Why Leah Vincent Fled Judaism
It was my first Shabbat spent at a religious family, and I got into a knock-down-drag-out fight with the husband about women’s role in Judaism. I left in tears, shaking with fury.
I wanted to flee Neve Yaakov right there and then, but a warm and understanding mother from a different family convinced me to stick it out until Shabbat was over.
Late in the afternoon I returned to my host family for third meal, and after Shabbat the husband gave me peace-offering: an exquisite mezuzah scroll he had written himself.
A few months later I returned to the United States, and I brought that mezuzah scroll with me. But it took me over a year to put it up. And for that year I just left it rolling around among the AAA maps and packages of Big Red gum in my parents’ glove compartment.
I guess I disliked that mezuzah as much as I disliked the man who had given it to me.
At the age of 16, Leah Vincent came to Israel for seminary, and bought a sweater that her family considered immodestly tight. According to Leah, her parents were so outraged that they brought her back to America and stopped supporting her financially. She found a minimum-wage job, a small apartment, and was frequently hungry and terribly lonely since she had been ostracized from her family and friends.
You can hear Leah’s whole tragic version of the story in her interview with Katie Couric below. When you listen, though, please keep in mind that there are two sides to every story. Leah’s parents, who are a highly-respected and beloved community rabbi and rebbetzin, deny Leah’s version of what happened. And I also think that we need to wonder about Leah’s decision to seek revenge against her parents in such a public forum. I am unsure whether this public venting serves any positive purpose…
Again, we don’t know exactly what happened between Leah and her parents…but two things we do know for certain. One: Leah Vincent feels deep resentment towards her parents. Two: Leah Vincent has abandoned observant Judaism and is today only ”culturally Jewish.”
As a person who traveled in the opposite direction as Leah Vincent—from a secular lifestyle to a religious one– it is nearly impossible for me to understand how a person could abandon the magic, the wonder, the beauty of Shabbat, of the Holidays, of Prayer, of the Torah. How could somebody, especially somebody as intelligent and sensitive as Leah Vincent appears to be, leave behind all this holiness and light for the emptiness of a secular, American life?
But then I remembered that mezuzah rolling around in my parents’ glove compartment.
When you hate the person who gives you a gift, no matter how beautiful and precious and meaningful the gift is, you hate the gift as well.
Obviously, the Jewish community is filled with dedicated, loving, wonderful parents whose kids are no longer observant.
Our job is to be the best parents we can be, and to know, at the same time, that how our kids ultimately turn out is not in our hands.
But Leah Vincent’s tragic story makes me see more clearly than ever that my husband and I are the main people teaching our children about God and the mitzvot and the Torah, so if our children see us as angry and vengeful and unreasonably strict then that pushes our children to hate all of these gifts as much as they hate us.
And if our kids see us as calm and loving and fair? That doesn’t just enable our kids to love us more. It enables them, IY”H, to love God and the mitzvot and the Torah as much as they love Eema and Abba.