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.
For several weeks now I have been running a series on the plight of parents whose children who have "fallen through the cracks" and the painful ramifications both suffer. I hope to conclude the discussion with this column.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis, As a regular follower of your columns, I am aware you are writing about your recent journeys that took you throughout the world on a mission to bring Torah to our people. I truly appreciate the importance of your work and have personally met many people who have become Jewishly committed after hearing you speak or reading your book. Nevertheless, may I be so presumptuous as to ask you to interrupt your series and respond to my letter, which is critically urgent?
In last week's column I described some of the nerve-wracking aggravation inherent to travel. Going to Eretz Yisrael, however, is different. There, everything is different, because Eretz Yisrael is our land. Hashem gave it to us to be our eternal inheritance. So no matter how long we may have been away from her, the land remains as close to us as it was thousands of years ago. We have a teaching, "Whatever happened to our forefathers is a sign for us, their children. In other words, everything is replay.
For the past month I've been on the road, crossing continents and addressing Jewish communities wherever they are. I go from the airport to the local synagogue or some other venue where people gather. Invariably I am asked, "Rebbetzin, how do you do it? People younger than you cannot keep up with such a schedule. Travel is so difficult. Don't you find it exhausting?"
In last week's column I published two letters regarding simchas (joyous occasions). One was from a grandmother and the other from a gentleman who had just made his daughter's wedding - the first simcha in his family.
We live in a very chaotic world. If we stop to consider what is happening around us - all the things that are out of our control - it can be frustrating and frightening, so most of us try to bypass these situations by pretending we do not see them.
I was in Brazil, speaking to the Jewish community of Sao Paulo, when the sad news of the petira of Irene Klass reached me. Many memories, many scenes, many conversations and experiences flashed through my mind. With Irene's passing, a whole era - a whole way of thinking, of values, of goals, of idealism - disappeared. Irene had a sense of mission and never allowed politics, petty jealousies or territorial considerations to influence her.
I've received an inordinate amount of mail in response to the letters I published two weeks ago regarding onas devarim - painful and abusive language. It seems this problem is prevalent in many circles, among children as well as adults, indicating this is a societal condition that is unfortunately reflective of our culture.
In last week's column I published letters from two women who wrote about the terrible ordeal from which many of our people suffer. In the Torah, such an affliction is called "onas devarim" - verbal abuse. While we are all familiar with the prohibitions regarding lashon hara (gossip), the prohibitions regarding onas devarim are less known. In fact, most people are not even aware of them. The following is my response:
Dear Rebbetzin: I am not sure whether this is the right forum in which to discuss my concern, but I am hopeful that your widely read column can be used as an arena to air this issue.
For the past two weeks my column has been devoted to the plight of seniors who find themselves incapacitated and in the unfortunate situation of being placed against their will in nursing homes. For various reasons, their children are unable to care for them or engage proper help to safeguard their well being.
In last week's column I wrote about the sincere Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur resolutions that we make year after year - the commitments we make to change, to become better, kinder, people, and the promises we make to become more devoted Jews, more loyal to Torah and mitzvos.
The High Holy Days are over. It was an awesome spiritual time - when we probed or souls, asked profound questions and tried to determine what our lives are all about. We made resolutions - each in our own personal way - committed to being better Jews. We promised to become better ambassadors of Hashem, more meticulous with mitzvot, more devoted and zealous in doing acts of loving kindness, and in general, become more dedicated to our Torah and all that that implies. And now comes the big question: Are we still determined to make that change?
For many years now our Hineni organization has been privileged to hold High Holy Day services in Manhattan. We rent one of the hotels in the heart of the city and transform the ballroom into a magnificent shul. Our davening is always exhilarating. The sanctity of the day totally envelops us. The prayers just soar and everyone is spiritually elevated.
Every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur our Hineni organization is privileged to hold the most spectacular services. We take over one of Manhattan's grand hotels and convert the ballroom into a beautiful synagogue. The davening, the ambience, the entire atmosphere is something so awesome that there is no way that I could possibly describe it and do it justice.
It seems like almost yesterday when, after the Camp David accords initiated by President Carter, former Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin, a"h, told me, "Rebbetzin, I have just returned from an American concentration camp. The pressure that President Carter exerted upon me was greater than anyone can imagine. And then, to top it off, he wanted to put Jerusalem on the bargaining table as well. When I vehemently objected, he tried to reassure me by telling me that we would not be negotiating, but merely 'discussing' Jerusalem." After all, the president added, 'There's no harm in discussing.'
In last week's column I related the story of a legendary city in which the harvest was poisoned and rendered people mad. The citizens were confronted by a hard choice -eat and become mad or die of starvation. After much deliberation, the king decided, "In order to live, we must eat, but we dare not forget that we have gone mad, so everyone must place a sign on his forehead reading, 'Don't forget, we are mad.' Thus, we will be able to gauge our actions and one day return to normalcy."
There's a legendary story about a kingdom, which was hit by tragedy one year. The entire harvest was poisoned and everyone who ate of it went crazy. The good citizens were at a loss, not knowing what to do. If they were to eat, they would become mad. On the other hand, if they refrained from eating, they would starve to death. What to do?
In last week's column, I published a letter from a divorced gentleman of 52 who took exception to an e-mail written by a single professional woman who wrote that she regretted wasting precious years building a career rather than focusing on a home and family. She complained that at this point in her life, the shidduch recommendations made to her are very often men who are incapable of earning a living. She stated that she couldn't possibly consider such individuals for a husband and referred to them as "losers." It is this term, "loser," that prompted the gentleman's letter and his vehement objection.
A few weeks ago I published a letter from a 45-year old single professional woman who expressed regret at having placed career before marriage. She bemoaned the years wasted and the opportunities lost for bringing children into the world and establishing a true Jewish home. In my response, I told her that it's never too late - that rather than agonizing over the past, she should concentrate on the here and now. I told her to bear in mind the many miraculous happenings of our past as well as the amazing stories of today of all the singles who, through the many mercies of Hashem and modern medicine, do marry and have children later in life.