It was the year in Jerusalem that reversed our course. Of course! We were living amongst Jews who were all more observant than we were. It had to rub off. If not on us, then surely on our kids.
When we were married in 1960 the kashrut of our childhood homes was abandoned. As were the Shabbat candles and many more of the other traditions of our parents and grandparents. We had both grown up like the usual urban Jewish kids of the 1940’s and 50’s. Hebrew school (until Bar Mitzvah for him) and several years at the Hebrew Academy of Essex County in Newark for me. We left all that behind.
Even when the kids were coming along, four of them, we were seriously unfrocked! We joined a shul and the rabbi spoke to us about commitment. To deaf ears!
But then came that year in Jerusalem, 1973-74. We lived in a building of religious Jews Our kids became their friends. Things happened. Sometimes embarrassing things.
For example, there was an I Love Lucy moment on Purim. Mishloach manot kept coming from the neighbors. What to do? We had nothing to reciprocate with. So we organized an assembly line, mixing up the gifts of everyone else, trying to create something that was ours. We fooled no one but I, for sure, felt like a fool.
And that same chag, a chag which our younger kids now in their upper 40’s, still haven’t forgotten, I caused them shame and embarrassment. Their costumes were pajamas with pillows stuffed inside. Clowns. Not laughing clowns sorry to say. They knew that their nursery school classmates would have much more substantial costumes. And they did. My two little clowns suffered among the pilots and doctors and chayalim. Maybe one day I’ll be forgiven. That day has yet to come.
The two younger kids attended a religious gan. The ganenet had this nasty trick of telling the kids on Friday afternoons that it was forbidden to drive on Shabbat. The 4 year old, a daughter, was always a good listener and an obedient child. Every Saturday as we hit the road she would have a meltdown. And here were her parents, leading her on the path to breaking the commandments.
Meanwhile the older two kids became good friends with religious kids. A whole new lifestyle presented itself to them. They liked it and, when we returned to New Jersey they insisted on going to day school.. They were now fluent in Hebrew and becoming more observant. Day school was expensive. At first we demurred.
And then we had the incident of the trefa banquet.
Our first Pesach back in the states we thought it a fine idea to take a trip to Washington DC. The eldest daughter, who always seemed to have a tremendous admiration and respect for Judaism, thought about what we would eat in DC. I promised that no bread would cross our lips. And, even at that very low standard of Passover observance, that obviously was a gross lie. Day one we sat down at a really upscale restaurant and the rolls arrived first. We were famished. The rolls emitted a crispy sour dough fragrance, dotted with sesame seeds and served with plenty of fresh creamy butter. With wanton disregard we tore into them. And then, there was a burst of anquish. A powerful scream. A betrayed child. Mine.
This is a girl who, until this day, passionately loves Judaism, and is always a pillar of calm. Her explosion on that memorable moment turned the gaze of all the diners in the restaurant in our direction. What were we doing to that child? Beating her? No! Tormenting her? Yes! The chametz. The promise. The lie.
And so from such an event came the cheshbon nefesh, and a climb towards making ourselves more like the people our children demanded that we become.
Our house became kosher. Our kids went to day school and to Camp Ramah. We stopped working and driving on Shabbat. Slowly we ascended the sulam. Our children led the way but we ceased being obstacles in their paths.
We’re never going to reach the top of the ladder. Who even knew that a ladder could have so many rungs? The kids keep pulling us up higher and higher. We have a lot to thank them for. Better to go up the ladder than down. And we owe it as well to our Jerusalem days when we first discovered that there was a ladder.
Israel is now our country. We have a home in Herzliya and we are proud citizens. Our climb started in Jerusalem, that year a long time ago.