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The Jewish Press » » LIFE
May 6, 2016 / 28 Nisan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘LIFE’

Life Chronicles

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I am in so much trouble, I just don’t know how to make it go away.  I am writing this to you from my married sister’s house, where I have been staying for the past week so as not to have to face my parents’ wrath and anger, but I know I will have to do so soon.

About two years ago, after finishing school, I got a job with a chassidishe firm in Manhattan. I was so excited to be working in the city, because I had only been there once before and it represented another universe to me, one in which I could see more of the world. My parents let me take the job because they assumed I would be engaged after a short while.

My first two weeks at work were wonderful; I made friends with the other girls in the company and looked forward to each day. One morning, as I rode the elevator up to my floor, I noticed a very nice young man wearing a kippah sruga; he got off on the same floor as I did and went into the boss’s office.  I made mention of him to some of the girls on our lunch break and they laughed at me as I blushed, knowing that he had caught my eye.  They said he was the son of the COO of the company’s Israeli division and he came to America a few times a year. They jokingly said that he probably has more than a few girlfriends at home and I shouldn’t get my hopes up; they had all tried to get his attention.  I told them that my parents would be the ones to choose the person I would marry and they were all being silly.

Yigalrode the elevator to work with me almost every morning for about a week and a half before our friendly nods evolved into light conversation in the reception area before we parted ways.  A few weeks later Yigal asked me to join him for coffee at the office cafeteria and I agreed.  I had the best time; he made me laugh with stories of his family in Israel.  I envied his freedom to explore so much of life, while the little I knew was from books and other people.  In turn, I told him of my home life and the close-knit family I come from.  We shared quite a few more such breaks for lunch before he asked if I would like to go to a concert with him. I told him that I would not be permitted to go, especially with a young man.  Although he said he understood, I could see the disappointment in his eyes and I felt my heart break because I wanted to go with him.

So I made up to stay with a friend from work for Shabbos and on Sunday afternoon, without my parents knowing, I met up with Yigal. We walked around the city and then went to the concert.  It was a night that changed my life.

Many lies followed and by the time someone from my community saw us together and told my father, it was way too late to turn the clock back – my heart already belonged to Yigal and I knew that I could never share my life with anyone else.  That night my parents confronted me; my mother wept, my father called me all sorts of names, and they insisted that I quit my job and never see Yigal again.

I told my parents that I regretted having lied to them; however, there could never be anyone for me other than Yigal, so the choice would be theirs to make.  My father told me to go stay at my sister’s house and to not come home until I came to my senses.  I called Yigal as soon as I left home and we talked well into the early morning hours.  He told me he felt the same about me and that he was ready to marry me immediately.

So here I am, torn between the love of my life, who wants me to be his wife and my family, whom I love as well.

Please help me see what path to take.



Dear Friend,

I have found that, most often, we are the perpetrators of our own misery, by virtue of the risks we take, the decisions we make and the lies we tell.  Truth is such a sparse commodity as to be almost non-existent when we are caught in the throws of what we want, giving no thought to how it will reflect on ourselves and ourselves in the future.  All that matters is that we must have what we must have now.

I think it’s a bit late to find a way to appease everyone and certainly no way to redeem yourself after the deceit and the lying.

It seems to me that you have already made up your mind as to what you want to do; that your parents blessing to you and Yigal will not be forthcoming is also quite evident.  So I think you are mistaken when you say the ball is in your parents’ court. If you decide to follow your heart and marry Yigal, know that you are probably going to forfeit most or all of your family – at least for now.

As Yigal seems to be shomer Torah u’mitzvos, it is probable that given some time and outside intervention, your parents will yet come around. But you will have to be patient.

Rachel Bluth

On April 19, You Can Cast the Most Important Vote of Your Life

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

It’s rare for frum communities to be pivotal in elections that have nationaI impact, but on this Tuesday, April 19, how Orthodox Jewish voters cast their votes, particularly in the Five Towns, Long Beach, Oceanside and West Hempstead, will have a very real, very serious impact not only here in New York, but nationally and potentially on Israel as well.

In a special election in 2011 to replace Congressman Anthony Weiner, Orthodox communities in Brooklyn and Queens sent shockwaves throughout Washington and the national political class when they rejected a well known and generally popular longtime local Jewish Democratic legislator, David Weprin, to instead lead the victorious campaign of a politically unknown Catholic Republican businessman, Robert Turner. The issues there were similar: Orthodox communities banded together primarily to send a national message to Obama and the Democrats in Washington of grassroots dissatisfaction with their treatment of Israel.

On April 19, frum voters have the opportunity to send the same message – but this time it is not merely symbolic or a protest, this time the practical stakes are vast and quite specific and directly impact the work both of us and many other Jewish activists are doing to combat the malevolent threat of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement. This may seem like a local election, but one of us fights BDS nationally from New York and one of us from California, and we, like our enemies, pay attention to all the states in between.

BDS is not a protest or boycott of Israeli policies and is not aimed at bettering anyone’s life – BDS is an aggressive campaign of lies and libels dedicated to one goal, plain and simple: to destroy the Jewish State.

“The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel. There should not be any equivocation on the subject.” Those words belong to BDS leader As’ad Abu Khalil, a professor at the University of California. “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state…BDS is not another step on the way to the final showdown; BDS is the final showdown.” That was written by BDS Leader Ahmed Moor.

Because they are clear, we too must be clear. In the words of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot.” While Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog has called BDS “unacceptable and hypocritical in every shape and form” and “an onslaught against Israel all over the world.”

And the impact of BDS is not just ugly libels against the Jewish state or terrorists 6000 miles away who are empowered by the blame John Kerry or the UN place on Israeli

“oppression” – though for those surely, “dayenu.” But BDS is also the basis of a newly emboldened and vicious anti-Semitism around the world including right in New York.

American Jews are being targeted by BDS. This is especially acute for Jewish college students, who are being targeted for harassment by other students and by the faculty and staff of universities. BDS is not academic freedom – it is the opposite. BDS routinely punishes, shouts down and shuts out open discourse in order to incite hatred and violence against Jews. Last week, in San Francisco, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – a mild-mannered, middle-of-the-road Israeli not known for extremist views – was shouted down by BDS hoodlums and forced to abandon a speech he had been invited to give at the State University. The campus police were called in and neither arrested the protestors, nor ejected them, instead simply standing on the side as the outrageous harassment against Barkat became more and more aggressive.

According to a study published this past year, fueled by the blood libels of BDS, three of the top 10 most anti-Semitic universities in America are in New York – including the top two, Columbia and Cornell. NYU is in the midst of a BDS struggle and, if you have not been following it, we urge you to read about the terrible ongoing battles at SUNY and at CUNY where the New York Senate has heroically voted to slash funding to CUNY because of the egregious anti-Semitism. The message the New York State Senate sent has been heard in legislatures and universities around the country. There are many friends in the Senate who have helped, and we want specially to single out Senator Jack Martins for his dedicated leadership in the fight against BDS and Higher Education Committee Chairman Ken LaValle for making it a priority for his committee.

In state capitols around the US and in Washington, we and our colleagues in many anti-BDS groups have been working with legislators to fight BDS. Collectively these efforts have resulted in dozens of state and federal laws being passed that – like the New York State Senate’s votes against BDS – chip away at our enemies legally and, at least as importantly, that repudiate their libels and lies. The legislations have been cautious, because the issue is so significant that there has been a reluctance to hand even a single victory to the enemies of Israel and the Jews. And yet, to date, BDS is winning in New York, home to the largest concentration of Jews outside the State of Israel.

Republicans in Albany have been dedicatedly pushing anti-BDS legislation and it has passed the Senate for one reason only: that Republicans control the Senate. In the Assembly, however, the Democrats have made abundantly clear that while they remain in control they will not allow anti-BDS legislation. They cynically claim BDS is a matter of “free speech” – even while a major part of BDS itself is the denial and restraint of pro-Israel speech (or even the rights of Israelis and Jews to speak, regardless of the topic or their views). Serious questions have been raised by a number of our fellow anti-BDS activists about Todd Kaminsky’s own approach to BDS which is substantially weaker than the Republicans’. But the sincerity of his intentions are rendered irrelevant by the circumstances of this race. If on April 19 this Senate seat goes to a Democrat – even a sympathetic Democrat – control of the Senate will change hands to the pro-BDS party. The national ripple effect is palpable.

By quirk of fate or hashgacha, this issue is in your hands. You have an opportunity to turn out in force to make it clear to the Democrats in Albany – and all lawmakers nationally – that refusing to fight BDS is to stand for the destruction of Israel. Frum Jews must let them know that fighting the blood libels of BDS does not even really require a lawmaker to be pro-Israel, it simply demands that they be a human being with a conscience and a memory. If the Democrat leadership in Albany will not fight against BDS then they stand with the anti-Semites now libeling Jews and terrorizing our children in college.

There is no justification for this having become a partisan issue. In California, as in many other states, we managed to bring both parties together. We are not happy that the Democrats’ leaders have made this a party fight in Albany and it is in their power to change that – but they will only do so if voters turn out in force and show them there is a price to be paid.

As for the other parallels to the last time our vote really mattered, Rabbi Twersky’s open letter laments the disgraceful smearing of Chris McGrath as an anti-Semite. We have seen an e-mail trying to tie him to Nazis. Rabbi Twersky, like many in our community, know McGrath to be a longtime committed friend to Jews. Politics can be nasty, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate such tactics, which deserve to be repudiated. (In 2011, identical tactics were used against Turner, with his opponents even executing a robocall campaign to Orthodox homes pretending it was from Jews for Jesus calling to turn out votes for Turner). Enough. Those who would manipulate us need to understand that we are not naïve or gullible, we are not driven by fear and loathing of Christians, and there is a price to pay for adding such insult to the injury of their policies.

One of us is lives in the district and one of us lives 3000 miles away, but on April 19, both of us along with fellow anti-BDS activists around the country have our eyes on this election. There certainly are other valid issues which all voters must examine. As those who spend a significant part of our days fighting BDS however, we know that much of what has been happening has been behind closed doors and we feel it is our responsibility to give you a glimpse into this ongoing struggle in Albany and its very serious ramifications. We implore you to consider the gravity of these issues, research them yourselves, and to please take the fight against BDS into account as you decide whether and how to cast your vote.


Jeff Ballabon and Rabbi Pini Dunner

Life Chronicles

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I have written and rewritten this letter many times over the course of the last year and a half, but never had the courage to send it. However, things have gotten so bad, I finally had the courage.  Ours is a small and closely intertwined community where even a hint of gossip becomes everyone’s business and, as I have children of marriageable age, I try to be very circumspect.  I hope this letter does not give away any clues to who we are and that you will be able to help us.

Over twenty some odd years ago, I lost my parents in an accident and went to live with relatives who didn’t want me, but couldn’t send me away because it would make them look bad.  They married me off at a young age to an older man, who came from a good family and was well thought of.

With no one to confide in or to mentor me, I was not prepared for marriage and what experienced from the first moments of our intimacy, frightened and shocked, and sometimes repulsed me.  I never developed a close, loving relationship with my husband, quite the opposite in fact. I much preferred to be away from him than with him.  He, in turn, lost patience with me and our marriage became a loveless, distant relationship that produced three children.

I had my first child ten months into the marriage and poured my loneliness and aching heart into caring and loving this child.  As I devoted almost all my time to the child, my husband’s resentment towards me grew and translated itself into vile name-calling and debasement when we were home alone.  In public, he appeared the model husband, although distant and aloof, so no one suspected how cruel he was in private.  As the two other children came, the youngest born with emotional problems which caused him to have body spasms, wild temper tantrums and uncontrollable crying fits, my husband’s anger increased to the point that he no longer cared where and when he verbally attacked me.  As much as I tried to shield the children from his tirades, there was simply no way to mute his vile insults, and I simply gave up trying.

As the children got older, whenever I denied them what they wanted, they would parrot back their father’s name-calling and ugly insults and as they grew, I noticed them turning more to him, because he would buy them whatever I did not or could not.  As they became teenagers and went off to schools abroad, I hoped that when they returned, they would be wiser, more mature and more respectful of me.  This did not happen.  Our oldest child returned and simply ignored me, turning completely to her father, as though I didn’t exist.  When she met her young man, she had him meet her father first in a coffee shop, where they agreed on the engagement and planned the L’chayim.  I was absolutely heartbroken.

I don’t know how much more I can take and there are days when I entertain thoughts of ending my misery and leaving them to deal with explaining it to the neighbors and the community.  I am broken in body, mind and spirit.



Dear Friend,

When we find ourselves in a dark place, we tend to think dark thoughts and you have been in a dark place for a very long time.  I am grateful for your trust in reaching out to me because I can hear how hard it must have been for you to do so.

Life, even in its darkest moments, is precious and worth living if only you can find something to hold on to.  You have isolated yourself in a loveless, cruel and painful marriage without benefit of the comfort that should have come from family or friends. No one could know of your of your plight, and at the same time, there is no one who could help you. What hand was there for you to hold on to so you wouldn’t sink into the quicksand of your misery? Who was there to offset the horrible steady diet of debasement and verbal abuse fed to your children by a husband who may, in his own way feel cheated and abused in the marriage?

There are so many issues in your marriage that were contributors to the end result, that it would take deep and intensive couple’s counseling, as well as therapy for your children.  Everyone in your family is suffering, however, I would venture to say that all is not lost, and if you let me try to help sort through it with you, I have hope that you will find your way out of the darkness and back into the light.  There are many wonderful people ready, willing and able to reach out to you and help you, discretely and with respect for your privacy. Please get in touch with me.  I care.

Rachel Bluth

Aliyah and Keeping Young with Yisrael

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

As an education writer for the nonprofit organization, Kars4Kids, and as someone who made Aliyah from Pittsburgh 34 years ago, I decided to write about the challenges of Aliyah from western countries with school age children. See the previous piece in this series, Fully Absorbed, Coming Through to the Other Side.

As a teen, Randi Lipkin spent three consecutive summers working at HASC, a camp for Jewish children with special needs. Randi’s husband Michael spent his nineteenth summer as a counselor there, and the couple both worked at HASC one summer after they were married, never knowing that someday, they would have a special needs child of their own.

The Lipkin family made Aliyah in August of 2004, with four children from Edison, New Jersey. After they made Aliyah, Randi discovered she was pregnant with Yisrael, who has Down syndrome.

Michael serves as senior editor of financial articles at a local company, Seeking Alpha. Randi is an occupational therapist who works at a “Gan Safa,” a Beit Shemesh nursery school for children with developmental language delays. The Lipkins live in Beit Shemesh.

Proud father Michael Lipkin holds newborn Yisrael Simcha (photo credit: courtesy Michael Lipkin)

Proud father Michael Lipkin holds newborn Yisrael Simcha (photo credit: courtesy Michael Lipkin)

V: Tell me a bit about your children and their adjustment to your Aliyah.

Michael: We had 4 children when made Aliyah. They were 19, 17, 14, and 3 when we moved. Our oldest, one year post-seminary, was our big Zionist and would have moved here even if we hadn’t. Her adjustment was very smooth. She married a year and half later and is now living in our neighborhood with her husband and 3 children.

Our next oldest was borderline interested in moving. As she was entering her senior year in a Flatbush Beit Yaakov the year we made Aliyah, we decided it was best for her to finish high school there while boarding with Randi’s sister who lived nearby. She subsequently came here for seminary, married soon after, and is living in Bet Shemesh with her husband and 3 children.

Our older son had the toughest adjustment. Even though he wanted to move he had a difficult time adjusting to dorm life at Maarava high school. However, he is now our most integrated child having married an Israeli girl and is currently serving his country.

Our youngest at the time adapted very well because of her young age and smarts.

V: How old were you and Randi when Randi became pregnant with Yisrael?

Michael: I was 47 and Randi was 45. We had just had our first grandson and our second daughter was married during Randi’s pregnancy.

V: How did you and Randi feel about the pregnancy? How was the level of obstetric care here compared to the care Randi received in the States during previous pregnancies?

Michael: I was ecstatic, very excited, but nervous for her. Getting pregnant at that age was nervous-making, and of course, we worried about Down syndrome.

Randi: The overall care here was fine, but I found it very weird that you develop a relationship with a doctor and then he has absolutely nothing to do with your delivery. The experience was totally different than in the states. In certain ways the doctors seemed very laidback and in other ways hyper-nervous.

I had gestational diabetes as I’d had before in my previous pregnancies. The doctor transferred my entire case to an obstetrician that handles gestational diabetes and I at one point said to the doctor, “Can we listen to the heartbeat?”

They were too focused on the diabetes. There was far less connection to me as an expectant mother compared to what I had experienced in the States. Of course, I’d had tremendous relationships with my doctors in the States, because I’d known them for 25 years. It’s just not what you have here.

Since I was having an elective, planned C-section, we paid for a private doctor instead of showing up at the hospital and just getting whoever was on duty that day and we felt very comfortable with that decision.

V: I know you gave Yisrael the middle name “Simcha” because you wanted him to always know he brought simcha, joy, into your lives. Was that immediate? Or did it take some adjusting to the idea?

Varda Meyers Epstein

Understanding God through Self-Exploration

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

One of the most timeless and thought provoking questions regarding religion is whether spirituality and religious study is primarily about self-knowledge or other-knowledge?

An old Chassidic teaching demonstrates the position that religion is, generally, first and foremost a search for the self:

A chassid came to visit his rebbi.

The rebbi asked the chassid: “Why have you come here?”

The chassid replied: “I have come to find God.”

The rebbi, with a twinkle in his eye, responded: “For that you didn’t have to come here, since God, Whose glory fills the entire earth, can be found everywhere in the world!”

Surprised by the rebbi’s reaction to his statement, the chassid asked: “Then why indeed do people come here to the rebbi?”

To which the rebbi answered quietly: “People come here to find themselves.”

As the Chasidic teaching illustrates, we often seek the guidance of religious leaders and texts to find ourselves. There is, of course, nothing wrong with gaining self-knowledge and growth, in fact this is beautiful, but we cannot lose sight of another important goal of religion: Other knowledge. What can we learn about the world? About God? About humanity?

Society (religion of course included) has markedly turned toward individualism. Many of the effects of this have been positive as it has increased a sense of autonomy, empowerment, and responsibility. However, a significant, and often overlooked, cost has been the loss of engagement with the Other.

One Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 14:9) demonstrates the extent to which we should be engaged with God and ideally focused:

R. Levi b. R. Hanina said: ‘For every single breath that a human being takes, he should offer praise to the Creator.’ What is the reason? Scripture says, “Let every soul (neshamah) praise God’ (Psalm 150:6)—let every breath (neshimah) praise God.

Of course many of us fall far short of this ideal. We are often too caught up in the mundane tasks and stresses of everyday life, and find it hard, if not impractical, to stop and thank God for every breath we take. However, let us now stop, for just a second, and give thanks to God, as this Midrash commands, for the gift of life and the blessings we have been given. Let us renew our search for God and begin anew our engagement and focus.

A beautiful idea in Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (Likutei Maharan Essay 282) is that of judging others, finding the good in our brothers and sisters, and understanding the implications of our actions toward others:

Know! A person must judge everyone favorably. Even in the case of a complete sinner, one must search until one finds some point of good within that person. For the verse says: “With a little bit [of good], and the wicked will be no more” (Psalms 37:10). This verse refers to finding and exclusively focusing on the “little bit” of good which is found within everyone, including a complete sinner. By judging even a complete sinner favorably, one fulfills the end of this verse: “And the wicked will be no more.” Once you judge a sinner favorably you actually elevate the sinner to the side of holiness. This can help this person return to God. How is it possible that this sinner never once fulfilled a mitzvah or did something good throughout his entire life? Once a person does even one good deed, he becomes part of and attached to God, the source of all good.

Every person can sense how another person feels toward him. A person’s feelings toward another are broadcast loud and clear through verbal and non-verbal communication, intimations, body language, and gestures. Therefore, if one projects and transmits positive feelings toward another, the warmth and good attitude that one projects can be felt and can literally uplift the other person. Once a person feels uplifted and is imbued with a sense of self-worth and joy, this happy attitude could motivate a person to seek out God and return to Him. If one, however, projects negative feelings toward another, this could literally kill the other person and cause him to fall completely….

Imagine if we viewed others and interacted with others in such a fashion and how that would affect our own souls and the souls of those around us!

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Beginning The Journey

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A while back, a British newspaper, The Times, interviewed a prominent member of the Jewish community (let’s call him Lord X) on his 92nd birthday. The interviewer said, “Most people, when they reach their 92nd birthday, start thinking about slowing down. You seem to be speeding up. Why is that?”

Lord X replied, “When you get to 92, you start seeing the door begin to close, and I have so much to do before the door closes that the older I get, the harder I have to work.”

Something like that is the impression we get of Abraham in this week’s parshah. Sarah, his constant companion throughout their journeys, has died. He is 137 years old. We see him mourn Sarah’s death, and then he moves into action.

He engages in an elaborate negotiation to buy a plot of land in which to bury her. As the narrative makes clear, this is not a simple task. He confesses to the locals, the Hittites, that he is “an immigrant and a resident among you,” meaning that he knows he has no right to buy land. It will take a special concession on their part for him to do so. The Hittites politely but firmly try to discourage him. He has no need to buy a burial plot. “No one among us will deny you his burial site to bury your dead.” He can bury Sarah in someone else’s graveyard. Equally politely but no less insistently, Abraham makes it clear that he is determined to buy land. In the event, he pays a highly inflated price (400 silver shekels) to do so.

The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail and highly legal terminology – not just here but three times subsequently in Genesis, each time with the same formality. For instance, here is Jacob on his deathbed, speaking to his sons:

“Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites” (Genesis 49:29-32).

Something significant is being hinted at here; otherwise why mention, each time, exactly where the field is and from whom Abraham bought it?

Immediately after the story of land purchase, we read, “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything.” Again this sounds like the end of a life, not a preface to a new course of action, and again our expectation is confounded. Abraham launches into a new initiative, this time to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac, who by now is at least 37 years old. Abraham leaves nothing to chance. He does not speak to Isaac himself but to his most trusted servant, who he instructs to go “to my native land, to my birthplace” to find the appropriate woman. He wants Isaac to have a wife who will share his faith and way of life. Abraham does not specify that she should come from his own family, but this seems to be an assumption hovering in the background.

As with the purchase of the field, so here the course of events is described in more detail than almost anywhere else in the Torah. Every conversational exchange is recorded. The contrast with the story of the binding of Isaac could not be greater. There, almost everything – Abraham’s thoughts, Isaac’s feelings – is left unsaid. Here, everything is said. Again, the literary style calls our attention to the significance of what is happening, without telling us precisely what it is.

The explanation is simple and unexpected. Throughout the story of Abraham and Sarah, God had promised them two things: children and a land. The promise of the land (“Rise, walk in the land throughout its length and breadth, for I will give it to you”) is repeated no less than seven times. The promise of children occurs four times. Abraham’s descendants will be “a great nation,” as many as “the dust of the earth” and “the stars in the sky.” He will be the father not of one nation but of many.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Not Enough Joy and Meaning

Monday, October 7th, 2013

The recent NY Times article on the newly released PEW findings on Jewish continuity paints a bleak future for American Jewry. The study, among other findings, reported that nearly six in ten Jewish respondents (58%) who have gotten married since 2000, have married a non-Jewish spouse. The study also showed that only 20 percent of those who have intermarried are raising their children Jewish by religion.

There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this worsening situation including a serious lack of Jewish education for most American Jews, a more than ever distracting world in which living any kind of religious life becomes more challenging, and many other contributing factors. However I believe there is another cause, which I have seen in my 20 years of outreach to the young and less affiliated: the sheer lack of joy or meaning that so many young Jews associate with Judaism.

More often than not, the perception young people have of Judaism is of a faith filled with rules and restrictions which offers little or no joy or meaning in return.

But why should young Jews be left with any other impression? When Yom Kippur continues to be the most celebrated Jewish experience in synagogue what else should we expect? How many American Jews are present for the somber Yom Kippur service, complete with fasting and chest-pounding/forgiveness asking but are no-where to be found the next week when joyous singing and dancing in honor of Simchat Torah takes place? That balance of reverence and joy is vital to keep our interest and it is so authentically Jewish. In the Temple of old, the Beit Hamikdash, the feeling on Yom Kippur was one of awe and even trepidation as the High Priest performed the service to secure atonement for all of Israel, but the next week that same Temple was filled with a sense of joy and exuberance during the Simchat Beit Hoshava (water drawing ceremony) on which which the Talmud tells us: “Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy.”

Like most synagogues, MJE has always drawn larger numbers for its Yom Kippur services than for Simchat Torah. This year however, for the very first time, we had approximately the same number of participants for both holidays. It took us 15 years but we did it. The same number of previously less affiliated 20’s/30’s who were willing to fast and pray with us on Yom Kippur returned to sing and dance with us on Simchat Torah.

Young Jews desperately need to experience both the serious and lighter sides of Judaism. We can no longer allow our beloved faith to be marketed as a religion of guilt and restriction without even trying to present it for what it truly is: a path which can ultimately bring joy and meaning to contemporary life. And we must learn to properly articulate how the limitations Judaism does place on our lives are important in helping to create that more joyous and meaningful existence.

The goal of our synagogues and Jewish institutions today must be to demonstrate this balance of reverence and joy; fealty to tradition with personnel meaning and relevance. Jewish educators need to be better trained to invest more explanation and inspiration into our prayer services and provide greater depth and insight as to how living a life of Torah can actually improve our lives and make us happier and more fulfilled people.

Otherwise, for most American Jews, why bother?

Rabbi Mark Wildes

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/not-enough-joy-and-meaning/2013/10/07/

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