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May 3, 2015 / 14 Iyar, 5775
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Ba’al Teshuvah Parents, Resentful Son

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

The letter you shared last week from a troubled wife who became a ba’alas teshuvah, a returnee to religious observance, hit a sensitive spot in my heart. My husband and I have also been struggling with this problem – albeit from a different perspective.

We met in college and were sweethearts for three years before we were married. We found a place in Manhattan and had a group of friends whose outlook on life was similar to ours. Torah was something we never thought about.

A few years later we had a sweet little boy. He was a shining star in our lives. When he was 14 my husband and I visited Israel for the first time. We didn’t want our son to miss school so he stayed with my sister. The visit was a turning point in our lives. From the moment we came to Jerusalem and my hand touched the Kotel, my eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t understand what happened; there was no logical explanation. Amazingly, my husband felt the same way.

I remember telling him, “It’ just ancient stone. There is nothing that special or spectacular about it.” “You’re right,” he said. “When we went to China and saw that huge wall it never made us cry. It didn’t enter our hearts. So why are we crying now?”

One day when we were at the Kotel we met a rabbi who invited us to his home for a Shabbos dinner, something we had never experienced. When we came to his modest apartment, we were overwhelmed. This rabbi and his wife had eight children, one more adorable than the other and all so polite. He had many other guests besides us. The songs, the prayers, the Torah teachings all made a deep impression. When my husband and I returned to our hotel we kept asking ourselves, “How is it that we missed all this? How is it that in all our years in the U.S. we never knew about Shabbos?”

Shabbos was something we’d always associated with “religious Jews” and it had no meaning in our lives. To us it was a day to shop, to go to the spa or gym, or to indulge in many of the other diversions our New York lifestyle provided.

When we returned to the U.S. we were determined to find out more, to study and explore. Prior to our departure the rabbi in Jerusalem gave us your books and told us about the various Torah seminars and programs available in New York. We embarked on our journey of self-discovery with zeal and enthusiasm. We went to your classes and some other programs as well. We went on Shabbotons and loved them.

Step by step we became observant. We decided to have more children – children we could raise in a Torah spirit, who would study in yeshiva, who would be nurtured in mitzvos. G-d blessed us with two little girls who are the joy of our lives.

And now to the problem that gives us no rest: Our son was a teenager when we became observant. He could not handle the changes taking place in our home. He was angry. He resented the yarmulke on my husband’s head and of course he refused to put one on. He complained about eating kosher and keeping Shabbos. In short, he rejected every aspect of our Torah way of life.

Our dilemma became more and more acute. What example was he setting for our girls? What message was he conveying to them? Time and again they would ask, “How come Benny watches TV on Shabbos?” “How come he answers the phone or uses his computer?” How come he doesn’t come to the Shabbos table?”

One of the most painful experiences occurred one day when I went to the supermarket with my daughters. We passed a treif Chinese restaurant and through the window we saw Benny eating spareribs. My girls ran to the car and began sobbing uncontrollably. “How could Benny do that?” they asked over and over.

I tried to explain the situation to them. “Benny wasn’t as lucky as you are,” I said. “When he was a little boy Mommy and Daddy did not know about Torah. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t know about it either. They never sent us to yeshiva. And the same thing happened to Benny. So we all have to be patient with and kind to Benny.”

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