On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dear Beth, I'm losing my son to Judaism. Please help me.

Dear Beth,

I’m writing you because I don’t know where else to turn.

It was about a year and a half ago that my 28 year old son told me that he met an orthodox Rabbi and started to learn Torah with him. At the time, I was happy about it. My son wasn’t married and constantly dated different girls. I thought that this would help him settle down and start a family.

We never kept kosher or anything like that, but I always taught him to believe in G-d, but we only went to synagogue a few times a year. He was a good boy. He always did well in school and I was proud of him.

About 6 months ago, things started to change. He told me that he wouldn’t come over for a family birthday party, because it was on Saturday. He didn’t come to our Passover dinner and he even told me that he wouldn’t eat at my house and more, because us wasn’t kosher. I couldn’t believe it. All of sudden, the food that I made for him his whole life wasn’t good enough. He would lecture us on how we should change… we should change while he was tearing the family apart.

No we don’t see each other so much and it’s all because of this Cult that he joined and this Rabbi that he’s talking to. When we talk on the phone, it’s usually tense. I tried to tell him what he’s doing to the family, but it didn’t help at all. I just don’t know what to do.

Please help me. I’m afraid that I’m losing my son.

Desperate Mother

Dear Desperate Mother,

There are so many laws that Rabbis teach young (or not so young) men and women when they return to Judaism. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough taught about how to maintain a healthy and loving relationship with ones family.

The first thing that we need to deal with is that your son isn’t reading any new fringe book that separates himself from the tradition of his family. He’s rediscovering something that his family did for generation after generation, but somehow became lost over the past 80 years or so.

I grew up in a house that was almost completely secular. After I was 13 years old, I don’t ever remember my parents going to synagogue. Besides for my Grandfather lighting the Chanukah menorah and a few other things, we had no Jewish customs. If I had to define our Jewish demonization (Orthodox, Conservative, etc.) I would have said that we were “Bagel and Lox” Jews. To the best of my knowledge, I thought that like me, my parents had no knowledge of traditional Judaism. I distinctly remember having my parents over for Shabbas dinner after I had became religious. When I started singing Shalom Aleichem (traditional Friday night song), I was shocked that they new the words. I had never heard them sing this growing up. When I asked how they knew the song, they told me that they remembered singing it when they grew up. Later I found out that my father still had his Bar Mitzvah tefillan (black boxes with straps that men start wearing after their Bar Mitzvah). I had never even seen a pair of tefillan, let alone owned one. There were many other memories that my parents had of Jewish laws and customs that were missing from my childhood. It even came out that my mother’s grandparents had been Orthodox. Even though my relationship with Judaism was different then my parents, it wasn’t that much different from their grandparents. Chances are that it’s probably the same with your family too. If not your grandparents, then maybe a generation or two before that was much more observant of Jewish laws than the average Jew in America.

If your son was a doctor and was on call every Saturday, how would you feel? Would you be mad at him for not coming to family parties? Chances are, you’d be proud of him and schedule get-togethers on Sunday. If developed an allergy to nuts later on in life, would you insist on feeding him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, because that’s what you fed him when he was kid? Of course not, you’d make the necessary accommodations to feed him what he could eat, because you love him. It’s not that much different now. Your son has developed a spiritual sensitivity that prohibits him from traveling on the Shabbat and Jewish holidays and prevents him from eating non-kosher food. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to see you on Sundays and go out to eat with you to a kosher restaurant. Maybe you can even get him to cook for you at his house. 

Your son loves you. Because it’s so important, I’m going to repeat it. YOUR SON LOVES YOU! It sounds like you’re both having difficulty finding the coexistence of both of your beliefs. The first step is acceptance. You need to accept your son for who he is and not try to change him. He needs to accept that you are and will always be his mother and you love him more than he’ll ever know. You also need to both find a way to spend time with each other and enjoy each others company at a time and place that you can both accept. He may not be able to come over on Shabbat, but there are 6 other days of the week that he can come over. You may also want to consider spending Shabbat with him to experience this part of his life. It may not change your view, but at least you may come closer to understand his.

The Rabbis teach us that one of the core principles of Torah is to love your fellow Jew. If this is true for a stranger, how much more true is it for a parent and child.

* This is a fictional letter that discusses a real problem that BTs and their families go through. There are so many articles and resources for those of us that have became religious, but very little for our loving and concerned families. If you have real questions, feel free to email me at AriMiller613@gmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. There is a great program for "Members of the MOB"...Mothers of Ba'alei teshuva, secular Jews who became religiously observant. Check it out: gemisraeltrips.com As one MOB GEM participant put it, "When children choose to become religious, it doesn't have to cost family harmony." Many women are motivated in part to participate in GEM to understand what made their children tick.