By Rachel Stein | rachels83@gmail.com 

Dear Jeff,

I read your story with great interest and felt compelled to respond; it pulled at my heartstrings. Discovering your Jewish roots and connecting to G-d in a more meaningful way is like unearthing buried treasure. I commend you, Jeff, and wish you well.

As you know, one of the fundamental underpinnings of Judaism is honoring your parents. So, my friend, you must tread with caution.

Your first step, as you wisely intuited, is to try to understand your parents’ feelings and concerns. Why are they so upset about your decision? What is it about your increased knowledge and observance that is rattling them?

Rachel Stein

Rachel Stein

When you step out of the boxing ring and view them with love and empathy, the bleak picture changes. They are not obstacles impeding your climb to a mountain summit; they are loving parents who gave you life and want what is best for you. Yet they fear estrangement, especially considering what happened to your uncle when he chose a different path.

They probably view your newfound interest as personal rejection. “What, the Jewish heritage that we transmitted was inadequate? We took you to Hebrew school, made Passover seders, gave you a gala bar mitzvah.” Few things are more painful to parents than to be found wanting by their adult children.

If you’re afraid of another eruption when you sit down to talk, perhaps you should preface your meeting with a letter. Write how much you love them, how grateful you are for all they have done for you and for helping you every step of the way, and that no matter what, even if you change your level of observance, they will always be your parents and nothing will replace them or preclude a loving relationship with them.

Tell Mom and Dad that you plan to continue with college, and mention Rabbi Hillel’s idea of receiving college credit for your year in Israel. Their concern that if you don’t follow through with college, you might have to settle for a lower-paying job and struggle to make ends meet is valid. Express appreciation for their concern, and reassure them that you will do your part to make responsible choices.

Often religious differences in families lead to conflict, so your parents’ fears are not figments of overactive imaginations. “What, you won’t eat my food? But I made your favorite supper!” “What do you mean you won’t come to pray with me in our synagogue? It’s not good enough for you because the men and women sit together?” “We can’t go to the movies on Saturdays? But that was always our family day!”

Expert gardeners, your parents have tended your family’s growth for years, nourishing their saplings with warmth and dedication. Suddenly, religious observance seems to spring forth like weeds, interfering with the normal growth of the flowers and trees they have planted and nurtured. Naturally, your parents want to excise the weeds and resolve the problem.

As they digest all the cannots of your potential lifestyle, tell them about all the cans. You can enjoy hearty kosher meals together, and Saturdays can still be family time, just of a different nature. Meals can be connective opportunities, and sitting down to a nice game together or taking a leisurely stroll on Shabbat can segue into chances to share and bond.

As you close your letter, Jeff, reassure them of your love and ask them to let you know when you can sit down and talk. They sound like parents who, above all, treasure their relationship with you and won’t allow small or even large hurdles to impede their goals.

Do you wonder who I am to give you advice? Been there, done that: I took the same route as you, Jeff. Initially my parents balked at my choices, but now you will be hard pressed to find prouder and more loving grandparents. Throughout the journey, I constantly reassured them of my love and continually invited them to be part of our lives.

I don’t mean to make it sound simple. It’s not, and we’ve had our moments. But it’s only after we struggle and emerge victorious that we earn the winner’s cup — a cup of pure gold that will last for eternity.

Best of luck to you, Jeff. You can do it.

Fondly, Diane Love