Dear Mrs. Bluth,
It is erev Tisha B’Av and I can’t bring myself to do what I know I should. I couldn’t do it on Erev Rosh Hashanah and on Erev Yom Kippur for the last thirteen years – I can’t seem to get up the courage to do it. Part of me desperately wants to reconnect with my family, even though they turned their backs on me. Then there is another part that says, “What for, I’ve moved on and shouldn’t look back or set myself up for more of the same heartache.” Yet, here I am again, agonizing over the past.
If things continue as they always do, I’ll get angry and them shove it all “under the bed,” so to speak. However, this time there is more going on – I have been told my father is dying.
Here is my story.
Thirteen years ago I left home at the ripe old age of nineteen, after my father, a chassidic scholar of some note, shamed me for wanting to go to college and become a doctor. I had always been different from my brothers and sister; I didn’t want to sit and learn, or get married at nineteen. I wanted to see and understand the world I physically inhabited but was not allowed to affiliate with. I wanted to learn and see what was beyond my cloistered little world.
So, on the morning of my nineteenth birthday, I cut off my payos, took off my black uniform and left my childhood behind in search of a life I wanted so much to be a part of. I never understood why wanting to step out of the mold would automatically turn me from a tzaddik into a shygatz, why I couldn’t be a Torah observant, shomer mitzvos and worldly at the same time – but in my community that’s how it was.
So I made a choice.
I made my way to an army enlistment office in my area and joined up – as much for the benefits of furthering my education and getting a my medical degree as it was for that instant entrance into the world I wanted to be a part of. I did my tour of duty in Europe and then went to medical school under the GI bill. With my skill as Pediatric Oncologist, I was accepted at a well known hospital and over the years I have made a name for myself in this field. Recently, one of my patient’s father asked me if I had any relatives in the community. They years seemed to fall away and I recognized him as a schoolmate from my yeshiva days. Always in control, I denied any family connection and then asked why. It was then that I learned of my father’s terminal illness.
Just so you understand, while in the Army and during medical school, and in all the years since, I have put on Tefillin every day, been shomer Torah and mitzvos and attended a Daf Yomi shiur whenever time allows.
I am a successful physician and yet afraid of being turned away by my family. How do I proceed from here?
Please don’t take this the wrong way, I mean no disrespect when I tell you that I’m sure there are a few movie producers who would jump at the chance of turning your life story into a film.
It is sad that so much time has gone by and that it took the news of your father’s terminal illness to bring you around. It should not have taken this long to reconnect with your family – after all, you were the one who left them and not the other way around.
Stepping away from issue at hand, many children who fall through the cracks are often bright, inquisitive and lusting to experience the big, panoramic picture inaccessible to them in the Chassidic world. There is little tolerance for the questions and the dreams that these children harbor and little understanding for the intense desire to peek into that world, if only for the education. These are the children that we lose because we deny them the ability to gain the knowledge and skills that could make their dreams a reality, without sacrificing their Torah way of life or forfeiting family bonds. There is no shame in wanting to become a doctor. And, honestly, there is less chance of a child going off the derech if parents would simply bend a bit and allow these kids to mature their dreams under a loving, supportive and supervised umbrella. But that’s just my point of view.
Back to the issue at hand. Doctor, stop sitting on your hands and reach for the phone before it’s too late. Each tick of the clock shortens the odds that you’ll make it in time to hear your father’s voice, or he yours. Then, my friend, the agony of guilt will sit heavy on your shoulders without a chance for reprieve. Get into a car, bus, train or plain and ring their doorbell. Let your parents witness the fine person you became, albeit somewhat different than they envisioned. Payos and a bekesha do not always indicate piety and tzidkanus, sometimes a Ben Torah can come hidden in an entirely different package and still be a source of nachas and pride to his family and Klal Yisroel.
I think the time for being judgmental or bearing a grudge is long gone. Man up and make the first move to mend the family. Remember the old adage, “Physician, heal thyself?” The time for forgiveness and acceptance is long overdue and that time is now!