Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
I discovered your book, The Committed Life and I must tell you that it changed my own life. I come from an atheistic background and never gave Judaism a second thought until a Christian friend bought me your book as a gift. Since reading it, I have embarked on a quest to find out more. I guess I’m still not totally observant, but I am definitely heading in that direction. Most recently, I read your new book, The Committed Marriage, and that was an amazing experience. I only wish that I lived in New York City so that I could come to your classes and study with you. In any event, thank you for writing and sharing so much wisdom with us.
I am writing you at this time with what you might consider to be a very odd problem – but before I go into detail, I would like to give you some background about myself and my family. My parents are from Russia, and we came to this country ten years ago. In Russia, my father was an architect and my mother was an engineer, but they couldn’t find employment here in their professions, so they were obliged to take menial jobs in order to support us.
My mother works in the kitchen of a nursing home assisting the cook, and my father drives a cab. While they are earning a living, my parents are also very bitter and feel demeaned by their jobs. I mention this because it is the source of a lot of tension in our home. My parents’ moods swing from anger to depression. Whatever it is, there is no joy in our family – unfortunately however, there is a lot of shouting and fighting. But please don’t get the wrong impression. With all that, my parents are kind, good people. It’s just that life has been difficult for them.
When I became interested in Judaism, their anger became more intense. In Russia, we didn’t believe in anything or observe any of the holidays. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even know that they existed. Most of my aunts and uncles were intermarried, and no one ever thought that there was anything wrong with that.
When we came to America, we settled in _________ because we have relatives here, but they too are assimilated. I went to public school, where most of my friends were non-Jews. I had non-Jewish boyfriends as well, to which my parents never objected. My older brother did actually marry out of the faith. No one felt that there was a major problem with that, and my sister-in-law is very much a part of the family.
Since I became involved in Judaism, I have been going to a synagogue that caters to Russian Jews. They even put out a bulletin in Russian, which I brought home to my parents hoping that it might interest them, but it made no impression at all. I met some very nice people in the synagogue, one of whom is a young man whom I have come to care for in a very special way. He too is from a Russian background. He is totally religious and I recognize that I don’t measure up to him, but he is very encouraging and patient with me. He has told me that he cares for me and he asked to meet my parents – which turned out to be a total disaster. He is a computer programmer, but at present he’s not working because he has taken off a year to study Torah.
My parents have no tolerance for this. They view such study as sheer nonsense and cannot see how I can waste my time on someone who is not making a good living. While I am certain that this genuinely concerns them, I do believe that, were he not religious, they would be more accepting of him. I’m sure they would have no problem if he was studying one of the sciences or law. The yelling and, the bickering at home has become just too much for me. You see, everything has become a major problem. They can’t stand that I eat only kosher, that I try to keep Shabbos, that I go to shul, and that I pray in the privacy of my room. I have my own dishes, I buy my own food, and I don’t impose on my mother, but instead of seeing this in a positive way, she views it as censure of her and the family which, believe me, it is not. I don’t blame my parents for anything; I know that they have had a rough time and that they too are victims of circumstances.
Over the years, even while at school I worked very hard and managed to put aside a few dollars for myself, and now that I am, thank G-d, working full time, I do have some resources which gives me independence. I have been seriously toying with the idea of moving out and taking my own place. I would, of course, never want to hurt my parents and move a distance away, but as things turned out, a small studio has become available in our building.
It’s not much of an apartment, and it’s nothing to look at, but the price is right and it’s something I could manage. A further advantage is that I would still be living at home – that is, in the same building. But at least I would have some privacy, a place where I could shut the door and have some peace, where I could study, daven, eat my kosher meals and light my Shabbos candles without being criticized.
The only problem with the apartment is that it is on the third floor and my parents live on the 11th. You might of course wonder why that would present a problem, but there is this woman I know, also a Russian, very much sought after by many people in our community. She is very good at predicting the future and telling people things about their lives. I know for a fact that she has been correct in many instances – I saw it with my own eyes. In any case, she told me that to move from the 11th floor to the third is bad luck – that you don’t move from a higher floor to a lower one.
Initially I dismissed it as superstition, but then, strange things started to happen. Just this week I had a car accident. Thank G-d it wasn’t serious, but it did shake me up. Additionally, I haven’t been feeling well, and I have had some difficulties at work. Can all this be related? This turn of events all started when I began to think about moving. I haven’t made a decision yet – I’m so confused. I was wondering if you could give me some insights. What is the Torah view on this? As you can imagine, my parents are not happy at the prospect of my moving, but once I make my decision, I am certain that they will be accepting of it.
So I’m caught in a dilemma. Should I move or not? Is there substance to this woman’s prediction that moving from the 11th floor down to the third will bring bad luck? I’m so confused – I don’t know what to do. Thank you for your patience. I await your reply. If you wish, you may publish this letter. I only ask that you refrain from mentioning my name.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis