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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis’

Anguish That Does Not Go Away: The Singles Problem (Part One)

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, one of many you surely receive each week about shidduchim. I hope to act as a representative of all the sad and lonely unmarried men and women in our society. I am hoping that if you share my message in whole or in part with our community, it will have an effect – even if it’s minute.

I am a typical 30-something female who attended typical Bais Yaakov-type schools, comes from a regular down-to-earth frum family, and has an ordinary job. I also have a master’s degree. Unfortunately, what I am missing is that I have not yet been blessed with finding my bashert.

Every day is very difficult for singles, but perhaps the most painful are the Yom Tovim – the holidays – especially Yom Kippur. We hope, we daven and we dream that Hashem will answer our prayers and bring us only good things for the coming year.

In order to make our dreams a reality, we unfortunately have to rely on those around us to make it happen – those who are close to us and those who are not. We network with anyone possible. I have e-mailed my personal information to so many people – an uncomfortable feeling in and of itself. More often than not, my calls are not returned and the e-mails are not answered. Occasionally someone will drop the name of an eligible guy, but then never do anything about it. Would it be so terrible to expect the person to take an additional step and make that call? The waiting is torture.

I feel that we, as a community, do not do nearly as much for shidduchim as we should. We all lead busy lives with many obligations, but how often do people put themselves out for others when it comes to shidduchim? And worse, how often do people commit to things and make promises and then proceed to forget about them? I have people who are close to me who’ve offered to help out with minor things like a follow up e-mail or phone call, and even with major projects like starting a shidduch group as a zechus for me, but it never happens.

We are about to celebrate Chanukah; life goes on and people are back to business as usual. I wonder how people can be so apathetic and never even give singles a thought. I often wonder why people commit to helping if they have no intention of doing so. Why do they give hope– only to dash it? We go to family simchas and are always labeled “the single relative.” We get through the Yom Tovim as “the single aunt.”

And there is an additional problem: insensitivity and hurtful remarks. This past Yom Kippur, during the rabbi’s speech right before Neilah, someone came over to me to ask that I send my shidduch information. She had thought of someone appropriate for me. Wow, I thought, G-d is acting fast.

But we are heading into winter now and I have yet to hear from that person. Couldn’t she have called or at least e-mailed me? She picked me up only to drop me like a hot potato. Additionally, she took my time away during the last moments of Yom Kippur when I could have been saying Tehillim. To what end?

Of course, you can always count on people to offer sage advice, saying things like “It’s time you got married.” And there will always be those in shul and at other events who will whisper to others, “She is such a rachmones. She must be in her thirties and still single.” Very often I stay at home on the holidays. It is just too painful to go to shul, though staying home is not a happy solution either.

On one such occasion, a neighbor’s married daughter knocked on my door to ask if I would watch her child at home while she went to shul with another of her children. I am not a teenaged babysitter. Is she that clueless? Did it ever occur to her that I would do anything to take my own child to shul? There have been many similar situations.

Are we not supposed to be rachmonim ub’nei rachmonim? Compassionate ones and the children of compassionate ones, sensitive to the suffering of others and careful of how we speak to them? Is it too much to ask for people to take a moment to make a phone call or send an e-mail?

Permit me to make some suggestions to your readers.

* It is admirable and noble to want to help with shidduchim, but be serious! Don’t drop names because you feel it shows you are doing something. Unless you have a concrete plan or serious information, don’t talk about it. If you do mention someone, follow up and get back to the single person. Don’t leave anyone hanging. Your life might not be dependent on it, but ours is!

Family Mayhem

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I have been a reader for many years. I realize that lately you have been focusing on very serious subjects that pertain to the very life of our people, so I do not know whether you will publish my letter, which deals with family problems. I hope, however, that you will do so, not because it will change my family situation – it is too late for that – on the chance that others might learn from it.

I am a woman in my early fifties. Baruch Hashem, I have been blessed with a beautiful family – four children who, thank G-d, are all married. My only regret is that none of them lives in New York, and I therefore see them on rare occasions.

Last year my daughter, who lives in Montreal, called to tell me she was planning to come for Sukkos. Baruch Hashem, she has four wonderful children, and I was looking forward to seeing them.

Them I received an unexpected call from my son and daughter-in-law who live in Philadelphia. They informed me that they planned to come for Sukkos with their five children. Once again I was overjoyed, although in the back of my mind I was wondering how I would accommodate everyone. I have a modest house and, frankly, do not have room for so many guests, but I was happy they were coming and felt that somehow we would manage. After all, weren’t we one happy mishpacha?

The reason I said the call from my son and daughter-in-law was unexpected is that in past years my machatunim (my son’s in-laws) would take the entire family to Yerushalayim for Sukkos. However, my mechiten had some serious business reversals and he could no longer afford to take everyone. So for the first time in many years my son and daughter-in-law were coming to me and I looked forward to seeing them.

I cooked and baked as much as I could in advance, and bought some air mattresses to make room for all of the grandchildren. Thus armed, I thought I was ready. Never did I anticipate what awaited me.

I don’t mind working and having guests, especially if these guests are my own children and grandchildren. What could be better?

My son and daughter-in-law arrived with five little ones and my daughter came with four. My house was humming with the happy sounds of children, but soon those sounds became a huge challenge.

Despite all my earlier preparations, I never got out of the kitchen. I went from one seudah to the next. I tried to focus on the naches of having all of my children at my table, but I soon discovered that my daughter-in-law (whom I had always regarded as a very sweet girl) somehow thought she was a guest at the hotel in Yerushalayim – that”someone”would always clean up after her, serve her, and baby-sit for her while she went off to visit old friends in the neighborhood.

That “someone” was, of course, me – as well as my daughter, who had more than enough to cope with having her own four little ones. I am certain you can imagine the crying, the fighting (children will be children), the sheer bedlam in the house.

My elderly parents, who live in the neighborhood, came to see their great-grandchildren but left very quickly. They just couldn’t handle it. My husband, who is a wonderful man, couldn’t deal with it either, so he went upstairs to our room, closed the door, and went to sleep. Meanwhile, I tried to juggle it all while my daughter-in-law went visiting.

I’m certain you will appreciate what I had to contend with. No sooner did I put the house in order than there was a new trail of crumbs, smashed cookies and sticky candies on the floor. I had bought some lollipops, but even that was a problem: if one of the children chose a certain color, they all had to have the same, and that resulted in more crying and fighting.

Then there were the dirty diapers that were improperly disposed of; the couch in the den was so stained it had to be re-upholstered. And my new coffee table was all scratched up. My housekeeper was ready to walk out and my own nerves were frazzled, but I nevertheless tried to keep my cool.

My daughter, however, lost it and told my daughter-in-law that she had some chutzpah.

“How,” she asked, “could you imagine it was all right to leave all your children with Mommy while you went on your merry way? How could you have left Mommy with all that mess? Don’t you think you should clean it up?”

In short, they had a very unpleasant confrontation that resulted in the two girls not talking to each other. My daughter-in-law wanted to go home for the second days and I had all to do to mollify her. My son also got involved and of course took his wife’s side, telling his sister off.

What can I say, Rebbetzin? It was a great struggle for me to make peace between them. In the end they made up, but there was much tension in the house which lingers to this day. I decided to write to you so that other families might learn from my experience.

I was also hoping you would bring some clarity to this mess and make some recommendations that could prevent such a situation from occurring in other families’ lives. I regret having to relate such an unpleasant story, but, sadly, this is the reality.

Jews Weren’t The Only Ones Who Heard Leiby’s Cry

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

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.

Tragically, the world is once again turning against us, but we know that nothing happens randomly – that G-d is always watching us. If our world is becoming darker with every passing moment, it is pointless for us to curse the darkness, for we Jews know we have to search our souls to “find the light” that will illuminate the world with the light of G-d, for that is the only way we, who sealed a covenant with G-d at Sinai and heard the command “You shall be a light unto the nations,” can banish the darkness that becomes more menacing with every passing moment.

Next week, b’ezras Hashem, I hope to spell out what, exactly, that demands of us as individuals and as a nation. Meanwhile, the following is a somewhat shortened version of the letter alluded to above.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

Your latest column was very moving, and I look forward to the continuation. The gruesome murder of this child is, like murder in general, nearly beyond belief. Nearly, in that we have seen such horrors before. Rebbetzin, please know I hold you in deepest respect and admiration, but feel I must offer an opinion. I mean no disrespect or insult, so please bear with me.

With no disrespect, I don’t believe Jews are better than other people (I mean this as to people as a whole, not individuals). However, I was always taught that the Jewish people were chosen by G-d to live the Torah life and to bring the rest of the world to Torah. As you would say, this is an awesome responsibility.

We see throughout the pages of Torah and in life itself that there are always those who transgress, some in horrible ways. We are appalled to see people, many wearing religious garb (priests, ministers, rabbis, cantors) performing terrible deeds. The Catholic Church has, for me, lost all credibility in its sinful handling of years of systematized pedophilia and sexual deviance. Jews have succeeded in bringing Torah and G-d to the world. There will always be individual exceptions, but you and your people have completed a great mission.

On the morning I learned of little Leiby’s death, I was, of course, greatly saddened. I was even more saddened to hear that one of his own people, in a neighborhood in which Leiby knew no fear, had murdered him. The thing that made me cry, however, was the revelation that Leiby had been petitioning his parents for some time to be able to walk home from camp, and this was the first day he was to do so.

He pleaded and cajoled, and when they consented, they embarked on relentless instruction and dry runs. Of course parents are nervous and anxious – this is a big step – and their little boy was exhibiting the first signs of autonomy, of steps away from the parents and of younger childhood. He was doing what normal kids do.

What could really go wrong? He would be walking a few blocks in a neighborhood where he’d lived his whole life and from which he’d rarely ventured. With normal parental trepidation, they sent him out that morning, with the expectation they would meet him that afternoon at the end of their well-planned route.

My first thoughts on learning of his disappearance were that he, like many an 8-year-old child, boys in particular and no matter how well instructed, had become intrigued with something (or someone) that took him out of his way. I don’t know the parameters of his neighborhood, but I was fully expecting to hear he had experienced some sort of accident. To learn he had been murdered so horribly was a shock.

We will never know what happened, as the circumstances of his death don’t seem to add up and the defendant is unreliable. This little boy had no reason to fear this person who, though personally unknown to him, was obviously a member of his community.

Certainly the sketchy existence of the defendant warrants a closer look. What were we (I include those outside of his community and non-Jews, in that the murderer traveled a great deal and had much contact outside the community) all missing?

What does it take for us to pay attention to one another? What has to happen for us to wake up and realize we are responsible one for the other?

I converted to Catholicism from Protestantism many years ago. (I cannot relay the reasons for this as it’s a long story, and I’m fuzzy as to my own reasoning or lack thereof.) Anyway, I’m no longer affiliated, for many reasons, but that’s not important. One morning, the priest at my local church gave a sermon that spoke of people crying out to G-d to end their afflictions, to heal the world and to end war and suffering. I went up to him after the Mass and we spoke. I said, Father, ending suffering and war is not G-d’s job. It’s ours. He agreed, acknowledging the Torah.

I had learned that message from you, Rebbetzin.

I never knew little Leiby, yet I cannot believe he’s gone. I grieve for his family and am so glad they kept away from the press. I was also glad to read that you visited them, as I knew you would.

This is not the last horrible thing that will happen to a child, or to anybody. Sometimes it’s difficult to get up and go on when you know of all the terrible things that happen in the world, or that may happen to your loved ones or yourself. We cannot, however, do otherwise than to get up and go about our lives.

It’s just a shame more of us of us can’t take a bit more time to read and interpret the needs and fears and aspirations of people other than ourselves.

Whether one is a Jew or not, believer or non-believer, living a Torah life seems to me to be the only reasonable choice.

Thank you, once again, for your wonderful columns.

Leslie Weeden

Caring For Bubbie – A Privilege

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

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.

My husband feels the best solution might be to place my mother in a retirement home, but I find the prospect very painful. I don’t think I could live with myself if I did that.

My friends tell me I am a fool and should learn to think of myself rather than allow others to take advantage of me. There are times I am tempted to follow their advice and run off someplace by myself and forget everything.

My Dear Friend:

Many of us, when confronted by difficulties, daydream of flying to some distant land where we can forget all our problems. However, reality dictates there is no escape – for no matter how high or far the plane flies, eventually it must land with the same cargo that was loaded aboard. Therefore, rather than indulging in fantasy, let us try to resolve your problem in a constructive manner.

The greatest joy one can experience comes from being part of a loving family. But as with all gifts, this happiness comes at a price. For example, if you love someone and that person is hurting, you will feel his or her pain, and if you are unable to alleviate the suffering, your anguish will be even more intense. Therefore, I understand your agony over your mother’s infirmity and her inability to care for herself, but I cannot see why you should feel a conflict between caring for her and your children.

To honor and revere your mother is not your responsibility alone, but must be shared by your husband and children as well – and children are never too young to learn that responsibility. To revere, love and care for Bubbie is their privilege and should never be regarded as a burden. Not only should you enlist their aid in being attentive to your mother’s needs, you should make them understand how blessed they are to have a Bubbie living with them. It is a zechus, a great merit, to ease the pain of a grandparent, to divert her with a story or a song and to bring a smile to her face.

One of the outstanding women in Jewish history was Serach, the daughter of Asher. She lived for many centuries, and in the days of King David was renowned as Isha Chachama – the Wise Woman. Why was she granted this awesome honor? What was unique about her? Why was she so special?

She would comfort her Zeyda, the patriarch Jacob, by singing to him and offering words of consolation and hope. “Od Yosef chai” — “Joseph still lives” – she would sing again and again after Jacob was shown Joseph’s bloody coat. It was for having performed this great mitzvah of honoring and comforting her grandfather that she was granted her incredible longevity and wisdom.

Not every family has the merit of caring for elderly grandparents, so instead of resenting the mitzvah, teach your children to embrace it with love.

Long after your mother is called by G-d, your children will remember those special years when Grandma was part of their lives, and that is a treasure no one will ever be able to take from them. The best way to train children is through example. If you wish your children to feel the joy of the presence of their grandmother, then you and your husband will have to show them the way. Through your attitude you will have to demonstrate that to care for your mother is a privilege you wouldn’t barter for anything in the world.

Once you make your children active participants in this family responsibility, their resentment will disappear. Instead of feeling put upon, they will feel honored and want to give of themselves, and through that giving they will become better people. And one day, when old age catches up with you and your husband, your children will remember the love you showered on their Bubbie and, with G-d’s help, will impart the same to you.

As far as your friends are concerned, don’t let their opinions bother you. They are just parroting the meaningless words in vogue nowadays: “Think of your own happiness; don’t let anyone take advantage of you.” Can honoring one’s parents be regarded as being taken advantage of? What happiness can you have if your mother is hurting? Do your friends imagine you are a machine without a conscience who can simply block your mother out of your heart and mind?

Now, I do not minimize the sacrifice that is demanded of you, but we are a nation that has lived by these sacrifices – parents living for their children, and children, in turn, living for their parents. That’s what life is all about. Giving. The bottom line remains: if you inspire your family to join you in honoring Bubbie, that which at first glance seemed to cause a conflict will act as a catalyst to unite your household.

I can assure you that Bubbie will forever be enshrined in the hearts of your children as a legacy of love.

A Little Bit More Sensitivity

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

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.

The physical, emotional, and financial stress infertility has put on our marriage and on our lives has been enormous. I am not writing to complain. Rather, I’m writing because, unfortunately, time and again I have had to deal with very hurtful and foolish comments.

For example, I’ve been asked many times by people who thought they were making polite conversation, “How many children do you have?”

Why assume a married couple has children? This is not always so, and to have to say, “Oh, I have no children” is simply awful.

Then there are people to whom G-d has given a gift – they are able to have children easily, naturally, and as often as they want. Some of these people think this makes them experts on the subject of fertility, and they freely give out unsolicited advice on how to get pregnant.

One of these “experts” even said to me with great conviction, “Oh, these days everything can be corrected to achieve pregnancy” – while we’ve been told by real experts that nothing more can be done.

Some people have suggested, “Maybe you’re too overweight” – while others wonder whether I’m too underweight. Then there are people who tell us about “guaranteed” methods for women to get pregnant – swallowing a crushed ruby, eating seeds from a certain fruit, crying at a specific person’s grave and other segulas too numerous to mention.

When we hear all this, we must grin and bear their brilliant advice. It never occurs to these people that we are praying; that we are reciting Tehillim; that we are shedding tears; that we are visiting the gravesites of holy sages, that we are trying to be as meticulous as possible in our observance of mitzvos – and I believe this holds true for all observant couples who are childless. In the Torah world, children are the ultimate purpose of marriage.

I know these people mean well and I hold no malice toward them, but they must realize that in trying to be do-gooders they can cause more pain than good. In short, unsolicited advice not only can be non-productive, it can actually cause harm.

Our sages cautioned us to be careful with our speech, for the better part of wisdom is silence. People must realize that observant couples with fertility problems have done their due diligence, have consulted medical experts, and have not hesitated to undergo painful medical treatment.

There may well be a doctor who has had great success in this area and of whom a particular couple is unaware, but even in such a case sensitivity must be exercised when offering information.

I am sure that many others in my situation have come across people who say and do the wrong thing out of sheer ignorance.

I am hoping you will publish my letter so that people might exercise caution when speaking to people in difficult situations. (At the same time I admit that we who are hurting tend to magnify every remark because our pain is so deep.)

If we could be spared unnecessary comments, it would make our difficult journey somewhat easier. As for me, I have come to recognize that G-d may have given me this challenge so that I can relate to others with greater sensitivity and make people aware of our teaching that “Life and death are in the tongue.”

Dear Friend:

The points you make are well taken and there is very little I can add to them. Unfortunately, very few are aware of this problem – not only regarding infertility but in other areas as well – raising children, illness, parnassa, shidduchim, etc.

People ask thoughtless and hurtful questions – “Why aren’t you married already?” “What are you waiting for?” – and it never occurs to them that those they are addressing would, more than anything, love to get married but unfortunately have not found their soul mates.

Then there are those who consider themselves mavens and offer sagacious advice that cuts and wounds. And there are still others who make “lovely” remarks behind one’s back, thinking those who are hurting will not be aware of them.

One woman told me her husband had been out of work for over three years. During that time, she did not buy herself or her children any clothing. Of course, the “do-gooders” gave her “good” advice. “There’s an anniversary sale going on at Loehmann’s. You really need a new outfit. That suit you’re wearing is gone!”

Not only are these remarks terribly painful, they involve many transgressions, including putting people to shame and inciting jealousy.

To sum up, our sages taught us that there is no greater virtue than silence, so before we speak let us think, evaluate, and remain silent.

May Hashem grant you a nes – a miracle – and bless you with the gift of children. Do not give up. There are many such miracles I have seen.

Just One Speech

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

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.

Generations have since passed and we now see both camps were wrong. The ba’al teshuvah movement has become a powerful force, changing Jewish lives throughout the world. The pintele Yid in the Jewish neshamah may be dormant, but with just a little spark we can ignite an entire soul.

Over the years I have received thousands of letters and e-mails, all testifying that just one speech – yes, just one speech — can change and elevate not only an individual but families and communities. The following are excerpts from one such e-mail I recently received. In our dismal world, it is inspirational and spiritually uplifting to know there is another side to the “assimilation coin” and that Jews of all ages and backgrounds are coming home.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I must begin by saying Thank You. Three years ago my life jerked to a halt and I was forced to stop and think deeply for the first time. Had someone told me that night what was going to become of myself and my family, I would not have believed it.

I lived what one might call a typical suburban lifestyle — attending summer camp, playing sports, going to secular schools, being a Jew among Jews and non Jews, feeling partially connected because of the lifestyle we outwardly shared but partially disconnected because inwardly my family was different from the other families on the block, in my school, and in my temple. This was not only because I had a family that made an effort to sit down every night of the week to have dinner together, but rather because my father was searching for something he knew was missing from his life.

When my father hit his forties my mother told him he had to get his head out of work and “find a hobby.” Long story short, he went searching for G-d. My mother soon came to regret her suggestion to my father, as her entire world turned upside down.

My father grew in Yiddishkeit, slowly working his way from Reform to Conservative and then, Baruch Hashem, to Orthodox. Our regular family Friday night dinners slowly went from non-kosher matzah ball soup and challah to semi-kosher and finally to kosher. My father’s progression angered, frustrated, and challenged my mother, as with every new thing he took on she felt the infrastructure on which they had built their family slowly being taken down brick by brick.

My father’s rebbeim told him it was important he get his children learning — that they were young and needed a true understanding of Torah. So my older brother began, at the age of 9 or 10, learning a couple of hours a week after school and a few years later, also at about age 9, I began learning a couple of hours a week after school with a rebbetzin.

My parents’ household tug of war continued, but as they still loved each other very much, they eventually worked out every odd and end that came their way. As my brother and I got older, we continued living our lives in the secular school system with our secular friends. Our mother continued to stress sitting down every weekday and weekend dinner together, and eventually my father’s Shabbosim became my mother’s dinner parties.

As my father’s observance of Torah became stronger and stronger, my brother and I felt extreme guilt as Shabbos and Judaism became a burden to us. But our lives continued in relatively normal fashion. My brother went into the Israeli army, as my father had raised us to be strong Zionists (we had visited Israel almost every year from the time we were young children). Once again people viewed us as the strange ones — our father wore a funny thing on his head, didn’t eat out, had strings sticking out of his pants, didn’t go out on Friday nights or Saturday, and now my brother was crazy for going thousands of miles away to fight for what we believed to be our land.

Fast forward: The rebbetzin I had been learning with told me about a speaker who was coming to town. That speaker was you, Rebbetzin Jungreis. I had been reading your articles for years so I was looking forward to hearing you speak, though of course I had no idea what was in store for me.

That night, you spoke about a loss of Jewish self in our world and what would become our future if we did not take a stand and do something about it. Something deep inside me cried out. Who was I and what impact on the world was I going to make if I didn’t know what being Jewish meant to me? I held back my tears that night, but my mind was racing. I decided I wanted to have a future in which I knew what it meant to be Jewish and why it was so special, but first I had to figure it out for myself.

I decided that summer that I had to go to Israel to learn because that was the place where I was going to find out more about being a Jew.My journey took me to Jerusalem where I enrolled in the Jewel program and where, best of all, your granddaughter, Shaindy Wolff Eisenberg, was my powerful, inspirational teacher. Her teaching reminded me once again of that very night my neshamah was awakened by you.

I realized there was no bending of Torah rules, and after much discussion and the passage of time, my family became united through Torah. Initially this was extremely difficult for my mother, but she is an amazing woman and she did what every mother who loves her children does. She hopped, jumped, and skipped over hurdles for her family, and today, Baruch Hashem, we are all united and keeping Shabbos together.

It’s been three years since I last heard you speak. But your impact on my entire family has been tremendous. Just recently, you came back to our city to speak. My parents attended your lecture and were once again blown away, but this time I asked them to thank you for the immense debt we owe you and will continue to owe you every day of our lives.

My mother came up to you and briefly told you about me and that I had wanted to thank you. I know you meet a lot of people and are so special in the way you wait until everyone gets a turn to speak with you. You grabbed my mother’s hand and she became teary-eyed, and you took a picture with my parents.

In two weeks I will be a madricha on the Jewel program in Jerusalem, and I only hope I can pass on the Torah’s message and awaken other neshamas just as you awakened mine. Thank you.

Addendum: Of course I remember your parents. They made a very deep impression on me, and Shaindy, my granddaughter, says it is a joy to have you on the team. Please convey to your parents my warmest regards and tell them I said “Ashrei y’ladotah — happy is the one who gave life to this person” – and that person is you.

Readers Respond To Secular Jewish College Student

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

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.

That second letter evoked much comment. In last week’s column a self-described secular Jewish student at UCLA wrote that he felt Jews are suffering from “paranoia” and tend to see anti-Semitism lurking behind every door. He also stated that Jews have remained oblivious to our new democratic worldthat is intolerant of bias and prejudice.

That letter prompted an avalanche of e-mails of which I will share just two – one from a gentile, the other from a son of Holocaust survivors.

Letter 1: A Non-Jew Speaks Up

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I wrote to you last week in response to the woman who feared for this world (I agreed). I want to send a quick follow-up message regarding the very thoughtful letter from the Jewish student at UCLA. I read and understand what he says, but in your answer, please emphasize that anti-Semitism is huge. It is still with us (along with all other prejudices) and has grown exponentially, to the point where it is now acceptable in even the most revered circles – not only in Hollywood and the entertainment and fashion industries but all areas of society throughout the world.

As I said in my earlier letter to you, I am a non-Jew but I hear and am sensitive to such comments.

They are not always as in-your-face ugly as those made by the designer Galliano (incidentally, does he have any clue as to the history of the fashion industry or to the identities of a vast number of its clientele?). Most forms of bias start subtly, but are consequential, leading up to pogroms and Holocausts.

The UCLA student may be forgiven for his youth – I too was once young – and I am still a basically tolerant and in many areas a liberal person, but not when it comes to dealing with individuals and systems whose sole intent is the annihilation of another group or groups of people. Look where that got us in the 1930s. Is history so hard to learn? It is happening again, and you and a few others called it.

I certainly don’t want to be a Chicken Little over every little perceived incident of insult or wrongdoing, but the blatant anti-Semitism evidenced in today’s media venues is real and will kill us all if left unchecked. A young, idealistic student has a lot to learn, and he will, but the majority of people – Jewish and non-Jewish, young and not so young – turn their heads away or dismiss these incidents as non-lethal expressions of freedom of speech.

I am all for freedom of speech and expression, even ugly speech and expression, but that does not mean I do not take these utterances seriously or that I dismiss them as “just words.” I pay attention and I take note. I also vote. I will never support any candidate who does not respond decisively against persons and organizations espousing any sort of anti-Semitism. Everybody has a stake in this. Our world is very small and it won’t take much to destroy it. That young Jewish UCLA student reminded me of a young African American girl I knew several years ago who told me there is no longer any racism – we are now a “post-racial” society.

Only the young can proclaim the death of prejudice. It is both a blessing and a curse to be so idealistic. You and other Holocaust survivors are the still-vibrant reminders of what can and will happen if we ignore the clarion call of evildoers. It’s a shame, because they tell us far in advance what they intend to do to us. What could be clearer?

Letter 2: A Child of Holocaust Survivors

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I was appalled by the letter from that secular Jewish UCLA student. I know there are many Jews who are disconnected from their people and their heritage, but in this letter I detected a sentiment that bordered on Jewish self-hate. It’s one thing to be non-observant but something else again to accuse your own brethren of paranoia at a time when blatant anti-Semitism saturates the world.

I am the child of survivors. Both my mother and father experienced barbaric torture and unremitting agony in the death camps of Hitler. They emerged from that nightmare as living skeletons – forever scarred by that unspeakable, satanic evil that was thrust upon them. If my parents, of blessed memory, were alive today and were to read the letter from that UCLA student, they would tremble in disbelief. They would cry out and ask, “Could it be that a Jewish student would deny the continued existence of anti-Semitism when survivors of the Holocaust are still alive? When concentration camps, gas chambers and crematoria are still standing in place testifying to the unremitting horror of what occurred there? Could it be?”

As the child of survivors, I believed that Jews, no matter their persuasion, share this collective pain of the Holocaust that is forever engraved upon every Jewish heart and soul.

To my great shock, I’ve slowly discovered this is not the case. Not only are there those among us who believe the Holocaust has been overplayed, that it’s time to forget it and move on; there are also those among us who believe Jews are guilty of bias against Arabs and are blind to the suffering of the Muslims – the new downtrodden, exploited people of our generation. Sadly, many Jews have become “self-haters” and have joined forces with those who scheme to annihilate us – and even more Jews have chosen to abandon ship and have disassociated themselves from their people and their heritage.

Not only is that UCLA student off the mark, not only does he have a self-hating attitude, but he has obviously joined with those who hate us and hide their anti-Semitism behind the cloak of anti-Zionism – and he refuses to understand that, in the end, it is all the same: anti-Zionism is the politically correct way of expressing anti-Semitism.

I hope you will publish my letter and I anxiously await your response to this misguided student.

A Secular Jewish College Student Responds

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/a-secular-jewish-college-student-responds-2/2011/03/09/

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