A Jewish father's plea
AVI SHAFRAN , THE JERUSALEM POST Jan. 30, 2008 .
Dear Sean, I know this might sound strange coming from a father who's far from an observant Jew, but now that you're dating, there's something I need you to understand.
The single most important decision you'll ever make in life will not be about your education or career but about whom you'll marry.
Because who your wife is will determine, more than anything else in your adult life, the person you become, the family you'll raise, what you'll leave on earth when it will be time to go.
I know the end of life isn't something you probably give much thought to. Not many of us do, at least not until we became sick or old enough to see it hovering on the horizon. But a final day does arrive, sooner or later, for each of us. And when it comes, very few of the things we thought made such a big difference will seem to matter at all anymore. And other things we never gave much thought to will suddenly be very important. We'll want to look back at our lives and feel that, in those areas, we pretty much did the right thing.
Sean, the right thing for a Jewish person is to marry another Jew.
Not only because our religion requires it. But because when Jews marry out, they disrespect who they are, they are disloyal to the Jewish past and they chip away at the Jewish future.
Whether or not our family kept strictly kosher or celebrated Shabbat or attended services often enough is all one thing. But the thought of bringing about the end of a proud Jewish line stretching back in time for centuries is something else. It's more than some religious transgression.
YOU NEVER asked to be a Jew, I know. You were born one. But being Jewish isn't a burden. It's a gift. It means you are part of something bigger, much bigger, than yourself.
Each of us Jews represents the hopes of so many Jewish ancestors. Don't forget, you're not just Sean, you're Shmuel too. And even if you only used your Jewish name when you made the blessings over the Torah at your bar-mitzvah, it is still who you really are, an inheritance from your grandfather. And it was the same thing to him from an ancestor of his. You can't just ignore the meaning of something like that. It's a responsibility. All of my ancestors and your mother's, all those Jews who came before us, lived, and sometimes died to keep their Jewish identity and heritage going.
I know that love is a powerful emotion. That's exactly why I'm writing this as you begin to date. The young women you become close to will form the pool where you'll find the person you want to spend your life with. Don't give yourself the opportunity to fall in love with someone you cannot, as a Jew in good conscience, marry. And never forget that what the world calls "love" isn't all there is to a successful and happy life. Every marriage that ended in divorce or worse, after all, started in a rush of love. For a marriage to really work, there has to be not only attraction and care but shared ideals and goals. And part of a Jewish man or woman's goals has to be to take their Jewish identity seriously, and to instill it into their children.
I don't care whether the girl you marry is white, black or yellow. I don't care if she speaks English, Hebrew, Yiddish or Swahili. I don't care if she was born a Jew or became one, legally, properly, and sincerely. But if she isn't Jewish, I know there will be tears, in your mother's eyes and mine - and also in heaven.
They say these days that most Jewish parents in the Diaspora don't care if their children marry other Jews or not. I hope it's not true, but even if it is, we do. Remember what I've told you many times: Being a Jew means being ready to buck the tide, to say no to others - even a lot of others - when something important's at stake. Sean, you're the future of our family. I hope you'll have the courage and the strength to do the right thing.
Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
A Jewish soul calling from the pit, the fear brought on by darkness and hopelessness praying for merely the glimmer of Holy light is a most stirring vision. A father pouring out his heart's visions and fears to his son is equally stirring. When the father happens to be Jewish and his fear is couched in an idea larger than himself, spiritual preventative medicine, how much the more so can we not be stirred?
This father's message to his son could truth be told, apply to so much of Jewish life. Don't give in because to do so is to "disrespect who they are, they are disloyal to the Jewish past and they chip away at the Jewish future". Every aveirah, every lost mitzvah opportunity, a chesed let go by, is chipping away at the Jewish future, distancing a Jew further from HaShem, distancing all Jews further from HaShem.
The father brings together many important ideas. What is "being disloyal to the Jewish past"? What does it mean to "disrespect who they are"? Why does any of this apply to us?
Continuity is of course important, but without meaning is irrelevant. Jewish continuity is more than demographics, it is about purpose. One of Judaism's primary goals is to make this world a proper dwelling place for HaShem, to bring down to this physical place, a spiritual purpose. It takes Torah to do that. Somewhere in the continuity Torah must come along too. Maybe the father should have advised "Sean/Shmuel" what sort of girl he should marry not just what sort of girl he shouldn't marry? I wanted to read into the word's of the father "Shmuel, you should marry a girl who will be a shining example to your Jewish children, who will lead them into the Jewish future they are entitled to inherit and build an everlasting foundation for your descendants, bringing us closer to the time of Moshiach".
The emotional appeal of the Yakov Shewky song "Shema" elicits feelings similar to those of this prayerful father. To answer the questions posed above, take a look at the lyrics at the link. It tells the story of a Jewish mother's attempt to save her son from the Shoah leaving him with those word's that can elevate a Jew's sense of self to the point of not having any self, words that restore souls to their lofty heights. "Know that there is but one G-d above". Shmuel, don't disappoint either your father or your Father. Maybe you didn't have the Jewish upbringing you could have had, as long as you are moving up the ladder and not down the ladder you are on the right track. For you that means, date only Jewish girls. And as for your father, it is never too late. A man that can write this type of letter has the potential inside to ascend to great heights. Both father and son could commit to being better Jews together.
Remember what I've told you many times: Being a Jew means being ready to buck the tide, to say no to others - even a lot of others - when something important's at stake. Sean, you're the future of our family. I hope you'll have the courage and the strength to do the right thing.
Indeed. Being Jewish means doing things the Jewish way even when it requires a superhuman effort. This is when Jewish souls are at their best. That striving to do what is right by their Creator overcomes all societal barriers. The world passes by, doing whatever "comes naturally" what is interpreted as "good" and believed to be "right" yet the Jew does what the Jew is supposed to do, no matter how different and well, "Jewish" it is to the uncircumcised eyes of the world.
How disheartening it was to read some of the Jpost talkbacks for this article. The scorn, the see I told you so self-righteousness, the disbelief, where praise should have been heaped on this father for the self-examination, confession and advice to his son, left me shocked. Who would conclude this letter was written from guilt and self-interest? Unlike one of the talkbacks which criticized Rabbi Shafran for sharing this letter, I applaud him for doing so. We can all grow and learn from the example of true emuna, the pintele yid of this father emerging at a moment of truth and with G-d's help bringing his son into a new sense of reality. A Jewish reality. The only reality.