A Role Model to Emulate

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.

5 comments on “A Role Model to Emulate

  1. JZ – I’d like to think I am better, but there are many things I have to work on. However, I think that becoming observant has at least opened my eyes to the character flaws I have that I didn’t know about, and didn’t care about, before I became observant.

  2. When you label or categorize experiences you get caught get up in duality mode.Black and white etc. which creates more distortion. AT,BT,JT,LT,OT…It is still Rock N Roll to me.
    G-d is everywhere.Including the spaces between the notes.
    Shalom Aleichem

  3. Phyllis-Nice article. Now that you are observant, are you “better” than you were before or have you remained the same.

  4. I wonder if we can say that because derech eretz comes before Torah, anything that comes without being proceeded by derech eretz cannot properly be described as Torah?

    The problem with this suggestion may be our understanding of the simple meaning of “derech eretz.”

    It’s never too late too make this attitude adjustment, though. Thanks, Phyllis!

  5. Rabbi Fried is the real deal, an impressive person. We’ve heard him speak at our former shul in Houston, and still see him occasionally when he comes back to Indy to visit family.

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