Letters – Winter 2018

Not Enough Time or Energy
I very much enjoyed reading the summer 2018 edition, especially Allen Fagin’s essay entitled “Do We Have the Time and Energy to Lead a Torah Life?”

Certainly, as he points out, there is no simple solution. At the same time, however, I believe that for many Orthodox Jews, there is something that can be done to drastically improve their quality of life: move to a smaller city that possesses the necessities for an Orthodox lifestyle.

For example, Mr. Fagin describes how many people have “daily commutes of over an hour each way.” In Memphis, Tennessee, where I live, this would be unfathomable. Here, most members of the Orthodox community have commutes of only five to ten minutes. Even twenty minutes is considered unbearable! This difference alone results in significantly more time for family and friends, volunteering for the community, attending minyan and shiurim and leading a more relaxed, enjoyable life.

There is also a significant financial disparity. Mr. Fagin correctly states that “it’s painfully expensive to lead an Orthodox lifestyle.” While this is true to some degree in any community, in a smaller city, the overall cost of living is significantly lower. In Tennessee, for example, there is no city or state income tax. In addition, the costs of real estate and property taxes are profoundly lower than in the larger urban areas.

Joel Siegel 
Memphis, Tennessee

 

Visiting the Museum of the Bible
Sara Rindner insightfully captured what the Torah-observant visitor should expect—and should not expect—at the Museum of the Bible (“Whose Museum of the Bible Is It?”, summer 2018).

Rindner was impressed by the sensitivity to Jews that was shown by the museum’s designers. More went into that sensitivity than her review gives away. The designers were not only solicitous of Jewish reactions, but they went out of their way to seek Orthodox Jewish voices for their international advisory board. (I was one of several who served.) As committed evangelical Christians with an oversize regard for the importance of the Bible, they have a special affinity for Jews who take it seriously, even though they understand how thoroughly we disagree about key theological points. They keenly listened to our suggestions in several areas, and acted upon them.

This affinity helps us overcome some of the suspicions we could legitimately have about an enormous project pitching the Bible. We immediately think of some insidious, covert plan to win converts. While they certainly would not mind, that was not their intention in building this museum. Rather, they understood that much of contemporary culture seeks to drive God and God-consciousness out of public places and to minimize the importance of the Bible as a foundation of Western civilization. They know that Christians and Diaspora Jews—at least the Orthodox ones—are looking at a rough ride ahead as religion continues to be denigrated, and they wanted to do something to remind Americans and others that the positive influence of the Bible upon civilization cannot be ignored or minimized.

As Rindner correctly observes, that reminder is a powerful antidote to the growing claim that Jews had no stake in the Holy Land until after the Holocaust. As we learn in the first Rashi in Chumash, the claim of legitimacy for the State of Israel in the eyes of tens of millions of Christians around the world rests upon the veracity of the Hebrew Bible as the Word of God. The Museum of the Bible will promote that veracity for decades to come.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Jerusalem, Israel

 

Choosing Judaism
I’m writing in response to your article “Jews By Choice” by Barbara Bensoussan (fall 2018).

Three years ago, I served as a city leader on a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip to Israel. Several of the women on the trip were Reform and Conservative converts. I was the first frum convert they had ever met. They were amazed that anyone would convert to Orthodox Judaism. They asked me questions about my religious observance, as well as ways to increase their own. One woman remarked that she finally felt “comfortable with an observant woman.”

When another city leader realized there was a giyoret serving in the same role, she felt the need to be the arbiter of my Jewishness. She grilled me about my personal observance. “Do you keep kosher?”, “Do you keep Shabbat?”, “Do you know how to daven?” I had enough when she asked me if I missed Xmas and whether I still celebrated it “in private.” At that point, I walked away to be with Israeli friends who call me “Diana haIndianit” because of my Native American-Jewish heritage. Fortunately, they had no problems with my Jewishness.

I don’t mind when a rav asks me questions, but like every convert I know, we get tired of others who feel they must look for that “crack” in our Jewishness—trying to find something to “invalidate” us. I volunteer to mentor women who are in the process of conversion, and it is not uncommon to deal with the unkind and often cruel words of people who just “want them to know what they are getting into” or who feel the need to determine “if they are really serious.”

It is difficult to convert to Judaism. It should be. I was in second grade when I decided I wanted to be Jewish. I read every book on Judaism I could get my hands on. When I converted at the age of twenty, I had studied for years. I spent this past summer learning in a seminary in Israel. Being a Jew requires the continual development of the heart, mind and soul.

My family hasn’t spoken to me in decades, and my husband’s family, who embraced the intermarriage of his siblings, resents his return to religion and “that woman.” We were ridiculed as we chose to spend our money paying for yeshivah tuitions rather than exotic vacations.

I am often told by people born into the faith that it’s good they were born as Jews because they wouldn’t have the koach to convert. I hope that isn’t true. For me, becoming a Jewish woman remains the best decision I have ever made. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Diana Emuna Rubin
Richmond, Virginia

 

Your most recent edition featured an article entitled “Jews by Choice,” which led me, a liberal Jewish woman, to write.

How do observant Jews deal with the Jews who are Conservative and Reform and vice versa? We are not “Jews by choice”; we have been raised Jewish and are very devoted to the Shabbat and the other holidays and raise our children to do the same.

While we are pretty much united in supporting the State of Israel and combating anti-Semitism, I have seen some observant Jews treat Reform Jews as pariahs and some Reform Jews treat their observant brethren the same way.

My oldest son became observant while in graduate school and he married a ba’alat teshuvah; together, they are raising two gorgeous children in an Orthodox home. As a result, I have learned a great deal about halachah and its importance to their Jewish life.

My concern and that of my grandchildren’s other grandmother is that these young children are being raised in a very closed community where there is no recognition of other branches of Judaism. When they get older, we are worried that they will reject us; they have already begun to ask one of the grandmothers, “Are you Jewish? Why are you wearing pants?”

I follow all their practices when I am at their home. If I spend Shabbat with them, I do not drive or use my phone or any electrical devices; I enjoy the peace of Shabbat.

Any constructive suggestions you can offer would
be helpful.

A Jewish Grandmother

Editor’s Note: We asked Rabbi Menachem Schrader, founding director of the OU’s campus program, the Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC), to respond. Rabbi Schrader has many decades of experience counseling young people going through religious transitions and their families.

It is fair to assume that it was the strong Jewish upbringing your son had that resulted in his seeking out an even more elaborate and obligating Jewish life experience. You have a great deal to be proud of. The strong connection you express regarding Shabbat and holidays bears this out.

All born Jews and halachically converted Jews are equally Jewish, regardless of the extent of their observance. God forbids us to regard Jews who do not identify as Orthodox as enemies or as threats in any way. At almost all Orthodox weddings and bar mitzvah celebrations there are relatives and friends who are not Orthodox who are invited as fellow Jews to celebrate together this Jewish milestone. Orthodox Judaism and Orthodox Jews are not under siege. We are proud of our observance, are welcoming to all those who would like to join us in this commitment, and respect the choice of those who do not.

Children ask questions, and they deserve responses. You and your son should together discuss what answer your grandchild should receive. You may want to first discuss the response with a rabbi both you and your son respect, or it may not be necessary. Regardless, the respect you show your son and his family by observing halachah when you stay at their home will certainly fortify the strong sense of Jewish identity you have successfully fostered in your family.

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This article was featured in the Winter 2018 issue of Jewish Action.
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