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A Secular Jewish College Student Responds


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I am not Orthodox, nor am I actively involved in Jewish life. My background is Reform. My family attends High Holiday services; we are not kosher, but my parents have a seder on Passover – though we don’t strictly observe the law of not eating bread during the entire holiday. My parents would never consider bringing really non-kosher food like ham or bacon into the house, though they do eat everything in restaurants. They are devoted to the land of Israel and they raised us with good Jewish values, and I visited Israel with our Temple youth group.

I have an uncle who became Orthodox and lives in New York (he sent me your column last week). He calls himself a “ba’al teshuvah.” I don’t quite know what that means, but I do see that his new identity has made him a fanatic. We rarely see him, except when we visit New York or he comes to California. He keeps in contact with my father and always tries to convince him to become religious. My father indulges him by pretending to listen to his arguments, but of course he always dismisses them.

When my brother married a gentile girl, my uncle really became an annoyance. Not only did he barrage my parents with letters and phone calls, he got on my brother’s case with a vengeance. He wouldn’t let go. He pushed and pushed and he even asked a local Chabad rabbi to intervene, but he only succeeded in making our family angrier.

When my brother got married, my uncle didn’t attend the wedding and that caused a very big rift in our family. My parents were very hurt – I don’t think they ever got over it. They are still in contact, but the relationship has become very strained. And now he has gotten on my case. He just never gives up.

I am a student at UCLA. I go to High Holiday Services here and attend programs and an occasional Shabbat dinner at our local Hillel. At present, I don’t have a serious girlfriend, but my uncle keeps writing to me about the importance of marrying a Jew. I don’t want to be disrespectful to him, but I hardly ever respond to his letters. To be honest, they irritate me.

You might ask at this point why I am writing to you. I have no problems. I am not seeking your guidance and I understand that is largely the focus of your column, but my uncle sent last week’s column thinking it might cause me to change my way of thinking – that I would realize that we, the Jewish people, are alone in the world, that our lives are once again being threatened and we are living in an environment similar to pre-Holocaust Europe.

Frankly, I find that comparison far-fetched, totally unrealistic, bordering on Jewish paranoia – and I wrote the same to my uncle. Of course he was unreceptive and told me I just don’t understand. He suggested that in my present environment I am so far removed from reality that I don’t have a clue as to what is going on in the world.

I feel prompted to write this letter now because I think it is time to address this “Jewish paranoia.” Yes, the Holocaust occurred. Yes, it was an unbelievably horrific time. Yes, mankind descended to the level of the jungle. But genocide has not been limited to Jews. Tragically, it has been the lot of many people in many parts of the world.

I’m not trying to whitewash that cataclysmic, hellish nightmare, but I think it is time for us Jews to move on. We can’t forever live in the shadow of the Holocaust. We have to understand that the world today is different. In most countries, democracy prevails. Certainly, in our own United States we have a democratic government that is not tolerant of racism or anti-Semitism. What we are witness to today is not bias against Jews but an objection to the policies of Israel and the Zionism it represents. So when I read those letters you published in your column – letters that promote scare tactics and constantly recall the Holocaust – I said to myself that I would not only respond to my uncle, but to you as well.

I have many Arab friends on campus, and believe me they have no bias against Jews. Their only problem is with the Zionist state, which they feel is the cause of all of the suffering in the Middle East. While I do not take their side and am a supporter of Israel, I also feel compelled, as a fair-minded individual, to appreciate their point of view, which would be wrong to ignore. Objecting to Israel’s policies does not mean one is biased against Jews. I truly believe that here in the United States anti-Semitism is a thing of the past and that it is time for us to free ourselves of the sinister shadow of the Holocaust.

I very much doubt you will publish my letter since it doesn’t reflect your point of view or that of the publication for which you write. Nevertheless, I have written to express my opinion.

A Jewish Student at UCLA

My Dear Friend:

Not only am I publishing your letter in full but, please G-d, I will also respond to it. Watch for next week’s issue in which I will address your concerns in full.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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