faith – have we completely lost sight of what Judaism is about?


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