Mom and Me

Mom’s Letter:

I am a secular Jewish mother of a daughter who is now married to a Hasidic man. Her way of life
is completely different from mine, but we are still close.

Her interest in Judaism started about ten years ago. I did not mind at that time although I never thought she would become Ultra-Orthodox.

I believe parents and children, no matter what age, should love and respect each other.

Often, secular parents of children who still live at home have a difficult time understanding a child who wants to become religious.

If a child is still a teenager (my daughter was not) it can be harder because a teenager’s parents need to have control over their child’s life. The child must understand that his/her interest in becoming religious cannot be fully realized until he/she is not living at home. Parents should not discourage their child’s interest in our religion. Isn’t it much better than some things a child can get into these days?

When my daughter was living at home, she would have liked me to become kosher, but I did not.
She understood that it was not possible for her to be as strictly religious as she wanted, so we
compromised. She used paper plates, bought her own dishes and pots, cooked her own meals, went to shul, visited with religious friends, etc.

Today her commitment to an Ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, though it is strange to me, fulfills her, so I can only be happy for her.

My Letter:

If you have read my mother’s open letter, you know that I am the religious daughter of a non-religious woman. And as my mother points out, we are still close.

I’d like to tell you just how close we are. My mother comes to my home every week to help me prepare for Shabbos. She watches my kids, and I cook. When the kids nap, she does dishes as well. Clearly, she is doing a tremendous mitzvah by helping me in this way. Because of her, I am able to bake challah for Shabbos, which, in addition to enhancing my family’s Shabbos meals, is one of women’s three special mitzvohs. There is no doubt in my mind that my mother shares the reward of the mitzvah of Shabbos preparation with me.

Of course, my mother knows she is welcome to spend Shabbos with us. My pre-schooler has extended his unabashed invitation to her many times. “I want YOU to be our Shabbos guest,” he tells her. I know she gets great nachas from this, and I am happy because giving her grandchildren is the best way I know to give her something back for all she has done for me.

One of my rabbis once said that families never break up because of religion. If that appears to be the case in some families, then it means that those families had underlying problems and religion is only an external cause. My mother and I have certainly found this to be true. Loving, intact families stay intact despite all the surprises life sends them. People who fundamentally love and respect each other will find ways to bridge their differences.

From discussions with my mother, I have come to understand that parents’ deepest fear when their children become religious is that they will lose their children. Refusing to eat the parents’ non-kosher food seems to be the ultimate rejection because it disrupts the family dinner, often the only time in which today’s busy families have to spend together. This is not the case at all. If the parent gives the child room to follow Torah Law, and the child does not push his religious views on the family, it is possible to retain strong and happy relationships. You can still have family dinners; you’ll just eat different food on different plates.

The Torah commands us several times to honor our parents. As with all mitzvahs, religious Jews strive to perform this mitzvahwell. This is certainly true for religious children of non-religious parents. As long as both parents and children allow each other to live differently, they can manage to live harmoniously.

If you would like to contact either my mother or me about your family’s experiences, email me. Please indicate in the subject line for whom you intend the letter. To insure your privacy, I will not read any letters for my mother; I’ll merely print them out and pass them on to her.

And for more on this subject, I highly recommend my husband’s article “Sudden Changes,” which has two parts: one for parents and one for for sons & daughters.

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