On November 4, Shira Pasternak Be’eri bravely published an exploration of her feelings and internal grilling regarding her sons’ choices to move away from their observance of Torah as their parents and educational systems have taught it. “When your child embarks on a new derech” is an important read for parents, rabbis and educators.
I shared Shira’s essay with my very own “OND” son, a sensitive and deeply thoughtful writer. I asked him to read it when he had time to give it his full attention. David Eastman is a father, husband, and employee who, like most young people, doesn’t have much spare time these days.
What follows is his response. I share it with you because I want to encourage you to speak about this topic with your own children, wherever they are on the spectrum of observance. You may learn things that you need to hear from them.
I read the article last night, but due to the game, I didn’t have time to write you.
It is a powerful and well-written article. It allowed me to peer, if only for a moment, through the eyes of the parent of the child who changes course. This perspective is still alien to me – though I imagine, not for long. I, much like the author’s children, have difficulty understanding the pain or regret or self-doubt of parents of otherwise healthy children who have chosen another path.
This article allowed me to glimpse the heartache that must in some way affect you and Abba. This mother has given me the ability to feel the pain ever so slightly. I know you don’t expect an apology, and I don’t wish to issue one, but I’m thankful to this author for allowing me to see through your eyes – to some degree or another. And I hope our enduring friendship helps to heal any remaining wounds.
I cannot speak for her children or her parenting but I thought I would answer some of the questions she asked herself when confronted with sons being OND:
“Did I raise them in an environment that stressed commitment and obligation, and forget to instill them with passion and joy?”
No. Perhaps my schools did, but at home you and Abba always showed the profound joy that accompanies Judaism. That joyous way of living still permeates my life and I hope to fill my children’s lives with similar joie de vivre.
“Did I raise them to be too rational and empirical, and neglect to teach them about magic and wonder?”
I do not see it as a parental job to teach children about magic and wonder. Children have this naturally for the most part. The parental job is to channel that passion for magic and wonder towards truth, towards beauty. Reason enhances wonder, ignorance makes for stale magic. The religious teaching I received — and still find useful — was rational yet marvelous, truthful yet wondrous. The theoretical physicist Richard Feynman is quoted as saying: “It is a poor poet who falls silent upon finding out that the sun is actually a massive sphere of hydrogen fusing into helium.”
“While downplaying images of a watchful and wrathful God, did I neglect to transmit a sense of reverence and awe?”
You and Abba revealed to us a God of love. A Father in heaven ever-concerned with his children. Reverence is not born of fear. The God that I revered, I did so precisely because of His love.
“In trying to make observance fun and avoid making religion onerous, did I somehow unbind my children and condone being lax?”
You and Abba made Judaism fun, which enhanced observance. The seder, for example, became a wonderful time for us to find joy in an ancient talmudic text. Children tend to be lax when they are not touched by the text. Our Judaism was not boring — it was alive!
“Were the religious values I tried to transmit overwhelmed by the liberal, Western values conveyed alongside them?”
I have found that religious people do not have one set of values. Two Jews, three opinions, as the saying goes. People interpret the Torah based on who they are. They see the values that they want to see. You and Abba had a strong sense of your value system; Judaism, I believe, was merely a medium you used to convey those values. We found the justice in the Torah; we saw the loyalty to family, the kindness to the stranger and the principle that overshadows all others, to create unity amongst Jews and ultimately among humans. I suspect such values were a part of you before you took the mikveh plunge.
“Did “modern” ultimately trump “Orthodox,” “Zionist” trump “religious,” and “Israeli” trump “Jew” in the double-barreled identities with which I raised them?”
You and Abba never viewed these to be “double-barreled identities.” They were inseparable from one another. Bound by the same thread. So much so, that my Zionism needed rebuilding after it became unraveled from religion.
“And if nothing else, did I not inoculate them with a healthy enough dose of Jewish guilt?”
Guilt was never something you stressed. It was shoved down my throat by my mentors.
I spent my adolescence weighed down by a boulder of guilt — I was a 16-year-old Atlas. Jewish guilt did not lead me away from Judaism, but it did feel good to remove the stone from my back when I did. Jewish guilt may keep some religious, but they are like prisoners shackled in a cell they wish to escape. Such religious practice is poisonous.
Based on the sensitivity with which this article was written I would suspect that the author raised her children much like you and Abba raised me. It would be a mistake to blame herself — though it may be an inescapable part of being a parent. The fact is, you raised me to think for myself, to question relentlessly, and to boldly be who I am. These values have led me every which way, and they lead me still.
I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I’m glad you and Abba gave me the right tools for the journey.
I love you both very much.
I would love to discuss this with you further.
Thanks for sharing!
With love and admiration,
Your son, David