By Leah Aharoni
It’s not often that I write you a letter. As cousins, we get together whenever I visit your side of the Atlantic or share tidbits via social networks. But this time it’s just too important, and so I am writing this letter in the spirit of the Days of Repentance to ask for your forgiveness.
You see, ever since you had shared that you are going out with an Italian girl, I can’t shake off the sense that I had done wrong by you.
I am sorry that for too many years I went on with my life without giving much thought to the fact that you and the rest of our cousins have been growing up without a solid Jewish identity. I am sorry that while I shepped nachas that for my kids the year starts in Tishrei and January is a blur somewhere in the winter, you were growing up amidst X-mas trees and, even worse, without Chanuka candles.
I am sorry that I let myself live a Torah life by inertia, failing to be inspired. We have met so many times, yet my lifestyle never piqued your interest enough to talk about it, belying just how lacking my Yiddishkeit has been. A great rabbi, Rav Yisrael Salanter, once said that if a Jew in Lithuania is lax in his learning, a Jew in Paris will forsake his religion. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it didn’t make sense to me for many years either. But now it does. I know that the Torah is the one and only source of clarity. It has the power to dissipate the fog that surrounds our paths in life. Yet this knowledge didn’t inform my life enough, because if it had, you would have felt it too.
I am sorry I didn’t include you in my prayers. Lighting candles every Friday night, I pray long and hard for my children to grow into adults, who love and fear G-d and devote their lives to doing what is right in His eyes. Somehow, I didn’t bother to pray that you should get a glimpse of G-d too.
I am sorry that I wasn’t brave enough to take the practical steps to bring more Judaism into your life. Since I am in Israel, inviting you for Shabbos wasn’t a possibility (though I doubt I would have had the courage to face the awkwardness had you lived around the block). Still, I could have done so much more. I could have sent you Jewish books and music, at least sometimes, instead of the polite toys and games and checks. I could have sent you shalach manos on Purim and Jewish toys on Chanuka, so that these holidays would be a part of your life. When your parents considered signing you up for the temple youth group, I could have looked up your local NCSY chapter and given them the heads up. And when you celebrated your bar mitzvah as just an extravagant birthday party, I could have suggested something to give it more real meaning.
That’s not all, though. Beside my personal apologies, I also owe you an apology on behalf of my community. We are sorry that we have bought into the idea that there are many right ways to be a Jew, when some of the purported ideas of Judaism have very little connection with the original. No wonder you feel no attraction to this sorry excuse for a religion, when we didn’t do enough for you to get to know the real McCoy.
We are sorry that we have been too scared to be labeled as fanatics and have failed to bring authentic Judaism to the larger community and to project our certainty in the genuineness of the mesorah.
We are sorry that as a community we have become hostage to the American notion that people should mind their own business and that nobody has the right to tell anyone what to do. As Jews we are responsible for each other. Brothers don’t let brothers forfeit their heritage.
We are sorry that we have rolled our eyes at the zealousness of Chabad in getting random Jews on the street to perform just one more mitzvah, instead of joining them in the action. Worse, sometimes we felt so defensive, that we made senseless comments about dead messiahs. But who knows, maybe if we would be more involved as a community, somebody could have ignited the Jewish spark in you, while I may have done it for their cousin.
We are sorry that our idea of contributing to kiruv has been limited to buying a ticket in an Oorah raffle. Oorah is great, but that should be just the beginning, not the end of our involvement in helping people like you see the beauty of our tradition.
Dan, I am sorry that Judaism as you know it is an empty shell and so you have no qualms about leaving it behind. I and my community are at fault that you never got to experience the beauty of Shabbos, the intellectual pleasure of Torah learning, or the inspiration of Rosh Hashana davening. With the days of teshuva upon us, I will make an effort to right my ways. It may be too little too late for you, but at least there is hope for our younger cousins.
Your parents think that Birthright will remedy 20 year of neglect. I am just not willing to take that bet any more.
Leah Aharoni is a cofounder of the grassroots movement WomenForTheWall.org, dedicated to preserving the sanctity and tradition at the Western Wall in the spirit of Jewish unity. A business coach, she helps female entrepreneurs build profitable and emotionally rewarding businesses. Aharoni lives with her husband and six children in a suburb of Jerusalem.
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