Adrift in a Raging Sea

Adrift in a Raging Sea

By Rachel Stein /

Gliding through tranquil waters, the small boat bobbed gently, carried along by the blue-green waves. With shocking suddenness, the sapphire sky grew dark, and the waves became larger and more threatening.

Rachel Stein
Rachel Stein

Tossed by a raging sea, a boy peered out with worried eyes, erupting in poignant prayer. Would he make it safely back to shore?

Strumming his guitar, Jeff sang in his deep baritone, his song the story of this boy stranded in the ocean when a sudden storm hit. As the melody swelled, Jeff’s voice caught, and he was struck by a realization. I’m that boy! I was floating along life’s waters serenely when suddenly the weather grew dark and ominous, catching me in a maelstrom.

And now, he wondered, as his voice rose for the crescendo, will I be thrown a lifeline before it’s too late?

Replaying the last conversation with his father, Jeff cringed. His rabbi had warned him to tread carefully, that his parents might find his plan objectionable.

But don’t they want me to discover my Jewish roots? Is it so terrible to study in Israel for a year before starting college? We’ve always been close. Yeah, we’ve had our moments, but I thought I could always talk to Mom and Dad about anything. Well, not anymore.

His lips formed a tight line as anger coursed through his being. He just doesn’t want to understand me. And Mom’s probably going to back him up; she always does. I’ll just do what I have to do, with or without their support. Somehow I’ll manage. I have some money saved up; maybe I can find work in Israel.

He remembered his dad sharing how disappointed his parents were when he decided to become an accountant instead of a lawyer. They had harbored the dream that he would take over the family firm. How could he throw all that away? Jeff could see the pain flickering in Dad’s eyes as he reminisced about his parents’ crushed dreams.

“In the end, they came around,” he told Jeff, a sad smile playing on his lips. “Ultimately parents want their child to follow his heart and feel fulfilled. But it wasn’t easy for them.”

So why is Dad going the same route? Shouldn’t he understand better than anyone how vital it is to back his son?

Sweeping his hand over the guitar strings, Jeff let his thoughts wander until he had a flash of understanding. He remembered hearing about his estranged Uncle Martin, Dad’s younger brother, who had turned ultra-Orthodox and broken the family’s collective heart.

Dad must be scared that the same thing will happen between us. But it won’t! Why should a taste of Judaism destroy our relationship?

Now that he had an idea of what was lurking beneath Dad’s resistance, Jeff’s anger eased, and he could almost see the thick, black storm clouds dissipating and the waves bowing their foamy crests and receding.

Maybe he should go down and see if they could talk and work things out. But what if there’s another shouting match? I’ll call Rabbi Hillel and see if he can guide me.

“Jeff, nice to hear from you!” Listening to Jeff’s report of the conversation, Rabbi Hillel replied: “There is probably a way for you to earn college credits while you’re in Israel. I’ll look into that and get back to you. But above all, when you have your conversation, remember to be calm and respectful. You had a great insight about what could be bothering your father, but there’s another issue to consider. Parents devote their lives to providing for their children. And when they see their children veering off onto a different path, it can hurt and make them feel unappreciated, as if they were deficient. If you try really hard to show that you appreciate everything they’ve done for you and reassure them of your love, that can also ease their pain and open the door to effective communication.”

OK, Jeff, you can do this. Talk to them. Have a meeting of minds. But what if they get angry again? Jeff shuddered — how he hated confrontation.

Would they forbid him to go ahead with his plans? Would he, could he ignore them? What repercussions would that cause? With his heart pounding, Jeff slowly made his way downstairs, trying to brace himself.

“Mom? Dad?” he ventured. “Can we talk?”

What is the best way for Jeff to have this significant conversation with his parents? Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Please email your replies by Nov. 18 for inclusion in the next column. I look forward to hearing from you!

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