I work at a Jewish newspaper, the Texas Jewish Post, and although it has articles and ads from every stream of Jewish life, it runs a weekly column by the dean of DATA (Dallas Area Torah Association), the “black-hat” Kollel that brought me back to Yiddishkeit again. Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is a model for me to emulate, because he repeatedly emphasizes that observant Jews should not look down on those who are less observant. I know that I myself forget that a lot of times and start to get on my high horse.
DATA, and also Congregation Ohev Shalom in Dallas, to which I belong, are indeed bright signs of change in the Jewish community. Of course I am comparing them with the community in Brooklyn, New York, where I used to live, and New York is usually not noted for its warmth and closeness. Too, I was in a far different personal situation in Brooklyn than I am here. But ever since moving to the Dallas Metroplex over 10 years ago and coming into DATA’s orbit, I’ve felt accepted and embraced as a Jew. That has encouraged me to grow Jewishly and do Teshuva a second time.
I’m sure Rabbi Fried’s attitude of acceptance and humility is a large part of what enables him to spearhead the Jewish outreach that DATA is so successful at. If only I could have such Ahavat Yisrael. At least I have a goal to work toward. My Yetzer Hara tells me snidely that just because I am now observant, I’m “better” than those Jews who aren’t. But the minute I start to think that way, I’m worse, not better.
Since the 1970s, when I became a Baalat Teshuva the first time around, the Kiruv people I’ve come in contact with almost all had the same accepting attitude. I just didn’t see it for what it was back then; maybe I took it for granted, or maybe the few “bad apples” soured me on the whole concept. But now I’m looking at it with new eyes.
You can’t be a true Baal/at Teshuva without Ahavat Yisrael. Derech Eretz comes before Torah. If you’re going to look down on other Jews, you’re defeating the whole purpose of Torah and Judaism. Why am I saying this? Because as I put the words on paper, I’m talking to myself. The more I say this over and over to myself, the more I hope to internalize it until it is my second nature. And, hopefully, it will do some good for my fellow Jews as well.