A Baal Teshuva’s Letter to His Parents – Part 2

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

Part 1 is here

Ideal scenarios rarely occur exactly according to plan. I would like to focus on what alternatives would be fair for you to expect, given our upbringing. I am going to look at three scenarios:

1. Your sons marry non-Jewish girls;
2. We adopt your ideal scenario;
3. We become more religious.

Let’s start by looking at the track record. The family trend, as it stands now, seems to favor intermarriage.

My great-grandparents were still fairly observant, but markedly less so than their own parents. Grandpa’s generation can be described as “traditional”, but they would bear little resemblance to their grandparents.

Most of Grandpa’s nephews and nieces married out. As each generation drifted further from the source of Torah Judaism, this is unfortunately the result. The intermarriage rate in our family is worse than the national average.

Ask yourselves, how Jewish will the next generation be, if the mothers didn’t feel that Judaism was important enough to marry a Jewish man?

Therefore, it would seem to be quite likely, that at least one of your sons would have married a non-Jew. By becoming religious, I have made the odds considerably better in your favor.

Then again, we could all aim for your ideal package. But the reality is, that each successive generation tends to take on less religious practices. Your ideal is that we marry girls of a similar level of observance that we keep at home. This is not such a simple thing, as at least 50% of the Jewish girls are going to marry out, and of the remainder many are a lot less observant. I don’t think you would feel comfortable if we married Jewish girls who served up pork.

Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect exactly the same level of observance. I am taking on more, A______ seems to be taking on less, and R________ is still young, so it’s too soon to tell.

The only remaining alternative is that we become more religious, and take a leap back toward our great-great-grandparents. We would marry glatt kosher girls and live very happy lives (and be considerably less likely to get divorced!). You may safely assume that I at least will follow this path.

The way I see my life progressing, I will, with the help of G-d (who is now rather important in my life), meet most of your “ideal son list” . I know I will be happy, and I pray that I will be successful. I know that I won’t marry a non-Jewish girl, and will (G-d willing) marry a nice kosher girl and have as many children as possible. I might even join the Masons and keep up my golf subscriptions. I will also look after you both when you are old and gray.

Tell me, would you not be very happy if this is how my life turned out?
(The casual, conversational tone reassures his parents that their son has not become a stranger. He is not preaching or pontificating to them, and he is clearly trying to communicate in terms to which they can relate.)

The process I am going through is very difficult. You must wonder why I am doing it. Why would I want to keep Shabbos, rather than going to the game? Why should I keep kosher, when you know how much I enjoy Chinese, Italian, and fish and chips? Why go celibate, when I could continue to exploit my good looks, charm, sophistication and wit, to their best advantage? Why would I want to spend hours a week learning Torah, when I could spend the time watching T.V.? Why would I want to get up at 6 AM and put on my tefillin, when I could easily just roll over?

It might sound corny, but I believe in G-d. I believe that He gave us the Torah, and and that we as Jews should live by it. I don’t see it as dated or irrelevant, but rather as deep, beautiful, and very relevant to how we need to operate in this very complicated world.

I believe that living the kosher way will make me a better person, and more content with life. The more I accomplish, the happier I am, the more I learn, the more complete I feel, and the more I know, the better I become. I feel I am growing all the time.

I realize that going through your minds right now is the thought that I have been brainwashed. The integrity which you have taught me, however, does not enable me to ignore what I see as correct. Don’t think for a moment that I accept anything without questioning it. I question almost everything. I spend lots of time standing around arguing points with rabbis.

Part III is scheduled to be posted tomorrow.