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August 20, 2014 / 24 Av, 5774
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One Marriage, Two Worlds

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I was born into a secular family. Neither my father nor my mother had Jewish names and I was never given one either. In college I met the man I knew I would marry. After graduation we rented an apartment in Manhattan. I was a lawyer and found a good job. My boyfriend was a CPA. After six years we felt financially secure and got married.

We were blessed with a son and a daughter and life was not too complicated. We had our conflicts and sometimes even long silences for one reason or another but by and large we had a solid marriage. Then one of my closest friends, who had became observant, gave me a book of yours. I had no intention of reading it so I put it aside. I was never interested in Jewish books and yours remained untouched.

But one day when I was under a great deal of stress I picked up your book and started to read. It captured me and I couldn’t put it down. I told my friend I truly appreciated her gift and that it touched me like no other book ever had.

“Why don’t you come with me to one of the Rebbetzin’s classes and get to know her personally?” she asked. I declined her invitation, telling her I was overwhelmed with work and didn’t have time to go to lectures.

My friend didn’t give up. One day I gave in just to get her off my back, though I’ll admit I was curious to meet you and see what you were really like.

That visit turned out to be life transforming. Your words penetrated my heart. I felt you were speaking directly to me. For the first time I felt my Jewishness. I asked you if you’d sign my book. I remember your welcoming smile as you asked me, “What is your Jewish name?” The question really hit me. It kept echoing in my mind. How is it, I wondered, that I could have lived all these years and never thought my identity was connected to my Jewish name?

Until that day I never quite understood the enormity of the vacuum that existed in my life. That night was an awakening for me. For the very first time I felt a need to connect with my heritage – to know what it meant to be a Jew. I started attending your classes regularly but never asked to speak to you privately. I would sit in the back of the room and try to be as invisible as possible while absorbing every word. I knew that eventually I would have to move on to the next step and act upon the mitzvot.

Then my husband was transferred to his firm’s Florida office. It was difficult to adjust at first. My friends were all in New York. It was hard for my children as well. They had to acclimate to a new school and new friends. I missed your classes but I had your weekly broadcasts on the Internet to look forward to. I joined a small but warm and embracing synagogue. I continued to study Torah as I did at Hineni in New York and with each day I became more and more committed to my Judaism.

With the passage of time I became observant of the mitzvot. At first it was kashrus. I bought new pots, pans and dishes. Consequently I had my first real fight with my husband over Judaism. He liked bacon and seafood. He enjoyed going out to dinner in non-kosher restaurants. I asked him to please respect our Torah. He argued that I was imposing a lifestyle on him he never wanted. I realized that to some extent he was right. I argued, however, that while it was true that when we got married Judaism had no place in our lives, it did not mean we were bound to that way of life forever.

I became shomer Shabbos and asked him not make a mockery of the holy day. He didn’t care. He continued to drive, watch television and do all the other things one does on a weekday. When I asked him to come to the Shabbos table to make Kiddush over wine, he became livid. He wouldn’t hear of it. I was concerned that our children would be misled and confused. I was worried that if our children saw their father violating our Jewish traditions they would emulate him and reject a Torah way of life.

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