For many of us, our upbringing in a framework of no-obligation Judaism led us to do "normal" things that would only leave us full of depression, regret and self-hate...
Before making any real change religiously in my life, one thing burned in me. How can I make a difference in a world that gassed to death and burned to ash Jewish children during the Holocaust? My answer at the time was to simply work on myself to be the complete opposite of our enemies. If they hated us, I was going to love us and our Torah, regardless of whether or not I understood everything in our religion.
Above image courtesy ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
I grew up reform, that means bagels and lox, learn to read Hebrew but not understand anything and get your Bar Mitzva over with so you can stop going to Sunday school. Our young children went across the street to a Christian High School to have their “Torah” education since they didn’t have room on their own property for classrooms. Inside the classroom were signs of JC and crosses everywhere, this was the “conducive environment” for growth. The student’s parents were driving cars no less than $60,000; couldn’t they have built a few extra classrooms? With this kind of setting, it’s no wonder why so many of us left the “path” and got really, really lost.
During our “confirmation” retreat our reform Rabbi split up the teenage boys and girls so that we could have ‘the talk’ about man and woman. This is what he said, ‘Guys remember as you get older that you should practice on the non-Jewish women but marry a Jewish girl.”
Can you believe that? Well to us it didn’t make much of a difference at the time. Our upbringing and education within this framework of no-obligation Judaism left us thinking that the Rabbi hadn’t said anything obscure. Only looking back and taking on more of the Torah, do I see how foolish this was.
First of all, when a man ‘practices’ he could easily fall in love with her and lead him to develop a serious relationship which could lead to him marring her. Secondly, if he practices on her, then what kind of person does that make him? How does that influence him in his relationships with future women as a committed husband?
Those familiar with Orthodox Judaism and the commandments of family purity, including temporary no-touching during a women’s monthly period and the suspense of mikva night can attest to the divine considerations Hashem made to ensure family peace. I suggest you learn about this further and take it upon your own marriage! It will change your life!
Anyway, as I went to college at Arizona State University there was no shortage of extra-curricular activities to keep my mind off of what I needed to be doing. It should have been called Arizona State Complete Distraction. Drugs were everywhere; women were too, what’s a non-connected Jew to do? Practice, as the Rabbi said! Studying wasn’t a priority and my heart kept breaking. What is portrayed as ‘cool’ on the big screen leads to deep depression, self-hate and regret.
A sudden tragedy happened in my personal life that left me calling for Hashem. I knew that I couldn’t overcome the obstacles before me on my own. Although I wasn’t religious I always believed in Hashem even though I was blasting rap music from my car. To my great relief I met a Rabbi on campus that helped me clarify some major issues that I had with Judaism.
Little by little over an iced coffee this Orthodox Rabbi gave me strength to overcome my challenges and planted a seed to help me learn more about our tradition that has lasted from generation to generation. Months later, another orthodox Rabbi told me about a trip to Buenos Ares, Argentina to volunteer in the Jewish community. I went with other people my own age who were searching for deeper meaning in life through Judaism. What struck me the most was that every morning my fellow guy roommates were wearing tefillin. I thought that you had to be with a beard and black coat to put them on. These guys looked just like me, Polo shirt and Nikes, hair gel and cologne.
It was the first time I saw someone that looked like me observing the laws of Judaism. It opened my eyes and heart that you don’t need to walk around with a huge beard and a hunched-over back carrying heavy books to wrap Tefillin, keep Shabbat or eat Kosher. What it takes is a strong heart to admit to yourself that you are Jewish, and you have a Jewish Soul, that it’s cool to be different and that you want to represent our nation to the fullest. That is how we keep it going, not by military might, not by hi-tech, only a love for Hashem, our people and a desire for growth!