The discussion about pre-WWI Belz, and the living conditions (and conduct expected) there, prompted reader Yosef718 to send the following in to the editor. We thank him profusely for this fascinating piece of history, one that tells us of a Yid who decided to leave the comforts of the West in Prague and join the huddled Chassidic masses in the East. Just as today there are many that decide to leave the fold, citing how uncomfortable and stifling life can be for them, so was the case then. Actually, we now have only a fraction of the problems living like that caused for the young people who were caught up in the ideas of the time. Similarly, although the numbers may not be as high, there were those that left the creature comforts of a Western (Torah?) life, one comparable to Modern Orthodox today (maybe not exactly, but you get the idea), and went searching for a life of Yiddishkeit that included Hiskashrus to the great Chassidic Masters of the day, and adapting the lifestyle of their adherents. Another famous author who made a similar transition pre-WWI was the author Aron Marcus, although their original level of observance may have differed.
Jeri Mordecai Langer, Czech poet and writer, writes of his visit to Belz in 1913. Raised in an acculturated upper middle-class Jewish family, he was longing for something mystical, and found it in the Belz of the time. It seems like he was irreligious at the time, which makes his life's change even more spectacular, since there was no outreach at the time, and he made it all on his own. He eventually moved to then-Palestine, after the Nazi invasion of his native Czechoslovakia, where the relationship with Belzer Chassidim flourished again. Baalei Tshuveh of today can easily find parallels to what they go through while trying to adjust to the Chassidic lifestyle. The mistrust and cold shoulder was maybe more prevalent in those days, and may have been more difficult to shake off too. Yet, we see how he persevered, and was able to realize and achieve the essence of Chassidus Belz, eventually seeing the "ice-wall of mistrust" begin to thaw, even if that had to come with him adopting the Belzer mode of dress, the one Reb Nochum Mordche'le was so afraid of.