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Righting a Wrong

Righting a Wrong

Honoring my parents

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It seems that life’s most important messages come through making painful mistakes. We are commanded by G‑d to honor our parents—something I haven’t always done.

I’ve been writing as a journalist about my journey as a baal teshuvah for several years now, in both the Jewish and the secular media. I’ve enjoyed the recognition and the positive feedback from editors, friends, rabbis, and recently, from readers around the world. My pride likes seeing the delicately crafted words, reliving our journey in print and online. But I wasn’t as sensitive as I should have been to the people closest to us.

It seems that life’s most important messages come through making painful mistakesI like to say that my husband and I began this journey five years ago when we became more religiously observant, but that’s not really true. For me, it started at birth when I was given a beautiful Hebrew name. It was continued by my devoted parents who shlepped me thirty minutes each way to Sunday School and Hebrew School, then Confirmation and Senior Study. Their desire to instill in me a love of Judaism was evident in my beautiful bat mitzvah, as my mother pored over the details, the guest list, the candle-lighting ceremony, the menu. And then, as I stood under the flowered chuppah with my husband, my parents looked on with love after many months of careful planning, shopping and tears.

But I have painted a different picture the past few years. I wrote about the rituals and laws I didn’t learn, what I was denied rather than what I was given. For years my parents stood back, quietly reading my words about my seemingly noble journey towards a more meaningful, “religious” life.

But where was my head all this time? Why didn’t I sense their pain, the hurt I was causing by bragging about my new life? I got lost in the details, and while my intentions were good, some of my actions could have been different.

I am realizing now that this is a common mistake among many baalei teshuvah (“BTs”)—people who adopt the Torah lifestyle of past generations that may have dropped off along the way. In our zealousness to live a life devoted to Torah and G‑d, we may forget how important it is to simply treat people well, to be sensitive and loving.

I think most BTs would be surprised to learn how lenient rabbis will be when it comes to family harmony. I didn’t realize this when I would refuse to eat at our families’ homes. I wanted to do what I thought was right, but in hindsight, a bit more sensitivity and less self-righteousness could have gone a long way. There is an art to knowing how to work together for the sake of peace.

Judaism is about attention to detail—like keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, making challah and saying blessings. But those beautiful things don’t seem so wonderful if they aren’t done in an atmosphere of love. A smile instead of a correction. A thank-you instead of a “Why don’t you do things my way?”

I have written before about not judging others for doing more or less than me. The words may have sounded good at the time, but now I realize that I hadn’t really internalized them.

The words may have sounded good at the time, but now I realize that I hadn’t really internalized themSo here I am now, trying to right a wrong. Still enjoying the life I’ve built with my husband and children, still growing a little every day.

But with all the Torah knowledge we’ve gained over the years, the most important lesson I have learned, and continue to learn, is to honor my parents. I haven’t always done a very good job at it, but I’m working on it. I’m choosing my words with more care these days. Trying to smile more, and to just be a little nicer.

As we continue to move forward on this journey, we’ll make more of an effort to reach out to our families. To show appreciation for the love and devotion they showed, for the Jewish souls we were given.

I realize that it is my positive traits—my desire to search for meaning and truth, and to live a good life—that come from them. It is those things that make me the person that I am, and that have led to the life I am now living. It is my sincere hope that our lifestyle will make them proud, and that we may always honor them in the way that they deserve.

Mindy Rubenstein is a freelance journalist who lives in Atlanta with her husband and children. She also serves as the publisher/editor of Nishei, a magazine for Jewish women and children.
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Anonymous Texas June 22, 2011

Kibud Av v'em Malka, thank you so very much for your kind response to my request for advice regarding bringing Mindy's wonderful article to my daughter's attention. I am sorry that it was prompted by your having lost your parents! May you have only happy events in your life, in the future.
My daughter has mellowed only in certain specific areas - she is very intense and easily hurt. However, I appreciate your advice and will take the article with me when I visit my daughter and her family for this Shabbos, plus a few days. Unfortunately I don't know who is her Mashpia, but will just try my best to handle this diplomatically.
Gratefully.... Reply

Malka North Miami Beach, FL June 21, 2011

dear anonymous i would think that 18 years as a BT would have mellowed your daughter enough to be able to read this beautiful article without causing her resentment. If just forwarding the article is too cold then tell her about it first. And you can tell her from me (and Moshiach should come right away so no one has to endure the pain of losing a parent) that I wish that I had read this 10 years ago when my mother and father were still alive. Oh how I wish to have the chance to be nothing but kind and respectful to my parents. It would have been such a kindness if someone had pointed out how inconsistent my Kibud Av v'em was. Perhaps she has a mashpia (spiritual mentor) that you know of who could broach the subject with her, as well. I bless you with success in this, and all other matters. Reply

Anonymous June 20, 2011

A parent's comments I'm a proud parent of a BT, whose life really turned around 18 years ago, when she found Chabad. I myself have made a concerted effort to expand my Jewish knowledge and observance over the past 16 years, particularly as I felt it was necessary for me as a potential, and then actual, Bobbee. However, my daughter's Kibbud Av v'Em is painfully inconsistent. I'd love for her to read your beautiful article, but know that my forwarding it to her would cause much resentment. Does anyone have advice for me regarding this issue? Reply

Anonymous Rancho Mirage, CA/USA June 19, 2011

Righting a Wrong Lovely commentary. I too am a BT and have engaged in many of the behaviors you have mentioned. It has been most difficult at times through the years to maintain a respectful balance with my parents. My mother has been threatened so often by my religious observances and yet I try to remain tolerant when my family tells me about their last delectable non kosher meal.
Still, this article hit home in that I have to remember where my Jewishness came from. And, whose idea it was to study in Israel even though the reasons at the time were to get away from bad, American influences? From that experience, who would have known I would end up at Kfar Chabad for Rosh Hashana.
So, with all the differences, there remains a deeply rooted honor for the pride and oh so strong Jewish identification from my family of origin. For that, I am always grateful. Reply

Anonymous South Africa June 15, 2011

Thank you so much! Thank you for writing this article. How can we forget this? how can we overlook this? Thank you for telling us, reminding us with such beautiful words and in such a straight forward way.
May I always remember your words and have the courage to follow your words with action.
Thank you! Reply

Malka NY June 15, 2011

it is a mitzva to honor your parents Thankyou so much Mindy! I am also a baal teshuva girl and I never really respected my parents the way I should and because it is such an important commandment in the torah to honor my parents I am trying really hard to respect them. I am really happy I read your article. Reply

Anonymous St. Louis, MO June 14, 2011

As a parent, I lucked out My daughter got involved with NCSY. She was invited by a staffer for Shabbas and was asked, if this was her first real Shabbas. She told me her reply was, "No, Mother lit Shabbas candles, and Father did a simple kiddish and hamotzi before our Shabbas meal.
My daughter was only a teenager and was heading on a new road, but knew where she was coming from and where she was going. She gave her parents credit for where she began the journey. Reply

Anonymous Dayton, OH June 14, 2011

Not only BT's... 'Me-ness", getting stuck in 'me' is not restricted to BT's, although one can see how they can be that way, but can happen to anyone at anytime.

When 'your thing', whatever it is, becomes more important, better, superior, than what another human being is doing then perspective is lost and insesnitivity creeps in. Might as well go an worship an idol if the 'me' becomes so important that there is no room for 'other'.

Becoming and being sensitive to others is a lifelong task. It requires us to retool our brain and to really hold back on the speaking thing.

One persons' careless comment can do a world of hurt. Becoming sensitive, developing the sensitivity to anticipate this is a fine art. Can it be practiced perfectly all the time? Abolutely not. There will always be someone out there who resents us just because we exist.

So we start where we are at. Hillel said it best... what you hate having done to you, don't do it to someone else! Reply

Jessica H. Cambridge, MA June 14, 2011

Ditto Mindy-

Excellent post. I am impressed at how clearly you expressed feelings that I myself am currently experiencing. As someone beginning the baal teshuva process, I have begun to realize that by accepting the torah and Hashem's commandments, I am also denying my parents teachings. There is a fine line between these two positions and I have found it incredibly important to tread lightly.

In becoming more observant, I have also made it a point to thank my parents for helping build my foundation in Judaism. They have also made it clear to me that they do what feels right to them, which gives me the opportunity to say the same to them regarding my own level of observancy... in the most respectful way possible. Reply

Renee Parris Hillsoborough, NC June 14, 2011

Beautifully Said I just sort of stumbled onto your blog posting but wow, it spoke to my heart. Thank you for being willing to admit moments of pride and self-righteousness. We ALL have them...we just aren't all so good at owning them. You are a gifted writer. As a fellow writer, I enjoyed reading your posting. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel June 14, 2011

Kol Hakavod Mindy I just wish my parents were still alive, so I could thank them for everything they gave me, as opposed to making them feel I had thrown away their education, their values and the pleasure of eating at their homes. In the name of G-d, it's really fanaticism. But now I am doing some mitzvot in their honor and hope they have an alliat neshama (elevation of their soul) for it. How ungrateful I feel! Reply

Malka Miami, FL June 14, 2011

my mother's yartzeit Your sensitive article rang true with me, and my journey as a BT--great job! I find it most interesting (ie "divine providence") that I'm reading it on my mother's yartzeit. She had often expressed hurt feelings that I had rejected the upbringing that she and my father gave us. I had to convince her that I was only embracing the values that were instilled in us in our childhood (yes, the shlepping to Sunday school, the beautiful Bat Mitzvah, etc) I certainly could have done a better job along the way in terms of kibud av v'em. But now that both my parents are in olam ha'emes (the "world of truth") I pray that they understand that my becoming frum did give me some rough edges along the way. Thank you, Mom, for being a great mother, and showing me the correct path in life as a Jewish woman. Reply

Elizabeth NC, USA June 14, 2011

Writing this would be hard... But full of good advice!! Thank you...my parents are gone now...and though we have tried to be gentle and kind, this faith path made more of a wall. Complicated by the abuse of my youth at the hands of my dad (not sexual...beatings and verbal). I do wish things could have been different, but nothing I said or did made any. I feel one day ALL THINGS will be made right and we have to wait for THAT DAY!! HASHEM knows of our efforts and HE gives peace...when we do the very best we can. It is true that giving honor to parents can be the very hardest thing to do!!

Blessings...Elizabeth in NC Reply

Miriam G tampa bay, fl June 13, 2011

Wow! Mindy,
I applaud you for your openness and sincere desire to apologize to those people, who are closest to you, your parents. I'm sure it was humbling experience for you.
It's a known fact that "honoring your parents" is one of the hardest mitzvot that we have. Everyone has their challanges, BT and frum from birth. In BT cases, we often become fanatical and desmiss our parents as people who don't know nothing about our new way of life.
It takes many years and much patience (and sometime physical distance) to accept our parents the way they are, without trying to change them. And only after we do it, after we stop trying to change them, we get closer to them and have warm relationship, we and they can change...
Behatzleha! Reply

Scott Pinellas County, FL June 12, 2011

Nice article and appology for your Parents. If there was no Religious Zealotry (no matter what religion) humankind wouldn'y be in the mess we are in and there would have been fewer wars in our history.

I have my beliefs and I respect your right to have yours. Who can really say who is right or wrong until after we are gone.

Unless, of course, you are an Athiest, in which case you'll never know if you were right. ;-) Reply

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