Why My Neighbor’s Worried about Me
My neighbor, Chava,* is really worried about me.
Some background. I met Chava when both of us were trying to help out the family of Nachlaot JewishMOM Chagit bat Leah z”l when she was dying and after she passed away two years ago. Chava, who lives in Nachlaot’s Charedi section, provided suggestions to assist Chagit’s 5 orphans that were unusually insightful and right-on. I was really impressed by her, and could tell that she had a lot of experience performing acts of kindness or chesed.
But I didn’t realize that one day I would also become one of Chava’s chesed projects.
It all started a few weeks ago when Chava dropped off about 50 old copies of Zarkor, a Charedi children’s magazine, for my kids.
It did seem a bit funny. Chava is surrounded by hundreds of Charedi children who would be thrilled to receive these magazines, but instead, she chose to carry this heavy bag across to the other side of the neighborhood where I live in order to bring them to my non-Charedi children….
When I called Chava to thank her for this thoughtful gift, somehow we started talking about the other magazines I read.
I mentioned Mishpacha, thinking she’d be thrilled to hear that I regularly read a Charedi magazine.
There was silence on the phone.
“I am sorry to have to tell you this, very sorry. But Gadolei Yisroel have forbidden reading Mishpacha because it doesn’t have a rabbinic advisory board. They are secular Jews in Charedi clothing.”
Then I mentioned that I read Binah, which has an advisory board of leading Charedi rebbetzins.
“Yes, I noticed this new magazine Binah,” Chava replied. “What are we going to do about this Binah?! A rebbetzin is not a rabbi!”
We talked about a few other things, and then I mentioned that every week I read the parsha sheets of Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi.
“ Yes, I once read one of her sheets. I’m not certain, but I believe her classes are intended for baalot teshuva. Not for you! Why don’t you read Yated Neeman? That is the paper of Gadolei Yisroel! Al Taharat HaKodesh!”
And this Monday, the day before the elections, I came home and discovered another gift from Chava: a copy of Yated Neeman opened to a full-page election ad that read:
“A Holy Declaration: From the great rabbis of the Jewish people, the mighty masters of Torah and Chassidut, for the Knesset list of United Torah Judaism: Gimmel.”
While we Weisbergs do try our best to live in accordance with the directives of Gadolei YisrAel, I have a feeling that Chava’s Gadolei YisrOel wouldn’t approve of a lot things about me and my family. They wouldn’t like my husband’s navy-blue kippah or my bare feet and sandals in the summer or my daughters’ denim skirts and school with an Israeli flag hanging in the entrance.
But the truth is that Chava’s attempts to “mekarev” me don’t bother me. In fact, every day that I come home and find a copy of Yated Neeman on my doorstep, I smile.
Because her kiruv attempts remind me of the opposite reaction I got when I was first becoming religious twenty years ago.
In the spring of 1992, I took off a semester of college to visit Israel, and started attending an Orthodox yeshiva for baalot teshuva. When I was living there, three or four times I visited distant relatives who live north of Tel Aviv.
These relatives spent entire Friday nights and Saturdays showing me around, taking me to Jaffa and the movies and to a dinner party and to the beach. They were also very secular and terrified that I was becoming religious.
Ziva, the mother, warned me in dark and dire tones: “Jenny, you are so naïve! If you stay at this yeshiva, soon you won’t agree to drive with us on Shabbat to see movies anymore! You won’t want to eat my special beef in cream sauce anymore! Before long, you won’t even want to eat in my house at all!”
And Ziva was 100% right. That was exactly what happened.
After Ziva and her husband’s negative reaction to my becoming Orthodox, I was terrified to go back to America at the end of the summer. What would my non-Jewish college classmates say about my crazy new behavior—refusing to eat Bowdoin’s famous cafeteria food, refusing to go to a Friday-night showing of “Casablanca,” refusing to shake men’s hands, etc. etc. I expected my classmates to rant and rave and haul me over the coals like my Israeli relatives had.
But something unexpected happened.
I returned to America, and my non-Jewish friends and classmates didn’t attack me or yell at me or give me dark and dire warnings about how I had been brainwashed. In fact, they didn’t say a word, because, I realized, they really didn’t care about all of my new crazy Jewish laws.
And I missed Israel.
I missed being in a place where people are so different but yet have one central thing in common: every single person living here cares about Israel and cares about being Jewish.
Even if that means they are angry because I am too religious.
Or they are angry because I’m not religious enough.
Or they are angry that I’m too far to the right.
Or they are angry that I am too far to the left.
They are angry and/or disappointed and/or sure I need to change my ways ASAP because they CARE.
And that’s a huge reason, JewishMOM, why I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but here.