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Tuesday, April 24, 2012
What did Becoming an Observant Jew Really Mean to Me?
Obviously, my spiritual level has changed and I am much
more aware of Hashem and His goodness.Many times I have received His help in rough situations. It would take me hours to tell you all the
miraculous occurrences that I have experienced; but, I rather would like to
concentrate on some specific areas of my life.
The greatest and most enjoyable improvement was in our
family life. Before we became observant,
my wife, two children and I would sit and watch television together but never
realized that we were four people in different worlds and miles apart. We didn’t talk to each other or share life
together. We only went through motions
and pretended to know one another.
Suddenly, when we began observing the Sabbath, there was no television
and fewer distractions. We sat around
the dinner table and actually started to talk to each other. We shared Torah issues that we had learned
and found ourselves teaching each other.
We sang, we laughed and, best of all, we discovered how much we love
each other. To this day my wife and I
couldn’t be closer with our children but to really talk about pure happiness is
grandchildren. Even though we only had
two children, we now have 14 grandchildren.
The best part is that our children and grandchildren are very good
people. They are beautiful, intelligent (bi-lingual),
totally respectful and very pleasant to be with (this is an unbiased opinion). They don’t fight, they don’t argue and they always
help each other. This type of behavior
isn’t limited to my family. Children
that I have met in many observant Jewish communities are the absolute best in
the world. The expressions: “kids will be kids” and “teenagers will be
teenagers” are meaningless to me since they are usually excuses for
My wife and I grew up in secular communities. We attended regular public schools. I went through a military career, living in 5
states and two countries. We have been observant for about 20 years which means
we have extensive experience with both worlds – secular and observant. So, why would so many of the problems that we
experienced in secular communities not be prevalent in a observant community? The city we live in of about 45,000 people is
100% observant. The Mayor is a
Rabbi. His staff consists completely of
Rabbis or observant women. The major
industry is studying Torah. There are
about 150 places to pray and study Torah.
I personally live about a four minute walk to 12 places of worship. It goes past 20 if my walk is increased to 10
minutes. Television is not allowed and children are not to have computers. There are many computers in this city but
they are used mostly for business and by retired people like me who keep up
with the world using the web. My son who
uses the computer for business has a kosher web service. All filth is blocked by the service; meaning,
that if his children see the screen, it will not have improper content. The children are exited about learning and
they actually use books. Most of all,
they are happy children.
You may think that this seems archaic; but, let us look at
the results of such a pristine society.
We have no police force in this city.
Stores often leave merchandise outside over night or receive deliveries
overnight to be taken in at opening time.
There is no theft. There are
times that people need items that are left outside the store, they are
permitted to take what they want since the owner knows that they will return to
pay for it when the store opens. All grocery
stores and supermarkets only carry kosher products – that makes shopping much
easier. The bus service within the city
and those buses that travel to other cities have separate seating. Women sit in the back because they do not
want to be looked at by men. Am I saying
that even observant men can’t control their emotions? It so happens we are also human and we appreciate
not being able to look at women on the bus or during prayer. This leads to an interesting situation since
women enter the bus by the center door; they scan their own card to pay for the
ride. There is a separate machine at the
center door and it is completely on the honor system even for children who use
that door. I remember a situation recently
where my son took a taxi home and realized he didn’t have money on him. The cab driver said “no problem, I will stop
by tomorrow and you can pay me.” This
city has no drug problems, no teen pregnancy (dating starts when we are ready
to get married), a very low divorce rate; gossip isn’t allowed or any other
prohibition in the Torah. Even music is completely
in praise of Hashem and is very popular.
Lots of music can be heard and on special occasions I’ve seen dancing in
the streets (the men of course since men even shouldn’t watch women dancing). 24/7 is serving Hashem. These are the happiest people on Earth. Very honest, very generous, people always
trying to help others, very good parents to their children and, of course, very
good grandparents to their grandchildren, is the norm in my neighborhood. All the negative stereotypes that we have
heard about Jewish people are non-existent.
Jew hatred doesn’t exist. Even
when secular Jews or non-Jews visit, I have noticed such an atmosphere of
respect and even emulation since the people are so friendly and lovable. The only disagreement I have had with
neighbors is when they try to pay me for thing and I don’t want the money. The reverse has happened many times that
someone does something for me or my family or gives us something, even at great
expense, and they won’t take any money in payment. Niceness between people should be my worst
problem in life.
When we live in the states, we also lived in a city that
was about 60,000 people with about 40,000 being observant. Any crime that occurred came from outside the
community and it was obvious. I used to
invite guests to my house, especially on Shabbos, to share the observant
experience. Very often it was a secular
Jew or secular Jewish family that we wanted to teach about Hashem and His ways –
let them experience the true joy of Shabbos. I constantly got comments such as: “Your
neighbors are such nice people,” or “Jews aren’t this way where I live.” Any time I had a guest, there would always be
a neighbor trying to steal my guest or guests for a meal. I always got comments such as “I can’t believe
that total strangers want to feed me and my family and treat us like we are
their family.” It actually is enjoyable
since I, myself have stolen guests (that’s a secret so make sure you tell
everyone). The most telling comment was
when we went for prayer service on a Saturday morning. There were always young children there who
were praying. The service would last
about 2 ½ hours. My guest would notice
how intense these you children would be praying to Hashem and would comment. “Adults could put on airs, but the children
don’t lie – these are well adjusted children that really want to serve Hashem.”
When it came to doing outreach work and
helping people, my neighbors and especially the children (especially my
children) were my best assets I had.
One incident that I want to relate involves a situation
where two families were living in one house. It was very crowded and did not afford the individual
families privacy. The observant Jewish
community wanted to help and made a city wide collection. They raised enough money to buy a separate
home for one of the families. There is
no better way of serving Hashem than helping others and that was one of the
most inspiring acts I have ever witnessed.
When someone tells me about an observant individual who was a crook, I explain
that the individual they are talking about had a secular moment. Observant crook is an oxymoron; you can’t do
the commandments and violate them in the same breath. I can’t put on a stethoscope and walk into a
hospital and call myself a doctor.
Likewise, I can’t call myself an observant Jew and not follow the
commandments of the Torah.
We are products of our environment. If we grow up surrounded by goodness and
happiness, than that is what we become. If
we are surrounded by evil; well, you get the point. Jewish stereotypes usually come from people
who never really met an observant Jew. A
non-observant Jew can have the same bad habits as a non-observant gentile, but
if the one seeing the individual with bad habits knows that he or she is
Jewish, it becomes an “all Jews are that way” scenario.
Someday, I hope to invite each and every one of you to my
house (don’t tell my wife I said that). Seeing
is believing (unless it is something reported in the news). This will sound strange; but, I don’t want
you to believe a word that I am saying. If
you ever get the chance to go to an observant Jewish community and meet the
people, I can give you an “I told you so.” That experience will be worth a thousand of my