AUGUST 8, 2019 | The Jewish Home OCTOBER 29, 2015 | The Jewish Home
Is Talking Everything? By Deb Hirschhorn, Ph.D.
suddenly got a real, clear picture of how it is that after the makkos in Mitzrayim, the wonders in the desert, and G-d’s constant presence in our lives, our ancestors would turn to idols. This clarity took place in my cousin’s living room in California two weeks ago. I’d never been to California in my life and had no particular desire to go there, either. Nor, for that matter, the G-d-forsaken desert known for its glitter and nothing substantial underneath – Las Vegas – which was my next stop. But I had a conference I wanted to attend, so I made it my business to meet up with cousins – first cousins, mind you – that I had not seen in at least 40 years. They’re not only not religious, but – can you picture this – they did not know what cholent was. Every non-Jew in America knows what a bagel is; that’s how much the wider culture has absorbed some of ours. My California cousin was sitting in his living room, explaining to his wife (who is not Jewish) how the Jews, back in the early days of settling our Land, worshipped idols. My instinct was to object to his painting a picture of “us” that was not so flattering – until I realized he was painting a picture of himself. I didn’t say anything. After all, it was true. And the way he spoke, it made sense that that is exactly what they would do. Like him, they were removed from their heritage. They did not have it “in” them to worship
G-d. Somehow or other, no one told them/him – with love – what Torah is. But how can that be? He and I are first cousins. His father and my father were brothers, raised the same way. My father came to America at only 20 years of age, stripped of his past in days that preceded cellphones and Skype. I found a treasure trove of his old letters once, hidden in a basement cubby, written in Hungarian, and I kept them out of respect and curiosity. But other than those cross-ocean correspondences, what did these young brothers have? And whatever little it was they had, how did my father cling to it and not his brother? I don’t know; I can’t answer that question. But whatever it was, it was that little thing, that small, incomprehensible spark, that made the difference between my cousin and me. That little something that my father cared about – that spoke to him – and my uncle did not. My father was the younger brother, theoretically, the one who should have lost the mesorah. But he didn’t – somehow. I remember him walking with me in my beloved park when I was a child. The park that was directly across the street where I could be the Captain of the world running from the “mountains” overlooking the Cloisters to the “sea” at the point where the Hudson touched land on the tip of the City. My father would take me on his
back on our sled in winter, sliding down Dead Man’s Hill. In summer I recall one time him telling me to take my shoes off so I could feel the coolness of the grass. “That is one of the good things G-d has given us, Debby,” he said, or something to that effect. He was always in touch with G-d’s bounty, and he gave that to me. But my cousin went a different way. Something was missing; something was not passed down. Why it wasn’t, we will never know; our fathers aren’t here to ask. My mother’s family was a different story. After California, I went to visit my first cousins on the other side who ended up in the rocky, desolate place with no green whatsoever allowed in the “lawns,” known for its gambling and catering to the yetzer hara in other ways. (Interestingly, there are seven Chabads there, beautiful and quite large. I guess they’re needed to counter the tumah.) My mother’s family starved during the Depression because my grandfather kept losing his job since he wouldn’t work on Shabbos. That turned every child against Torah. My cousins were brought up eating and enjoying treif. What could my grandfather have done differently? I was told that he thought it wrong to speak to his daughters. So he and my mother apparently never had a conversation. On any subject. He died young, leaving my grandmother the burden of raising a large family alone. Did my grandmother have anything to say to her children that would have
helped them bridge the gap between starving and a higher calling? Not to my knowledge. This is not to blame my grandparents. Perhaps no one ever explained to them how to talk to their kids. Perhaps no one talked to them. Perhaps no one explained the beauty of Shabbos or made it beautiful. Perhaps their own parents were not told. There’s a lot we don’t know about the suffering of the generations before us as they ran from one city of anti-Semitism to another. Who had time to talk? But my own father spoke to me. With love. Love for me, for my mother, for Hashem, for our Torah. Not a lot, mind you. Not every day; I wasn’t drilled down with it. Just often enough for me to get the message. And my cousins didn’t get that. Is that really all it takes? At my daughter’s house for Shabbos, one granddaughter wanted me to play a game with her. Usually, I agree, but this week, I wanted to just sit and read. I explained just that to her and added, “Because Shabbos is the day of ---” and I looked up at my four-yearold grandson who passed by just as I paused. “Rest!” he chimed in. “Oh, you’re so smart!” I told him. And he beamed, those adorable dimples coming out. Somebody’s talking to him.
Dr. Deb Hirschhorn is a Marriage and Family Therapist. If you want help with your marriage, begin by signing up to watch her Masterclass at https://drdeb. com/myw-masterclass.
Five Towns Jewish Home - 8-8-19