That which transpired during these past few weeks should have shaken us all. To be sure, traumatic events have been pounding away at American Jewry for years now - as a matter of fact, from 9/11 on. But few of us have taken them to heart. Something was happening and is happening in the world, but we choose not to see or hear. It's easier to attribute everything to natural causes because then we can go on our merry way and indulge in business as usual.
Last week I concluded my column with the story of a Jew who wanted to make changes in the world and inspire people to do teshuvah - to return to their roots, their Divine heritage.
Last week I wrote that we are now at a very critical juncture in our long history. We have entered the period of ikvesie d'Mashiach - a time of travail when the footsteps of the Messiah can be discerned. We are receiving wake-up call after wake-up call, and they come in many shapes and forms. Hashemis sounding the alarm, but we remain deaf to its implications.
"Not again!" you may say. To which I respond, "Yes, again!" I say this as I write once again about the most heinous tragedy that could have befallen us, so even though it may not be popular - even though your reaction may be, "We heard it already" - I am nevertheless writing because I fear we have returned to business as usual.
In my last column I wrote about Leiby Kletzky and what I experienced when I made a shiva call to his family. My plan was to continue writing about this tragedy and focus on what we must learn from it and do. In the interim, I received a letter from a non-Jewish reader and felt I should share it.
Our Jewish world has been shocked, shaken to the core. We are all speechless in face of the tragic, monstrous, inhuman act perpetrated against a sweet, precious, innocent, holy little boy lovingly called Leiby.
Dear Rebbetzin: I am a 62-year-old Conservative Jew, recently retired from teaching and planning to relocate to Florida. My three children are all married and living in different parts of the world: a daughter in Jerusalem, one son in Toronto, another son in California. Those living in Jerusalem and Toronto have become very Orthodox, while the son living in California is totally uninterested in religion. As a matter of fact, he is married to a non-Jewish woman. As you can see, there is no happy medium in my family, but I cannot interfere in the lifestyle choices of my children.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: My mother lives with me and needs a great deal of attention, as do my four children. It seems as if everyone is pulling at me at once, and I don't know in which direction to turn first. All this stress has definitely affected my mental and physical health. I suffer from backaches and stomach trouble and lack the patience necessary to be a good wife and mother.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis: I am writing you regarding a situation I have come to realize is much more common among couples than people realize. The subject is infertility. My husband and I have been married fifteen years and have had serious medical problems having children from the start of our marriage.
Some years ago, I came across a Polish-Jewish newspaper published in the early thirties. It was a time when the winds of anti-Semitism were blowing throughout Europe, with particular force in Poland. I searched through every page of the paper and was appalled to find not even a hint of the tragedy that was looming for the Jewish people.
The world has again become a barbaric jungle. Ferocious beasts are ready to pounce on Israel. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I have for a long time now smelled the same noxious fumes that engulfed pre-Holocaust Europe, but no one wants to pay heed. It is always easier to dismiss such warnings as unfounded paranoia or products of the scarred minds of those who survived that hell on earth.
Back when we established Hineni, kiruv - outreach - was practically a foreign concept. The observant community had no confidence in these "newcomers" to Torah. "They will never last," people warned me. "For a brief while," they conceded, "it may work, but they have no real commitment, and their involvement is fleeting." As for secular Jews, their attitudes ranged from hostility to outright suspicion and fear.
Some years after the Six-Day War, I was invited to address the IDF as well as various communities in Israel. In the euphoria that followed the spectacular victory of the Six-Day War, gratitude to Hashem, proclaiming His guiding hand, was blatantly missing.
I've often written and said that we are living in remarkable but dangerous times in which we can hear (provided we know how to listen) the footsteps of the Messiah. Ours, however, is a generation that has difficulty hearing.
Those of you who have heard me speak or who read my columns and books know that whenever I opine on a subject I try to base what I say or write on our Torah and the teachings of our sages. There are so many things taking place so rapidly in front of our eyes that before we can absorb one event, another one unfolds. This rapid succession is so overwhelming that it allows us no time to think.
My father of blessed memory, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, would tell me that when I speak or teach I should always ask myself what message the listener will take home that will infuse him with strength and help him cope throughout the year.
Many moons ago, when I was a young Rebbetzin, I had a vision - to awaken American Jews and bring them back to Am Yisrael. In those days, Israel Bonds would hold an annual celebration for contributors at Madison Square Garden. If you bought a bond for "x" number of dollars, you were entitled to a free ticket and could participate in what was called a "Spectacular" at which Hollywood stars entertained.
In last week's column I began my response to the woman who wrote expressing her fears regarding the escalation of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel throughout the world. I explained that our Sages and Prophets predicted it; they tell us that what we are witnessing today isikvesi d'Mashiach - a period in which we can hear the footsteps of the Messiah and experience the birth pangs that will precede the coming of that great day.
Several weeks ago I published a letter from an elderly Holocaust survivor who expressed her fear regarding the world situation, specifically the hatred of Israel and escalation of anti-Semitism that is reminiscent of pre-Holocaust Europe. Her letter provoked a torrent of e-mails from young and old readers, several of which I published, but I had not responded to her directly. B'ezrat Hashem, I will do so now.
For the past several weeks we have been discussing the anti-Semitism that plagues our generation and the horrific consequences that, G-d forbid, this might portend for our people.
Several weeks ago I published a letter from a woman who expressed fear and trepidation at the escalation of anti-Semitism throughout the world and the possibility of yet another Holocaust, G-d forbid. Her letter evoked much comment. I was deluged with e-mails, several of which I published. Among those letters was one, written by a Jewish student at UCLA, that left many Jewish Press readers appalled. Among other things, he condemned the older Jewish generation, which, he wrote, is obsessed with the Holocaust.
I had planned to respond this week to the letter from the UCLA student (which appeared in the March 11 issue in response to a letter the week before from an elderly Holocaust survivor), but so many e-mails have reached my desk that I decided to devote yet one more column to reader reaction.
In my March 4 column, "What's Happening in the World? - I'm Afraid," I featured letters from two women who wrote of their fear at what is going on in the world. The second letter, from a Holocaust survivor, was particularly descriptive, as the woman decried the escalation of anti-Semitism, the savage terror attacks in every country, and the barbaric, murderous attacks on our people in Eretz Yisrael.
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.
Special Note: I would like to thank the many people who have written expressing their appreciation for my series of columns titled "When Children Fall Through the Cracks." I am most grateful for the overwhelming response and I hope everyone who wrote will understand that while I would have liked to publish all the letters, for the time being I am closing the discussion to focus on the many other subjects that have reached my desk.