Why Is My Family Different from All Other Families?

April 17, 2014


What is it with Jews and food?

My guess is that our preternatural preoccupation with our gastrointestinal tracts began with the holiday of Pesach. But it’s not surprising, given the Chassidic teaching that the whole purpose for G-d’s creating the world was to have a dira b’tachtonim, a dwelling place for Himself here in the lowest of all possible worlds. By using earthly elements (in this case, food) for holy purposes (trying to scrupulously observe the holiday of Pesach), we fulfill G-d’s greatest desire.

Our obsession with food appears to be part of our DNA.

But what is it with the world’s obsession with anti-Semitism? Just before Pesach, tragically familiar incidents–one in Kiryat Arba and one in Kansas –reminded us that Jew hatred is still alive and well.

The Haggadah’s pronouncement that “in every generation, there are those who rise against us to destroy us” is a depressing reality. But the fact that it is so clearly stated in our timeless liturgy indicates that there’s no room for evolution or enlightenment when it comes to anti-Semitism; there’s a DNA component for this in the world as well. As I read the words at our Seder, I was struck by the blatant political incorrectness of stating that anti-Semitism is an incontrovertible fact of life.

If you’re not optimistic that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent, the Haggadah is either inaccurate (it’s hugely politically incorrect to be paranoid–if we only understood each other we could all  get along) or just plain depressing. Either way, the Pew study says we have internalized the message that being Jewish is somewhere between dispensable and disadvantageous.

We love our Nobel prizewinners and comedians but apparently not enough to perpetuate a religion that the world hates. And like all parents of today, we want to spare our children from pain. And being Jewish has historically involved pain. A lot of pain.

So who is rising up against us in this generation, the last generation before Moshiach’s arrival? The Pew study says that we Jews are our own worst enemy; just because we don’t feel that we are under attack doesn’t mean that we aren’t. It may just mean that we don’t feel the pain, which is the worst pain of all: we don’t try to stop it.

And since all I can think about is food this week, holy as that endeavor may be, I am re-posting the article that was published last fall in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle in response to the Pew study. It was then that I realized I could speak from my heart.

If sharing my life experience with you as family could ignite a spark within even one Jewish soul, it could be all the world needs to tip the scale of cumulative good and give the Haggadah the true happy ending we have long awaited.


My View of Pew

The Pew Research Center’s results are in and they confirm what American Jews have been suspecting for some time now: intermarriage is up and religious affiliation is down. And everyone who remotely cares about Judaism is wondering what, if anything, can or should be done about these phenomena.

The dam in our family looks like it is about to break—we’ve got lots of boys of marriageable age at risk for having gentile children, while many of our girls are at risk for having children whose Judaism will be in accordance with Jewish law but not much else. And many people in the Jewish world are fine with all this. I have heard people say that “this is part of the plan” and that intermarriage is a good thing that “dispels stereotypes and ignorance.” Isn’t that what the American melting pot is supposed to do? Why do I care what another Jew does as long as he or she is happy?

This is where it gets tricky. Some people who are culturally Jewish care because of our cherished history and uncertain future. They will try almost anything to keep Jews in the tribe— free camps, free synagogue membership, free trips to Israel, free books from the Jewish library, even accepting intermarriage itself—but it apparently isn’t working too well at keeping Jews Jewish.

I am not the first to observe that the problem today is that the gentiles are nice. To refuse to marry one out of some tribal loyalty smacks of a bigotry that is downright offensive to many American Jews. And the fact that there appears to be little that can be done about it makes it even harder to condemn it.

There is one answer, of course, says the Pew study, but almost everyone acknowledges that it’s not realistic or even advisable, and that is to become Orthodox. No, these cultural Jews say, it is better to risk melting away than be part of those, you fill in the blanks–narrow-minded, backward-thinking, anti-woman, etc. etc.–members of the tribe.

I have to admit that, once upon a time, I also thought Orthodox Jews were all of those things, too. My hunch was that they didn’t really want to be Orthodox any more than I did, but they were just too scared to change. I didn’t know an Aleph from a Beis and that was fine with me; I still felt very Jewish.

Then, twenty-six years ago, my husband I met up with Chabad and came face to face with our destiny: we became ba’alei teshuvah, returnees to Torah observance. The Judaism we experienced and came to embrace was liberating and uplifting, joyful and empowering, compelling and meaningful. My life is not about religion as much as it is about G-d and spirituality. My husband, thank G-d, has achieved his goal, too. He was willing to make this seismic lifestyle shift just because he wanted to have Jewish grandchildren.

We Orthodox Jews—I hate the word but that’s what you call us folks who believe that every word of the Written and Oral Torah comes from an eternal covenant with a True and Living G-d—have apparently failed you. We haven’t embraced you tightly enough or long enough, or maybe not at all. And, after all, we’re human too, and not everything we do is so G-dly which only pushes you further away.

It is no accident that the results of the Pew survey were released during the week of Parshas Noach, detailing Noach’s attempt to save others of his generation from the flood. G-d told Noach to warn others of the impending destruction, which he dutifully did, but he did not go beyond simple obedience. Our sages say that G-d wants us to go beyond our obligation to help another Jew, any Jew, because—and this is where it gets really tricky— all Jews truly are part of each other and part of that living G-d.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? It’s even hard for us Orthodox Jews, and that’s because we don’t yet see that G-dly reality with our own eyes. Did I say, “yet”? The good news, no, the amazing news, is that the same Torah that forbids intermarriage assures us that the Messiah, Moshiach, will come and completely redeem not just the Jewish people but the whole world. No more war, no more sickness, no more evil, no more confusion–just goodness and G-dliness eternally.

In 1989, I was personally assured by the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself that Moshiach is ready to come “tomorrow… or maybe the day after tomorrow,” and I look forward to asking Moshiach why it has indeed taken so long. But that will probably not be my first question—in fact, I am told that I won’t have any questions at all. It will be the sweetest “Aha!” moment imaginable, the happiest happily-ever-after ending to the greatest love story ever told—the one between G-d and the Jewish people—and everything, everything will make sense once and for all.

Moshiach’s arrival may be imminent, but it is not imminent enough for my extended family, or anyone else whose link in the chain is about to break. It can’t be that Moshiach is waiting for everyone to become Orthodox (still hate that word) but maybe the Pew study can arouse each and every one of us to do a little something more, something better, something truly Jewish (maybe pray???) for the coming of Moshiach, NOW.


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