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When A Child Intermarries

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SUMMARY

This series is sponsored by our friends Sarala and Danny Turkel.

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to a son who almost intermarried, the mother of a daughter who married a non-Jew, and Huvi and Brian, a couple whose intermarriage turned into a Jewish marriage—about intergenerational divergence in the context of intermarriage. 

This Pesach, we have the opportunity to reflect on our childhoods and how, through our families, all of our “beginnings” stretch back far beyond our own lifetimes. 

  • How can a Jewish family navigate the prospect of intermarriage? 
  • How can we maintain familial bonds with members of interfaith families? 
  • What ruptures can happen within families and communities when a Jew dates, or marries, a non-Jew, and how can those ruptures be repaired? 

Tune in to hear a conversation about how an apparent disaster doesn’t need to be the end of the story.

First interview: 16:16

Second interview: 50:23

Third Interview: 1:17:23

References:

Big Gedalia Goomber” by Uncle Moishy

Arukh HaShulchan, Yoreh De’ah 345 by Yechiel Michel Epstein 

Absolute Beginners” by David Bashevkin 

Genesis 12

Family Ties” by David Bashevkin 

Shevet Sefer, Yoreh Deah 108 by Simcha Bunim Schreiber

David Bashevkin: 
Hello, and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month, we’re exploring intergenerational divergence. Thank you to our dearest friends and sponsors, Danny and Sarala Turkel, for their continued support and friendship. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy Jewish ideas. So be sure to check out 18forty.org, that’s 1 8 F-O-R-T-Y .org, where you could also find videos, articles and recommended readings.

I think the first time I ever even heard of the notion of intermarriage, I could probably find the exact year. I believe it was in 1993 or 1994. It was the year that my bubby passed away, and a member of her extended family came to visit. And I remember when they walked in, I wouldn’t call it a ruckus, but there was maybe whispers and a little bit of drama, clearly that they had history together. I was in fourth or fifth grade. I was a fairly young kid, but I remember overhearing it. And what I overheard was that this cousin, when she came in, there was a little bit of tumult because in my bubby’s lifetime when this member of my extended family got married, my bubby made a very pointed decision not to attend her wedding. And that decision was because she had intermarried. Now, I was a young kid, and anytime you’re a young kid and you hear about family drama and there was just some disagreement or some family secret, it’s always with a little bit of excitement, awe. You feel like you’re being initiated into some secret society or club.

But I remember at the time thinking of my bubby. My bubby was not the most educated woman, but she had this inner essence of being a bubby. She was the kind of person who made a concerted effort always to observe Shabbos to some degree. She didn’t know all of the laws, but the importance of having Kiddush in the home, of lighting Shabbos candles. She was somebody who drove an hour to the Price Chopper in Albany, which was about an hour, 45-minute drive or so. Running a kosher home was definitely something that she took great pride in. And one thing that she held near and dear was having a family where her children married Jewish and the importance of marrying Jewish. And for her, having a member even of her extended family, even with as little education as she had, the notion of somebody marrying out was so anathema to her that she was unwilling to go to the wedding. And it was a big enough decision that it trickled down and became a part of the family lore. It became a part of the family stories that were told over, that bubby, so to speak, took a stand and was so upset about this.

Now, in the years following that, I didn’t really hear much of intermarriage. It’s not something that is spoken about in my community. I am in an orthodox community. I went to yeshiva. It’s not something you hear moras or rabbaim getting up in schools and reminding the kids to marry Jewish. In many ways, that is a triumph and part of the success of our community, that it happens so infrequently within orthodox circles.

In some ways, it reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister. I have a sister who lives in the Israeli karate community. I love her dearly. Her name is Ilana. And I may be misremembering, but I’m pretty sure we had this conversation, where many, many years ago when she first got married and her oldest kid, thank God, kein ayin hara, is already married and has children of his own… My parents are great-grandparents, believe it or not. But I remember when she first got married and first had a kid. One of the things she one time told me is that we’re not going to be playing Uncle Moishy in our house. And I was like, what? I was a kid, where there’s many years between us. And I was like, why wouldn’t you play Uncle Moishy? And she actually had a fairly sophisticated reason. She said, “Uncle Moishy is singing about things that I don’t want or don’t need my children to be struggling with. I don’t want to introduce these concepts as a point of choice for my children.”

And I believe she highlighted this one song from Uncle Moishy as, “aint gonna woek on saturday.” I think it’s Big Gedaliah Goomber. I’m not going to sing the whole thing for you now, but she said, “We live in a community where not working on Shabbos is something we take pride in the fact that that is not a choice in our community. We don’t want messaging around this because we want that decision to be taken for granted. We don’t want to introduce the idea to our young children that this is a point of maybe you will, maybe you won’t work on Shabbos. We want it to be almost a given that they’re growing up in a world where, of course, you do not work on Shabbos. We don’t want them walking around like, ‘ayo, ayo , aint gonna work on Saturday.’” I don’t know if those two songs are the same, but that’s not the world that they want to construct for their children. I actually respected the thoughtfulness of the decision. I think personally we do play Uncle Moishy in our house. I’m not quite as concerned, but it is a sensitivity I very much appreciate.

Some of the later hits from Uncle Moishy, Now It’s Time to Say Shalom, which is the tune for that great Avraham Fried song, (now its time to say shalom), that’s just an absolute classic that we obviously had to introduce our kids to. But the very emphasis, even in our home of introducing young kids the commitment we made to only playing Jewish music for our young kids was part of the same choice that you want your kids growing up in a world where not every choice, not every possibility is on the table.

And in the same way that my sister didn’t want her children growing up with Uncle Moishy and making this commitment, will we or won’t we work on Shabbos, I think that for many in our community, the question of marrying Jewish is almost off the table. It’s not spoken about because it is such a given that you are going to marry Jewish. We don’t even want to introduce this as a point of choice.

So people are really left with only two types of messaging. I think within the Orthodox world, if it’s not said explicitly, there is some sense of marrying out being the end of the story. I think in many ways, we still invoke the great leader of Ashkenaz, Rabbenu Gershom, who led Ashkenazi Jewry at the turn of the millennia. Right in the year 1000 is when he was really reshaping and reconstituting what Ashkenazi Jewry looked like. And he had a child who apostatized, which is where the notion has trickled down of sitting shiva for children who convert to another religion, God forbid, lo aleinu, not something that we should know of. Or I think in many American communities and in may have been something that they knew of in Europe where somebody would marry out, there would be a notion of sitting in mourning.

Now, I actually had trouble finding this practice observed for somebody who intermarried. There is a lot of documentation for families reacting this way when a child converted, apostatized to another religion. I’m not certain. I heard tales and stories this is what they did if somebody intermarried, both of which, whether it is a child who converts to another religion or a child who intermarries, the notion of mourning, that visceral reaction, is probably based on a misunderstanding of Rabbenu Gershom. He didn’t, I believe, sit shiva in the lifetime of his child. There are different ways of interpreting what happened. But you can look. The Aruch Hashulchan discusses this, and a lot of the commentaries discussed this in Hilchos Aveilus in the laws of mourning. The Aruch Hashulchan is in Shin Mem hay. That’s 345 seif katan zayin in the smaller paragraphs, the seventh of the smaller paragraphs, where it says that when his son finally passed, he sat shiva for seven days. shavad aviv. He was lost to his father, and he sat another seven days. shavad aveinu shbashamayim. He was lost, so to speak, to his father in heaven. He died in apostacy.

But there was this one notion of somebody marrying out, somebody apostatizing, joining the family of another religion that was seen as this is the end of the story. On the flip side, in non-orthodox communities, the way they have dealt with it has been radically different. We actually had as a former guest Rabbi Robyn Frisch and her son Benji. Rabbi Robyn Frisch is affiliated with an organization called 18Doors, not to be confused with 18Forty. 18Doors is an organization that services the non-Orthodox community and helps couples, families integrate intermarried couples within the non-Orthodox community. And the rates of intermarriage in the non-orthodox community have skyrocketed. And along with that has come the inclusivity and the welcomeness, and a lot of the barriers and the stigmas have been taken down.

That is not going to be the approach or position that we’re highlighting here. I am situated within the orthodox community. That’s a weird way of saying it. I am an Orthodox Jew, and intermarriage is not something that my first reaction is going to be inclusivity and welcomeness. I think the barriers for this have been important ones in creating that insularity within our community, with being that storage and that wealth of Jewish identity that we cultivate over generations. So within the Orthodox world, it really has come down to that this is the end of the story. And in the non-orthodox world, there’s been a whole different set of messaging that, obviously, is not the community that I belong to. So for many years, the very notion of intermarriage was not even something that was on my radar.

That really all changed, I would say, around maybe seven years ago when the father of one of my dearest, dearest friends… And I’m close with the entire family. I remember where I was standing when he called me. I was outside of the old OU offices on Broadway, really at the tip of Manhattan. And he called me up, and he said, “Our son is dating somebody who is not Jewish, and you need to help us.” And he was asking me, “Is there a pamphlet? Is there educational materials? Is there something that could help us navigate this journey?” This father was so desperate for some answers, some direction, some path, either for his child or for himself that would help him navigate this issue. There was no pamphlet, at least one that I knew of. There was stuff that I could Google online, but there wasn’t a whole lot of it. And this wasn’t something that so many people spoke of. Though as close as I was to his child and as close I was to the family, I wish I had more to give them to help them navigate this issue.

And I think part of today’s episode is really a belated response to that original cry for help to, that original reaching out and say we need somebody, we need some way, we need some messaging, some answers, somebody else to hold onto, somebody else to touch and listen to, who can help us navigate this as a family. And what’s so moving and so powerful is that that very child who is now, thank God, married to an incredible, lovely Jewish woman, they have a child of their own. That story ended up resolving in such a beautiful way. But what is so meaningful to me is that I was able to invite that very child to come on to today’s podcast and speak a little bit about his experience because I do think it is so instructive. It is so important to understand through the eyes of somebody who almost made this choice to leave and almost have the child himself answer that father’s question that he asked so many years ago. Who could help us guide this? And we’ll almost reach out through time and have this very child say, “You guided me. You were really there all along.”

And that’s why the way that we’re going to navigate this is really in three parts. There’s no one answer to this question, A, because there is no one answer but also because there’s no one story. There are really three ways in which a story of a child of somebody who falls in love with somebody who is not Jewish… There are three ways that that story can resolve. One way is that they break up and they marry somebody else. The affair with somebody who is not Jewish, the love, the connection that they have with them dissipates, and they find somebody else. That is option number one. Option number two, God forbid, but it does happen, that child ends up intermarriage and figuring out the messaging, how to respond, what to do. And we have a parent on this episode who talks about how they responded to their child. And finally, number three is where they end up getting married, but through some large, small, through hope after hope, miracles after miracles, the non-Jewish spouse ends up coming and converting and becoming a part of the Jewish people, which is really the final story that we have here.

And each of these stories are important because each of these stories, though they’re with different people, I think, is the multi-level ways in which we have to understand how this stress and this fear that so many parents and families in the Jewish people have… There are different ways that it can resolve. It doesn’t always resolve happily, but we always have to hold on to different forms of hope. We can’t only have one hope. Sometimes we need different forms of hope, of how hope will realize itself, how hope will unfold.

And every year before Pesach, we come, and we gather together. And we listen to family stories. And we’ve been doing this. This is now the third year that we’ve been doing it. I hope our listeners go back if they haven’t heard episodes from previous years and they go back and listen to some of those conversations because I think ultimately the conversations that we have around our Pesach Seder really come down to this foundational question of how we hold on to the Jewish identity within our family.

And last year after we ran that series on intergenerational divergence, I got a very moving email that I want to read to you now. It begins as follows: “I am writing to you after only recently having been introduced to your work. My mom came across your podcast in her exploration of all things related to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and was captivated by the episode you put together on the occasion on this first yahrzeit. She shared it with me, marveling at this charming rabbi she discovered who so astutely and with such wisdom spoke to the indelible insights of Rabbi Sacks and captured the essence of his teaching in which my mom has spent the last few years immersing herself so beautifully. We then independently discovered your series on intergenerational divergence, which is how I find myself writing to you today.

That series spoke so deeply to what we are experiencing as a family, my older brother and myself, both deeply Jewish, born in Israel, observant and deeply connected to our Judaism and our Jewish identities and yet both with non-Jewish partners, and our mother, who is struggling mightily with our choices and with the task of preserving our Jewish family. The wisdom, openness and empathy with which you approach the conversations in your first podcast inspired me to reach out to you.”

“In your conversation with Robyn and Benji Frisch, you said something that rang in my mind and heart long after the episode had ended, that the familial love between them was the greatest point of kedushah that you could imagine. The purity of your statement captured my spirit, and I’m writing to you in the hope that you might be able to spare some of your time to speak with my mom and me and perhaps guide us towards resources that can help us navigate these difficult circumstances.” Now, I have been in touch with that family, and it’s not the only email that I got. But essentially, this email said, there is one last divergence that you seem to have never explored, and that is the divergence leading up to and including intermarriage. And I think it’s in response to those conversations, to those earlier conversations I had with that father and maybe those really, really early conversations that I remember overhearing at the shiva house of my own bubby and her adamant insistence on ensuring that her entire family would remain within the fold and within the community. And I think all of these stories are bubbling up and joining together in a way that I think it’s important that we explore and confront the questions that this issue presents and with all the different iterations of how this story and how the different forms of hope can unfold.

And that is why we will introduce our first conversation with a dear friend. I know the community he grew up in. I know the schools that he attended. This is somebody very special and very close to me, who himself came very, very close to marrying somebody who was not Jewish. His story did not end that way, but I think his reflections and insights on that experience can be instructive to all families. First of all, thank you so much. I know this is a sensitive topic to talk about, and I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your story. I want to start before you were in a relationship and you were in a very serious relationship with somebody who was not Jewish. I want to begin by where you were religiously at that point. You met this person when you were in graduate school. You came from a community that is a pretty serious modern orthodox household. You had a period where you were very, very religious. Where were you when you began graduate school at that point in your life?

Anonymous: 
Yeah, so I was nowhere. I had no interest. Yeah. I just wasn’t interested. I wasn’t doing anything. I didn’t really care. I had no interest at that point.

David Bashevkin: 
When you met, as disinterested as you were, undoubtedly when you met this person, you knew that they weren’t Jewish. Forget about the prohibition and the Halakhah. You knew that this was something that would make integration with your family extraordinarily complicated. Is that fair to say?

Anonymous: 
Yeah. So all that being said, not being interested, not being involved, when the relationship started, it started for both of us as not serious because the other person wasn’t interested in a serious relationship. And I was like, well, you’re not Jewish, and this can’t be serious for me either. So this is great. And that’s really how it started. Even at that point, a serious relationship wasn’t on the table

David Bashevkin: 
At what point did you realize, uh-oh, this is now serious?

Anonymous: 
To be honest, I don’t know. It just happened. I can’t go back and pinpoint a point when that switch was made. I’m sure it was gradual. I honestly don’t know.

David Bashevkin: 
So I want to start with the decision to at least let your parents know that you were in a serious relationship with this person. Did you have a conversation with her first and say, “I got to let my parents know this”? Did you have any bearing of how serious the consequences would be? Tell me how you came to that, just the very choice I’m going to let my parents know I’m in a serious relationship with a non-Jew.

Anonymous: 
Yeah, so that one is an interesting one because that was a sticking point in the relationship. The fact that my parents didn’t know was a major source of conflict in the relationship because, obviously, on her end, how serious can you be taking this?

David Bashevkin: 
How serious can you be?

Anonymous: 
Your parents don’t even know. And we’re probably at that point a couple years in. So yeah. So there was definitely an element of if you don’t tell your parents, it’s over. Part of me was really, I think, stupid at the time and didn’t realize that, of course, my parents knew. Maybe not everything, but they’re not stupid people, and people knew. But yeah, it came to a head when it was just like, if you don’t tell them, it’s over. And I pushed that off a bunch. But after enough fighting about it, it got to the point where I had to tell them. And yeah, I knew how bad it was going to be. That’s why I wasn’t telling them.

David Bashevkin: 
Take me to you come to the decision. You do it over the phone, in person? How do you have your first conversation with your parents about this relationship?

Anonymous: 
Yeah, it was over the phone. I think it was just a moment of stress, and I was at a breaking point with her. And it was either you’re going to do this, or it’s over. And it got to that point. It was like, well, I just have to do this. And so I think it was probably also over the phone because it was easier to do than in person and also probably because I just finally got the… I don’t want to say confidence. It wasn’t confidence, but I finally just was able to do it in a specific moment. And I was like, if I don’t do it in this moment right now, then it’s just not going to happen.

David Bashevkin: 
Do you remember the initial reaction?

Anonymous: 
Yeah, the initial reaction was, yeah, we’re not idiots. We know.

David Bashevkin: 
And were they-

Anonymous: 
Not accepting at all. It was like, okay, this is something we have to deal with, but the first step was you telling us because we’ve known. And part of the reason why the relationship between me and my parents is difficult is because you’ve been treating us like we don’t know and we’ve clearly known. And just even hiding that is in itself an issue.

David Bashevkin: 
At that point, do you think in your parents’ mind there were like, this is just a phase, we don’t have to take this so seriously? Or were they already what later became crisis mode?

Anonymous: 
My guess is it was already crisis mode because it had gotten to the point where it had been a long time, and I had kept it a secret, which is worse than had I told them upfront. Then maybe they could have been like, eh, it’s not so serious. But the fact that it had gone through all this, my guess is that it was already crisis mode. But I don’t know for sure. That’s how it seemed to me. It seemed to me like we’re in crisis mode from the second that we had the conversation.

David Bashevkin: 
There was a little bit of time where you went back into the relationship. Post phone call, did the relationship change? Did it get better, worse or stayed the same?

Anonymous: 
We were having major issues, pretending there were a lot of other reasons, but this was really it. And so yeah, there was a lot of back and forth in and out of the relationship after that, but things just continually got worse. And while it seemed like it was a lot of other things, this was really at the crux of the issue. I knew I couldn’t go through with it, and I think she knew that too. And so as much as we were trying to continue with it, we both knew it wasn’t going to happen, although neither of us would admit that. And so just everything becomes a bigger and bigger issue until it took, I think, another two years till it fell apart. But yeah, it was just continually breaking down at that point.

David Bashevkin: 
We’ll talk about your parents’ involvement and absence probably in a moment, but I remember hearing a story about the first time that they actually met this girl. Do you remember the first time they met in person? I think it was at a graduation.

Anonymous: 
I’m guessing it was at my graduation. I don’t have vivid memories. Everything was on and off. At that point, it wasn’t even on. At that point, this was the person who I was with, and I’m not now but then again later was. So yeah, at that point, I think that was the first time.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m referring to something specific. I remember hearing from your mother that she met this person and she was lovely. I’ve met her as well. She was lovely. And your mother almost pulling her aside, your mother is a deeply emotional person, and saying, “You are lovely. You are so sweet and wonderful.” But she broke down and said, “But it can’t be. It can’t be.” And she just was crying. I don’t know if she ever told that to you. I probably heard that directly from her rather than you. But I want to fast-forward now to a time that I certainly remember well, which is the first time I believe you brought her home to your house. This is probably after you had broken up and came back together. What was your reasoning? Why did you bring her and introduce her to your family at that point?

Anonymous: 
I think at that point, we were going through a stage of maybe this will work, and so let’s try to figure this out. It was at the point where I think I was putting on a front of this is going to happen whether you like it or not. At that point it was like, okay, is there a way that this can work out for everyone? So we were talking about conversion at that point. We were trying to figure out a way that it could work because without that, it couldn’t have worked for my parents. So we were trying to see if there was something that could happen. And so I think that was during that time period.

David Bashevkin: 
When you say it couldn’t have worked for your parents, were you ever given a specific ultimatum or specific consequence of what would happen if you married her and she was not Jewish?

Anonymous: 
I don’t know if it was ever explicitly stated. I don’t think it was, but it wasn’t so much a threat of if you do this, you’ll be cut off, you’ll this, that. I just knew it would break my parents, so maybe we would’ve still—I don’t know what would’ve happened. It wasn’t so much the explicit consequences for me or even my relationship with them. It was what I knew it would do to them, regardless of how much they wanted to be accepted.

David Bashevkin: 
Fascinating. So they never gave you an explicit ultimatum, but you obviously saw it was weighing on them.

Anonymous: 
Yeah, from their side, they were very clear that, no matter what, they loved me, and I was their son. And they would, I think, try to do everything for me to be happy. But someone can try to do everything to accept you, but if they don’t, there are going to be repercussions on their end, not even towards me necessarily. But I just saw what it was doing to them, and they were trying their best. You can try your best, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy about it. So that’s where we’re at.

David Bashevkin: 
Looking back, I think we both understand. I don’t think they would’ve ever cut you off and never see you again, but it would’ve taken a heartbreaking toll on your relationship, which was almost out of their control that there’s only so far a person can stretch. And you saw them reach their capacity.

Anonymous: 
Yeah. I think they would’ve been trying their best. But end of the day, things happen in a relationship, and the relationship changes. And that’s true for parents and kids, but it’s true for anyone. Things happen in relationships. You can do your best to get back to where you were before, but you can’t go back. Those things change the relationship. And so I think that’s how I saw it. Again, it wasn’t just about my relationship with them. Let’s say they could have figured out a way to have exactly the same relationship with me. It took a toll on them in their own lives separate from my interactions with them.

David Bashevkin: 
Let me ask you. That night and being introduced, you had one sibling there. Both of your parents were there. I, for some reason, came over later.

Anonymous: 
I don’t even remember this. It’s funny. But to me, this was a very long relationship. I don’t remember a lot of these details, I guess, like you do. But I don’t remember.

David Bashevkin: 
Did your parents send people to you to explicitly ask you, plead with you please break this off? Or did any friends, somebody outside of your immediate family who you knew outside of your parents, siblings even, did anybody look at you and explicitly say, “You cannot go through with this”?

Anonymous: 
There were a few people. Some of them were my friends who were not Jewish, who were some of my friends at school.

David Bashevkin: 
Really?

Anonymous: 
I don’t know if they just knew my parents a little bit or whatever. And they were coming, I think, from a little different perspective. But without going into too much detail about it, they noticed you just can’t do this. You’re breaking your family apart. So yes, again, from their end, there were other things going on. They saw that it wasn’t a healthy relationship anyway, so it wasn’t just, oh, everything’s great, but you can’t do this. But they put it all together, and they’re like, what are you doing? And then I did talk to someone, someone who I’m close with but wouldn’t normally go to get a drink with. And they talked me through their own experiences with something similar. It was unexpected, not something that I would’ve expected to hear from that person but someone that I respected a lot but wouldn’t have normally expected them to share because it was very private for them as well. To my understanding, they weren’t sent by my parents or anything like that. I think this came from their own accord. I could be wrong on that. I’ve never delved any deeper. But my understanding was this was they saw it from afar and just did it on their own, but that may or may not be the case.

David Bashevkin: 
There definitely were relationship consequences. There could very likely have been financial consequences, being written out of the will. None of these were said explicitly. Do you remember the moment where it became clear to you that this is not something that is sustainable, I cannot go through with this?

Anonymous: 
Well, that’s where it’s interesting, and I think anyone who’s been through this, it’s probably been different. But it was there underlying the relationship the entire time, and we’re talking about five years. And the longer it goes on, the more it was underlying. And you don’t acknowledge it for a lot of the time, but you both know it’s there. There wasn’t a moment where it’s like, this is not sustainable. The whole time in the back of your head, you’re like, this isn’t sustainable. And in my head, it was like, can I make the jump and just say forget it? And I wasn’t capable of doing this either, but I think the only way that I could have done it would’ve been to cut my parents off the other way because the emotional toll it took just seeing them and speaking to them, you can sense it, was too much.

So regardless of what it would’ve taken on my parents’ end, they could have been the most accommodating, best. And they tried to be, I think. I probably still would’ve had to be like, I have to cut this off because I can’t deal with the emotional stress of this. And that was never something that I would’ve been capable of doing, but that was always underlying the whole thing of I need to pick one or the other. It’s never going to be both. And my issue was I just couldn’t cut either one off for a long time. Things kept going downhill because of this. Other reasons, but this was really underlying it. And then at some point, again, it was the most trivial thing where it was like, you know what, I can use this, and I can get out and just get out. And that was it. But it wasn’t some big crazy moment of realization or anything like that. It was a stupid fight, and it was like, you know what, I’m out.

David Bashevkin: 
This is your out. You had mentioned to me when we spoke earlier that one of the moments that had you thinking about this differently was at, I believe, your grandfather’s funeral. You didn’t elaborate at the time. I’m curious, what did you mean? What role did that play in the trajectory of the relationship?

Anonymous: 
I don’t know that it was a seminal moment. It’s a lot of small things, I think, just keep reminding you. You can’t do this. You can’t do this. And yeah, it was something my father said at my grandfather’s funeral. I don’t know if I want to elaborate too much. I think if he hears this, he’ll know what he said. I don’t think he knows to this day that it had an effect on me. But it’s also the culmination of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and that weighs a ton on Jewish identity, even if you’re not necessarily religious, which I wasn’t at the time. Being a part of that, coming from that, it’s a big thing to then just say I’m going to throw it away. So just, yeah, my grandfather passed away. My father said some very… He spoke about his experiences growing up, and it had an effect on me. And within a couple of months, it was over again. I don’t know if that was the seminal moment, but at that point, the dam was breaking already. And then that certainly helped push everything through and maybe gave me the courage later to just break it off when the right time came.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s so interesting, and I do want to push you more on what exactly your father said. But I respect that boundary.

Anonymous: 
Yeah, I guess I can say it. I don’t think it’s identifying in any way. He just said the last thing my grandfather’s father said to him before my grandfather’s father died in Auschwitz and the last thing he said to him when he knew he was never going to see him again was, “Remember you’re a Jew.” I don’t know. It just made me feel it. It was the same thing right here. And it’s like my grandfather’s father was killed in Auschwitz. His only wish for his son was, remember you’re a Jew. And I’m like, what am I doing?

David Bashevkin: 
That hits. I’m curious, thank God your life has gone in a very different direction. I was at your wedding. I sat right next to your father at the-

David Bashevkin: 
I was at your wedding. I sat right next to your father at the wedding. It was a very emotional moment for him, and me having known what you went through, I appreciated the emotion that he showed. I wanted to speak to your parents. It was too emotional for them. Is this something you’re able to even talk about with your parents or it’s not something you’ve ever really processed with them?

Anonymous: 
That is a good question. I think my parents are probably more the people who, the past is behind us, but I can see it when… I don’t know. I could see it at my wedding. I could see it through various stages of my life, when I go to shul with my dad, whatever. You get the sense that there’s-

David Bashevkin: 
An added layer of gratitude.

Anonymous: 
Yes, exactly.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, I sense that as well. I find it very, very moving. Looking back, do you think your parents did a good job? Your parents come from a very mainstream orthodox family, orthodox community, they get the news that no parent within your community wants to hear. Do you think they did overall a good job in reacting to you and do you think there’s anything instructive you would tell a parent to do differently?

Anonymous: 
Yeah, so I think there’s two things. I think that number one, because I’m sure the question is also not just once the relationship happened, it’s everything that came after is built on what came before. And I think I had enough sense of, not my Jewish history, but Jewish history before me, that informed me a lot and I think I was brought up that way to understand that, where later down the road, that’s really like what got me back. And so I think part of that, my parents must have done a really good job bringing me up, because that was there, and although things happened after, that’s ultimately what really got me back.

David Bashevkin: 
That was very profound what you just said, meaning as far as you went and you went pretty far, in a relationship with an non-Jew, your observance level, I’m sure if there is a rock bottom to that, you certainly were at that rock bottom, but something pulled you back that you attribute to some of your parents’ upbringing.

Anonymous: 
Correct. And I don’t think if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have been pulled back. So the answer to this question of how do you, not prevent it, but your kid is in a relationship. If you’re asking the question, “My kid’s in a relationship with someone who’s not Jewish and I want to prevent them from marrying them,” most of the work for that needed to have been done when they were younger. I think had I not been brought up the way I was brought up, it wouldn’t have gone this way, and I know that’s probably not an answer that most people want to hear.

David Bashevkin: 
I wholeheartedly agree with it and it’s very profound.

Anonymous: 
But the groundwork has to be there. If it’s not there, then I don’t know. The financial threats, cutting me off threats. None of that would’ve mattered if I didn’t have the foundation. And again, it doesn’t always have to be the same as mine. Mine, I think had a lot to do with, mentioned the grandfather story, but just the connection I felt to a long line of Jewish history going back, and for some reason for me, it was the suffering of Jewish people for a long time more than other things. But there has to be some type of foundation that you’re trying to get back to. It doesn’t have to be the same as mine, but there has to be something there.

David Bashevkin: 
I one time got advice when it comes to public speaking that you can’t start speaking until the room is absolutely quiet, because once you start speaking, it gets louder and louder and louder, and if you don’t start with a stasis of absolute silence, you’ll never be able to reacquire it. And it’s similar with Jewish identity. If you don’t start with that strong basis, it’s going to be a lot of noise and people can start murmuring and getting louder and ignoring and not paying attention. But at least if you start with that stasis, with that starting point, you can recapture it and bring it back. If you fight over your audience to begin with, there’s nothing to return back to and there’s nothing to revive. And that’s a really powerful idea. What was the second thing that you were about to say?

Anonymous: 
Yeah, I was going to say, and then during, when it was going on, there are a lot of different, I guess thoughts on this. How do you go about it? In my case, full on acceptance would not have been the right way to go. I needed to feel some of that Jewish guilt. And sometimes they would lay on the guilt, but they mostly tried to work with me, but I still felt the guilt and I didn’t feel like they were trying to guilt trip me. I sensed that they’re trying their best and they’re still in all this pain. So it’s a tough mix. I don’t think you can fake it.

If your kid or your sibling or whoever is going through this and you’re just laying on the guilt, they’re going to sense that, and if you don’t really feel that bad, they’re going to sense that too. In my case, it really felt authentic to me and that’s what hurt me the most. I don’t think they could have handled it any differently, because I think it was just their authentic reactions and really how they felt. I’m sure they were talking to people and trying to figure out how do we get out of this situation? How do we fix it?

David Bashevkin: 
I was one of them.

Anonymous: 
Right, and I knew that that was the case, but my interactions with them felt very authentic. And again, when it feels authentic and you feel the pain that they’re in, to me, that had the biggest effect on me. So I don’t really think they could have done anything different. I think had they laid on the other way of, “We’re going to cut you off,” I might have become more stubborn. I think it might have been worse. And I think if they would’ve tried to hide their pain-

David Bashevkin: 
And just be unconditional love, unconditional love.

Anonymous: 
Because that was the thing that really was killing me the whole time. So I think either end of the spectrum can backfire, and again, people are different. I obviously respond to emotion and so that worked. I’m sure there are people out there that don’t but might really respond to the financial aspect. I think it’s a little individual. I don’t know that there’s an answer. I’m sure there’s someone out there that has a huge inheritance coming and if you threaten their inheritance, they might respond better. Probably just my personality, being told what to do, I probably would’ve been like, “Well, now I’m going to do this.” So I don’t know that there’s a correct way for everyone. You have to know who you’re dealing with, but to me it was really the authenticity of it and not so much just threats. Even if the threats would’ve been real, that really got to me.

David Bashevkin: 
You would’ve dug in more and I love, they were never shouting at you or even crying at you. It’s almost like what you overheard in their eyes, what you overheard in their voice.

Anonymous: 
Yeah, when there were tears, they were just real tears. They weren’t crying for me. They were crying because that’s how they felt.

David Bashevkin: 
That is extraordinarily powerful. My final question really has to do with you and what you would’ve told yourself. And if you could reach out and speak to yourself, is there anything that could have been done to you? How do you relate to yourself from that period? I think about it a lot. Could I have been doing anything differently? What’s so remarkable for me is that, let’s talk plainly, I wouldn’t give you the Jewish observance award of the century right now, but I do think that following your marriage to such a lovely girl who’s obviously Jewish and starting a family, it did have a religious awakening for you. Is that fair to say?

Anonymous: 
Yeah, it’s hard to-

David Bashevkin: 
I know you don’t want to call it that. Don’t call it a comeback.

Anonymous: 
No, it’s totally fine. I’m very happy to be open about it. It’s hard for me to comment on any of that because my path is my path. I don’t think that really anyone could have done anything differently, especially at that point when the relationship started. The way I see it, at any given point in your life, you are who you are based on your past experiences. Not that I had any terrible past experiences, anything like that, but my life up to that point led me to where I was and I made choices of where I wanted to be at that point in my life. And so I don’t know that anyone could have done anything differently. Now, again, in hindsight, would I have loved to have told my younger self, “This isn’t going to work anyway. It’s going to cause you a tremendous amount of heartache and don’t do it,” of course. But myself back then wouldn’t have listened. It didn’t matter.

I know things now that I didn’t know then. I think that’s true in life for everybody. And I think some of the things I went through got me to where I am today. I certainly think I have more of an appreciation for Jewish identity than probably you would expect for someone who went through this. I think it’s probably more important to me than even some people who are more observant than I am at this point. And I think things that I question now, and part of this religious awakening you might want to mention is, the biggest thing I grapple with is, well, if you’re not observant, what happens down the road? What does that mean for your kids and their kids?

And that’s now something that’s very important for me, because I did make all these decisions and I opted in. I think most observant people never really have to opt in. They just do it. I had a choice and I chose to opt in. And now it’s like, “Okay, well now I need to continue that.” And choosing a path of religious life that is just going to wind up being my kids or their kids then will wind up opting out seems like a pretty silly thing to do. I’ve opted in, and that’s what I’m navigating now is trying to find that balance. And I don’t know where that’ll wind up, but that’s where I am now is, I went through something and I adopted in and now I want to maintain that. I certainly don’t want the next generation just to fall off just because I then became lax. I don’t have a lot of confidence that there’s a way to do that other than with a religious lifestyle.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, you chose to stay and there’s this big question of now what, and you can’t let the rest of your future just rest on the heels of one, I’m choosing to stay. There’s got to be something more after that. And grappling with that is life. That’s the best thing in the world.

Anonymous: 
’cause it’s like I would love for my kids not to have to make that decision. I’d love for them to just be the people who are opted in for them and they’re just in. You never know what can happen with your kids, but I would love for them not to have to go through this. So that’s where I’m at with religious observance is figuring out, just from what I’ve seen and I’ve been outside of the observant world.

David Bashevkin: 
Yes, you have.

Anonymous: 
… is it’s a lot, yeah, it’s a lot harder to do and it’s a lot harder to instill a real Jewish identity in kids outside of the observant world.

David Bashevkin: 
You said there was somebody who you did not expect who took you out for a drink when you were really going through this and spoke to you. I’m curious, there are people in your life who I’m sure you know who are grappling with similar decisions. I’m sure there are people younger where you could be that same figure in their life. If you were to take out somebody, take them out for a drink like that person did for you, who I have no idea who that is honestly, but if you serve that role in somebody else’s life, where do you think that conversation would go? What would be your approach to that conversation?

Anonymous: 
I think the baseline to that conversation is I would first, I assume it’s someone I know, so I’d have an idea, but even if I didn’t know them, it’s finding out, “Well, what is your Jewish identity based on?” Because if someone says, “I just don’t have one at all,” I’m not going to have much to say at that point, because at that point, okay, I can tell them all the things that everyone else has already told them like, “Your parents are going to be upset.” But if that isn’t there to begin with, I don’t know that I personally would have much to add. Obviously I’d share my story and explain how it was breaking me and my family and you try to get to the crux of the issue of, “Is there something here that you want to continue and build on, or are you willing to just walk away from it all?” Because if someone is, I don’t know how helpful I could be because that wasn’t my experience, but I think that’s where I tried to get to is, a pintele yid in someone, is that there?

Because if it’s not, then maybe that’s where a family has to go to, “We’re going to cut you off,” threats. Maybe that’s your only option at that point. I don’t necessarily know that that’ll work, but there’s usually something, some connection that people have. And again, it’s different for everyone. Mine for some reason was more the history of Jews suffering. For other people, that might be like, “Hey, it was when I was learning in Yeshiva and just learning a blatt of gemara really was the highlight of my learning” but you have to connect something like that. And to me, what really was the most was, your kids aren’t going to have that. You have to understand if you make this decision, you’re cutting your kids off from that. And that was what it really was for me. I don’t care about me, but I’m going to have kids one day. Am I cutting my kids off from this thing that’s really important to me. And one more thing I just want to throw in at the end just so that-

David Bashevkin: 
Please.

Anonymous: 
It’s clear. I know I have friends who are married to amazing people who converted for real. So I just want to be clear, this is not about people who really go through conversion and do it well, this is a different thing. Certainly don’t want to talk down on anyone. There are people who are much more observant than me and who do it the right way. My situation, that wasn’t going to happen.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, there were other complications that I can attest to that would’ve been-

Anonymous: 
And there was also, I knew she was never really going to do it. If there was going to be, it was not going to be any type of legitimate Halakha conversion. She wasn’t interested. So again, for someone who’s going through it and you’re trying to figure out whether a conversion can be legit or not, or if someone really wants to convert, it’s a completely different story, and then my story is not applicable and I certainly don’t think any less and don’t think it should be treated the same for someone who is going through that process, because it’s very different.

David Bashevkin: 
That is an absolutely important note. And I think for anybody, it’s weird to say, it’s not what our relationship is based upon that we do go back ways. But I find it very inspiring that you chose to stay, because a lot of times when you were never faced with that choice so starkly and you’re in it without a choice and you stay, you have this nagging sense of, “Is it really worth it? All the heartache,” and watching somebody like you begin a family and all the things that have fallen into place for you, it is a very beautiful reminder of the beauty and the fact that if you stay, you can make it worth it. It can be worth it. And I think you are a story that reinforces that. So thank you so much for speaking with me today and I cannot thank you enough.

Anonymous: 
All right, thanks.

David Bashevkin: 
What strikes me and what moves me and what heartens me so much is listening to this friend reflect on his parents’ reaction and through his parents’ eyes, and I had invited them to join the podcast and I’m nearly certain that they’re going to listen to this and they know the pain and the difficulty that they went through and that they experienced and that sense of, “We don’t know what to do.” And there’s something so remarkable to hear from their child now who says, “All along you were with me and I overheard all of the crying and all of the tears and all the tefillos and all of the prayers and that they had a very real effect and you were doing the right thing all along,” which I find incredibly moving.

For me personally to have been at his wedding. I sat a row in front of his father at his wedding and to look at one another without saying a word and to look at one another’s tears at what we were seeing and what we were experiencing as a parent, to see that small seed of hope finally blossom into watching a child finally walk down at a Chuppah and have Jewish children is something that you really can’t express unless you’ve really held somebody’s hand through this process. And to know, as distant as they may have felt at different points in this story, the fact that you know by his own admission, by the child’s own admission, his parents were holding his hand the whole way through, is something that I find extraordinarily moving. But of course, not all stories end this way. And I got a different email that I really only got a few weeks after the last email that I read, and this email was incredibly moving and incredibly adamant about what we need to discuss, and I’ll read it to you now.

“Hi. For the last few weeks I’ve been listening with great enjoyment to your podcast and was often surprised that even titles and topics that did not hold any obvious interests were very engaging and almost always resonated with me in ways that often surprised me. I like your straightforward questions and insights, especially on topics that are often not discussed, because they can be controversial, which can be almost anything these days. I certainly have learned that and know that, but reflect today’s reality and therefore should be talked about. I often feel that I live a Modern Orthodox life, but I have subliminally internalized the way of life heavily vested in old world tradition and memories of the alta hein evoking secondhand memories and nostalgia of a life that was and often has been reshaped to appear even greater or worse than the reality of the time.

I was born after the war. And I live in the present, but as a Jew, I relive and remember a past as far back as the Egyptian slavery as yetzias mitzrayim. But I look forward to the future next year in Jerusalem, lshana haba byerushalayim. I live in both worlds, challenged on how to connect these points throughout my life. Which brings me to a specific question that emerged again for me since I heard the podcast on divergence. The question is often on my mind and never far from the surface. You always seem to stop short of dealing with a child that intermarries when the apple is totally removed from the tree. How does a family navigate this divergence with a child that is still part of a family? What about the community, the friends, both of the intermarried child and of the family? Should anyone even ask how the child is doing? Intermarriage is unfortunately equally as common in our circles, more so than Yeshivish or Hasidic communities. And in Teaneck, Englewood and other modern orthodox circles, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that did not know someone personally in that category.

What should be the reaction and how far should the family extend themselves? Does this cross the red line, or should this be subject to a red line to start with? Where does one go for guidance? To the rabbi, to your friends, to your extended family? As you said numerous times in the other family divergencies, these are still our children that we love, but with an intermarried child, do we still encourage them to maintain the family connection and the interaction on a daily basis? Do we acknowledge and share news of grandchildren with our friends? Do we follow Tevye and disown or disengage from our children for the sake of the other children? Our commitment to tradition and personal beliefs, our standing in the community? What parental obligations, if any, do we have? And if we do include them in our lives, does that include their spouses?

Do we react differently if the grandchildren are from the daughter who are Jewish by Halakha or the children of our sons who do not have that status? These are only some of the questions that I think about based on obvious personal experience. I grew up as a child of Hungarian Hasidic survivors that came to the United States after the war. My grandparents on both sides were from one of those known named families, as you would say, not for their money, but for our yichus, spanning several generations in Europe before the war and in the United States after the war. Both my mother and father’s family survived intact. My father, the second oldest of nine children, that was in Bergen Belsen in one of the protected transports and my mother’s family, the oldest of four children that were saved by Wallenberg. Two more children were born in the United States after they arrived.

I grew up hearing how our belief in the Torah and adherence to God saved our family. How could we not believe when our immediate family all survived? The philosophical questions and topics of the modern orthodox community that delves into the why, how, purpose of our observance, our connection to God were not even a fleeting consideration or thought in our minds as we grew up. As children born after the war, we understood that our existence is the rebuilding of our nation and every child born was the revenge on those that in each generation bchol dor vdor looked to destroy us.”

Now, the email goes on and she shares much more details about her own life and the life of her child, much of which we get into in the conversation, But I felt a confidence speaking to her, even though her guidance might not be for everyone, I knew It was the guidance of a mother who cared deeply about her children and a mother who cared deeply about her Yiddishkeit and bridging the world’s old and new that she felt were slowly, slowly moving in different directions, and holding on against all odds to hopefully in some way keep them tethered together. She had sent me an essay about her initial reaction after she finally realized that her daughter was going to go through with this wedding. And it was that essay where she describes her reaction that I was able to have some confidence that this is a person who I want to hear their perspective about how they continue to hold on tight onto a child, even after something as devastating to a family as an intermarriage.

She wrote about that reaction as follows. “That night, I cried, I cried for myself. How could this happen in my family? I cried for all those that came before me, many of them dying just because they were Jewish. I cried because I did not know whether to give in or to stand my ground and call her bluff and pray. She does not carry out her threat. I cried because I felt like a failure. I had not instilled enough love for Judaism, and one of my children now chose to marry out. I tried to figure out what my father, who had already passed away, would say in either his voice or god’s, but this time I could hear nothing.” This is a parent whose tears were unable to prevent what she had hoped was preventable. And we discuss in this conversation, how does a parent react, navigate some of the basic, very practical issues, the decision of a child to intermarry. Here is our conversation.

So a while back I got an email which I read, which came from you about your own family situation, your daughter, who is intermarried, is married to a non-Jew. And I wanted to begin by asking when did you realize that she was going on a different path?

Anonymous Mom: 
When she was in college, she had all different kinds of friends, like everybody does. We didn’t send our kids away to a faraway college. I figured New Jersey had a College of the Good Hillel and a good everything, so we figured it’s a good place to go. But I found out while she was in college that she was dating or seeing different people. And one of them was this boy Kevin, which again, I didn’t take too seriously, because it was college. College finishes and people keep going. My kids were telling me she’s getting serious, but I was like, “Never going to happen.” We come from a family where we’re Holocaust survivors, from a very Hasidic family. Both my mother and my father’s family were survivors in Europe. They came after the war with their families. They both had shuls, Hasidic shtiebels in Crown Heights actually, to start.

From real heavy duty, serious people, and nobody in my family was not religious. Certainly it certainly not at that point. And truthfully, not at this point, even other than very, very few. And so, okay, it’s college. Most of my cousins didn’t go to college. But we knew that in college you meet different people. Then when you leave college, you go back to where you came from.

David Bashevkin: 
Correct.

Anonymous Mom: 
You don’t go anywhere else. But it seems that after she finished college, she still kept seeing him. And at the beginning again, I didn’t take it too seriously, but as time wore on, and this is already four or five years, it became more serious. We never spoke about him. We never invited him. We never let her believe that this was something that we would eventually agree to or anything.

David Bashevkin: 
So your original strategy was ignore and just, “When she comes back, this will be left in the college years and she’ll come back to the family.”

Anonymous Mom: 
Correct. That didn’t seem to be working. And my other kids were telling me because she was talking to them more that they’re really serious about getting married.

David Bashevkin: 
There’s always a WhatsApp group with the parents and then there’s a second WhatsApp group with just the siblings, to say it honest.

Anonymous Mom: 
Right, so this was just the siblings, and they had to figure out how to tell me this without my hitting the roof. And when they finally did, I was like, “Nah, not going to happen.” But we figured, “Okay, let’s try different strategy.” Now we were going to take out some of the bigger guns, “Look at the family you come from.” My mother who’s a survivor gave her more guilt trips than anything I had to-

David Bashevkin: 
Who’s alive, who reached out directly to your daughter.

Anonymous Mom: 
Oh yeah. We’ve always been close as a family. So it wasn’t anything unusual, but she made a point of, “How could you do this to me? You’ll put me in an early grave. We survived the Holocaust only to see a child go to remarry into another family that’s not Jewish.” And I was saying to her, “Look, don’t make me choose between my religion and my child. My religion’s been around a lot longer than my child has been.” And at that point, I really even believed it.

David Bashevkin: 
You thought you were ready to cut off this child?

Anonymous Mom: 
I did. I really did. I didn’t want to, but I figured if she thought it, maybe that would stop it. Because in many cases, it does. When the child has to choose, the family or the religion or the boyfriend or the girlfriend, ultimately, very often, they’ll say-

David Bashevkin: 
They do come back.

Anonymous Mom: 
They do come back and say-

David Bashevkin: 
And we have a conversation.

Anonymous Mom: 
“I can’t do it.”

David Bashevkin: 
I have a conversation with somebody who, for a host of reasons, that did draw them back. It would be very strong and say, “This is not happening. This cannot happen in my lifetime. I can’t see this.”

Anonymous Mom: 
Right. And I kept that up for quite a while. Six years actually, is how long we kept up this going. And during that time, I certainly never went to anybody else’s intermarriage. We were staunchly against it on every level.

David Bashevkin: 
You’re still against it, I assume.

Anonymous Mom: 
I’m still against it. Yeah. No, no. I haven’t come around to saying, “Wow, great idea.” Never going to be a good idea. Never going to be. But at the point where my kids finally said to me, “Ma, they’re getting engaged,” and my daughter called me. We had spoken about it. And at that point she said to me, “At this point, you’re going to have to choose. It’s either me and him or not me at all.”

David Bashevkin: 
She almost gave you an ultimatum.

Anonymous Mom: 
She did. Not almost. She gave me exactly that ultimatum. And I was like-

David Bashevkin: 
And now you have to choose.

Anonymous Mom: 
And now I had to choose.

David Bashevkin: 
How did you make that choice?

Anonymous Mom: 
It wasn’t an easy choice, I have to tell you, I may really wasn’t an easy choice. And I spoke to my mother, and I spoke to my husband, and I spoke to different people.

David Bashevkin: 
What did your mother tell you? Somebody who survived the Holocaust.

Anonymous Mom: 
She actually told me that you can’t lose a child. You just can’t lose a child because you know what? The story’s not over. Who knows how long they’ll be married? Who knows if they have children?

David Bashevkin: 
And your mother grew up in a generation where people were sitting Shiva?

Anonymous Mom: 
Oh, yes, oh yes.

David Bashevkin: 
Or mourning, God forbid, somebody intermarrying.

Anonymous Mom: 
Her entire family is as Hasidic as they come, strimel and bekishe. Nobody is modern. My mother was the most modern of them. And yet she felt that-

David Bashevkin: 
We’re not going to lose a child.

Anonymous Mom: 
We’re not going to lose a child because again, the story’s not over. Who knows what’s going to happen.

David Bashevkin: 
The story’s not over.

Anonymous Mom: 
She could always come back. My father was no longer alive, so I couldn’t call him, obviously. But a similar situation had happened in our family with a second cousin, and I had invited them not knowing that there was an intermarriage.

David Bashevkin: 
You invited them to what?

Anonymous Mom: 
To a yontif meal.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay. And you just didn’t know.

Anonymous Mom: 
I knew they were religious. And then I found out that I didn’t even know that he was married. He told me he was bringing his wife, which I assumed was not Jewish because I didn’t remember going to a wedding. And he said, “She’s not.” And then I said, “Okay.” And I called my father and I said, “What do I do now?” And he said, “Look, in today’s day and age, divorce rate is high. If they get divorced and you lose the child, where’s the child going to go? What’s the backup? And even if they don’t get divorced, you never know in life they’ll have children. Something will happen to them.” He says, “You have to be mentshlich. You have to be decent. You’re not here to convert them. You’re not here to teach them how to become Jewish. But as a Jewish person, you accept your child as they are, and you pray and hope that maybe something will change.”

David Bashevkin: 
That the story is not over.

Anonymous Mom: 
And the story is not over.

David Bashevkin: 
So that advice almost echoed through.

Anonymous Mom: 
It was like it happened in advance so that I should know what to do when it happened to me. In my life, I can’t even begin to tell you that I knew people that intermarried. Either their children didn’t go to yeshiva or they didn’t go to camp, or they weren’t so religious or they accepted the new person. And I remember so clearly thinking to myself, “That was why it happened and that was why it happened.”

David Bashevkin: 
And when this happened to you, did you initially, it must be instinctive. Did you initially blame yourself and look to yourself, “What did I do wrong?”

Anonymous Mom: 
Yeah. Where did I… I know we were religious. We sent her to the schools. We sent her to camp. We did everything. But somehow, the spiritualness of Judaism, the comfort that I get from it, somehow that I was not able to transmit. And part of it had to do with the fact that her father had died when she was young and the family that was from her father totally distanced themselves from her. And she took it to believe that, okay, God took her father. She couldn’t really argue with him too much about it, but the rest of the family abandoned her. And she figured, if this is how religious people act, then this is how they abandoned children, she was five when her father died. What kind of a religion is this?

David Bashevkin: 
So there was a sense of betrayal even earlier. Do you still look back and blame yourself? Have you-

Anonymous Mom: 
No, I don’t blame myself because I can’t think of anything I should have done differently. But truthfully, I do blame a lot of the family that could have brought her in and could have, maybe if I couldn’t give her some of that spirituality, maybe she would’ve seen it with some of the other family, how they took care of her, but they didn’t. And so she missed it on all sides. Thankfully, my family did whatever they could. But my mother was in Queens and my father was in Florida, and so we got some of it. But her father’s family just-

David Bashevkin: 
So now you’re making wedding preparations. This is a tough situation.

Anonymous Mom: 
I first said I wasn’t making any wedding preparations. You get married, get married, and tell me when it’s over. I’m not involved.

David Bashevkin: 
You were not planning on being involved at all.

Anonymous Mom: 
I’m not getting involved in that.

David Bashevkin: 
So what changed that?

Anonymous Mom: 
Again, my husband said to me, he said, “Look, if she’s going to do it, and if you want him to be a little bit comfortable with the family so that maybe the two of them one day will want to do something, you can’t just do that. It’s just not going to work.” So I said, “Okay, I would participate in the wedding on condition that A, it was a kosher wedding. I’m not paying for anything that’s not kosher. B, there was no religion at all.” Didn’t have to be our religion or their religion, but none.

David Bashevkin: 
Meaning you don’t want a Christian minister. Meaning if we’re not doing a proper wedding, which obviously is impossible-

Anonymous Mom: 
We’ll just do a legal one.

David Bashevkin: 
Let’s do a legal wedding.

Anonymous Mom: 
Yeah, so it was very nice. All the music was rock, soft rock, whatever. There was no hava nagila and there was no-

David Bashevkin: 
And you wanted that deliberately. Let’s make it clear this is not a Jewish ceremony, so to speak.

Anonymous Mom: 
Correct. It’s not in any religious ceremony at all. A friend of mine who was the assistant mayor did the, had the power of-

David Bashevkin: 
An officer of the peace or something.

Anonymous Mom: 
Yes. Right. Making the thing.

David Bashevkin: 
So number one, you insisted that it’s kosher.

Anonymous Mom: 
Yes.

David Bashevkin: 
I like that a lot. I think that’s very beautiful. Number two, it’s a very thoughtful idea. You are not going to be involved. You don’t want this to be of any religion.

Anonymous Mom: 
Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s a legal ceremony.

Anonymous Mom: 
Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
And what was number three?

Anonymous Mom: 
That if they had a boy, he had to have a kosher bris.

David Bashevkin: 
That is a fascinating foresight that you had.

Anonymous Mom: 
Because to me, we all know people that have left are very hard to get back, but the children that are born don’t have that same bias.

David Bashevkin: 
And they’re Jewish.

Anonymous Mom: 
And they’re Jewish. And truthfully, even if it was a son and not a daughter, well, I couldn’t insist on a bris then, but I felt like if the child is Jewish and born Jewish, let him be with everything that comes with being Jewish. And a bris with a kosher mohel on time was a requirement.

David Bashevkin: 
And she was okay with that.

Anonymous Mom: 
They were both okay with that.

David Bashevkin: 
And they had a proper-

Anonymous Mom: 
…was a requirement.

David Bashevkin: 
And she was okay with that?

Anonymous Mom: 
They were both okay with that.

David Bashevkin: 
And they had a proper kosher bris for their surgery.

Anonymous Mom: 
They did, we had a boy. I was only hoping… The first one was a girl, because then I was thinking, how is the pinyon going to happen? And I was like, oh my God.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Anonymous Mom: 
I was getting really freaked out.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Anonymous Mom: 
Her first, thankfully, was a girl. The second was a boy born on Shabbat.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Anonymous Mom: 
And the following Shabbat, we had somebody from shul who was a mohel.

David Bashevkin: 
And they gave the child a Jewish name?

Anonymous Mom: 
They gave the child a Jewish name, after my father and her father, and he was born on Lincoln’s birthday. So, his English name was Lincoln, and he had a halachic bris. And that was all that I required as far as…

David Bashevkin: 
It’s not super high standards, it’s very realistic, and it’s very strategic and smart. You don’t have to cut your child off, but it also means that you still are entitled to… If you’re going to participate in any way, you have a say in this, and it’s the smart way that don’t undermine her ability to make this choice. But also it creates your ability to participate.

Anonymous Mom: 
Right, and if you put too many conditions on it, you’ll lose everything.

David Bashevkin: 
It’ll crumble. It’ll crumble, even if they’re not onerous. But if it’s too many, just the weight of the conditions doesn’t feel like you’re letting me make choices anymore.

Anonymous Mom: 
It’s like, I asked her if she wanted to light candles, she said, no. I said, okay, we’re not making a big deal about that. When they do come for Shabbat, occasionally they’ll come Friday night. And it’s very strange like that because when they do come, when we all go to wash, my daughter will take the kids, and they’ll wash their hands for al netilas yadayim. So, they know when she’s there, they accommodate our religious observance, but when they’re not there, they don’t.

David Bashevkin: 
But the kids are going to grow up… And this is the most important thing. They’re going to grow up with memories of you and your household. Are you grandma? Bubby? Savta?

Anonymous Mom: 
I’m Bubbe. Bubbe and Zayde.

David Bashevkin: 
They’re going to grow up with a Bubbe and Zayde. Those memories are going to kind of echo to call them back throughout time.

Anonymous Mom: 
We try to have them for Shabbat. I hate to say this. We say, to give the kids a break so you have a free weekend, but that gives me time to very slowly and with very, you know.

David Bashevkin: 
And subtly, but these are memories.

Anonymous Mom: 
Subtly, right. This is what we do on Shabbat. This is what we believe, and even if they don’t know… I mean, they’re like seven and 10 now. At least they see it, and it stays in their heads.

David Bashevkin: 
Do you say shema with them?

Anonymous Mom: 
Well, that was a tough one. I went in to say shema with them, and then I realized, they don’t know shema. So, I started to explain to them that your other cousins, before they go to sleep, they thank God for having a good day and hope we have another good day after that. To which my grandson said, “So, who’s God?” The concept of religion doesn’t exist for any of them. Any religion. So, I was explaining that the Jewish people believe that there is a God, like a spirit, that created the world and watches everybody to make sure that everybody’s safe and healthy. He watches the little children, and we thank him every day for watching us. To which Lincoln said, “My father’s not one bit Jewish. He doesn’t believe that.” And I said, “I know, but you’re Jewish.” That kind of stuck with him. We went on to talk a little bit, but I kind of stopped it after a little. I didn’t want it to get too heavy.

David Bashevkin: 
You don’t want it to become adversarial. Where it’s…

Anonymous Mom: 
Right. I just wanted them to know that there was this concept, even. Then every time we come, we talk a little bit more about that. We were walking on Shabbat and we said, good Shabbos to people. My granddaughter says to me, “How do they know you were Jewish?” I said, “Because Jewish people walk on Shabbat because they’re not allowed to drive in the car.” So, she says, “Well, what did you say?” I said, “A hello for Shabbat.” And she says, “And they answered back, even though they don’t know you?” I said, “Yeah, because the Jewish people are like a family.”

David Bashevkin: 
That’s beautiful.

Anonymous Mom: 
They all belong together, and when you see another Jewish person, like when you see anybody in your family, you say, “Hello.” And that was okay. I feel like I have to bring in the best of it for them to even have an idea of something that’s theirs.

David Bashevkin: 
The best of it sometimes is the most essential. It’s the part that oftentimes people who grew up and remain in it forget.

Anonymous Mom: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
We forget that notion of the novelty of being wished good Shabbos when you’re walking in the street and appreciate it. Even for me, that’s a beautiful moment there that you created. I’m curious, you had these three conditions that I think is really strategic as well. I don’t know if it will work for everyone, and you went through this process. Do you think you made any mistakes? I’m sure there are people who come to you. I’m sure you have friends and people know that you went through this and they come to you to ask you advice. Do you feel like you made any mistakes in this process?

Anonymous Mom: 
There’s nothing that I could have done to have changed her mind or to have led her differently that I can think of, and, believe me, I thought about it for a long time. The one thing that I did think was a mistake was early on, when they were trying to get my consent, he had offered to convert. Now, obviously not orthodox, it would’ve been either a reform, or something. Of course, as an orthodox person, I said, “What’s the point? Why bother?” In hindsight, I should have insisted, almost. If they…

David Bashevkin: 
You should have leaned into that…

Anonymous Mom: 
Yes.

David Bashevkin: 
… and said, “Oh yes, that would mean a lot.”

Anonymous Mom: 
That’s a good idea because, firstly, that way the husband would have learned something about what Jewish means. Because you can’t convert any version without some amount of education. It also would’ve set the tone for the family itself. Okay, we’re a Jewish family whether we do anything or nothing. Now, the kids are getting a little bit older, and I’d like to send him to some sort of a Jewish Solomon Schechter, any kind of, some sort of a Jewish camp. If the house itself would’ve been Jewish, it would’ve been an easier argument.

David Bashevkin: 
It wouldn’t have felt like such a leap, and at that point… Which I get where you were coming from, you were coming from a place of a very sincere, and… I don’t want to use the word rigid, but a serious commitment…

Anonymous Mom: 
Oh, yeah! Rigid.

David Bashevkin: 
… to authentic halacha . Where, in your mind, there’s one way to do this. I understand the instinct, and I, for sure, understand the regret. It’s an interesting thing for you to think of.

Anonymous Mom: 
It took while. It took years before I realized the regret.

David Bashevkin: 
I sat with a mother on sukkos who was dealing with this issue, and we discussed this question of converting a potential partner. That was a little bit of the struggle, allowing or walking through a door that is not your own. There’s a very serious system. We take halacha, especially halachos the of the very definition of Judaism, extraordinarily serious. There’s almost nothing to compare it to. So, when you walk through a different door, in terms of the entry point of Judaism, I think, rightfully people freeze up, but you are kind of thinking back on that a little bit more flexibility and what the aftermath could have been.

Anonymous Mom: 
What it does is, it disqualifies, to some extent, the non-Jewish version of a home. It’s like, we’re not going to do Christmas. We’re not going to do Easter because we’re now Jewish, whatever version of Jewish means. It was an extremely… At that point, I wouldn’t even dawn on me to say yes to it, and I think that if anyone is presented with it, think past that moment because now the child can…

David Bashevkin: 
Think long-term.

Anonymous Mom: 
Right. You can offer to the parents, we’ll send the kids-

David Bashevkin: 
Even if from your interpretation of Halakah and your communal interpretation of Halakah, this is not the authentic way, so to speak…

Anonymous Mom: 
No, it doesn’t convert anybody.

David Bashevkin: 
…in the orthodox world, but thinking that long-term.

Anonymous Mom: 
Mindset of the family.

David Bashevkin: 
… that long-term mindset of the family unit, what it’s going to feel like, is really something worth thinking. I’m curious if there’s any other, looking back… Do people reach out to you, other people who are going through this with you?

Anonymous Mom: 
Oh yeah. Unfortunately, this is not such an unusual phenomenon. And truthfully, they say to me exactly that, “We’re following what you did.” And they have a kosher wedding. I mean, in one case it was the son that married an non-Jewish girl, and they decided to have a bris anyway. I’m looking at it past the Halakah of it, but if you are trying to figure out how to keep them in the Jewish community.

David Bashevkin: 
In your family unit.

Anonymous Mom: 
Even if the child halachically is not Jewish, the fact that you’re willing to do a Jewish observance.

David Bashevkin: 
Something.

Anonymous Mom: 
Something means that you want to keep something of what you have, and I think the mindset is something I never would have come to on my own, certainly not without my daughter. Now that I came to it, that’s probably the one takeaway that’s so different than how I was brought up that I see would have been a good solution. I do have to say that my son-in-law is very, very open to… And he said to me.

David Bashevkin: 
And you get along with him.

Anonymous Mom: 
Very well. He was actually very sick, and he had a form of cancer. My oldest son and my oldest son-in-law who are baruch hashem financially okay. Every month sent their mayser money to my daughter, so that she should not have to worry about food and everything like that.

David Bashevkin: 
Medical payments and all that stuff.

Anonymous Mom: 
They said, “Listen, we can’t help medically, but he was the basic breadwinner.” They didn’t want her to worry, and his family, of course… It’s the one thing Jews do. Non-Jews, I’m sure some do, but it’s not like…

David Bashevkin: 
It’s instinctive. It’s baked in.

Anonymous Mom: 
It’s instinctive, right. We don’t want our sister to suffer. It doesn’t matter, and when we get together for yuntif , and everything like that, we all get along. They talk sports with him, obviously more than divrei torah. After that, he said, “If it wasn’t for your family, I don’t know what we would’ve done, and anything you want from me, you just ask it, I’ll do it.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. I always remind people that Judaism began as a family, and only afterwards became a religion. Keeping intact those familial bonds is what Yiddishekeit is all about, and I think the example as difficult, as painful, as non-ideal as you would never wish this upon yourself again or anybody else, the way that you’ve navigated this… And it’s hard to talk about, particularly in the Orthodox community, because on the one hand we almost had our battle with intermarriage. We pretend like we vanquished, like it never, ever happens. It sometimes still does, and our, I think, very admirable commitment to halacha makes it very tricky of how do we navigate this now? You as a model and you as a mother and you as a Bubbe, really more than anything else, is a beautiful model of keeping intact that underlying familial bonds of yiddishkeit while still thinking that long term of maybe there’s some whispers of our tradition.

Anonymous Mom: 
Yeah, maybe the children will come. My daughter said, “We’ll let them choose.” So, I said to them, “Well, they can only choose if they know what they’re choosing between.” So, have them come and have them do and have them see, and then at least the choice is a relatively educated choice. Again, she didn’t marry this boy because he specifically wasn’t Jewish, but the fact that he wasn’t Jewish wasn’t an impediment to it. It was not an anti-Jewish comment. It was just not a pro-Jewish conversation for her. So, she’s open to, when we yuntif or Pesach we all did it together. We rented a house, and everybody was there. She understood that her kids can’t watch TV, and we’re going to go along with the kosher and everything like that because she doesn’t want to be distanced from the family. She just got distanced from Hashem because she felt that she got a raw deal, and he has helped heal a lot of the deal. We certainly don’t hold it against him.

David Bashevkin: 
Kevin, her husband.

Anonymous Mom: 
Yeah, Kevin, he’s really wonderful, and he understands her. All those years where we had parties and he was never invited… And she said to me, “If Kevin would’ve told me not to go, I would’ve broken up with him.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Well, then, too bad. Huh?”

David Bashevkin: 
But I think that’s something very beautiful to be around the pesach seder together, which is the time where we come back to that old familiarly.

Anonymous Mom: 
And the older grandchildren know they don’t know anything, and they explained it to them. They made a kids Seder so that they all could participate. The kids themselves feel a responsibility to help bring these children back in, and hopefully, something in them will stay.

David Bashevkin: 
There is no stronger bond in our lifetime and our identity than family and family is inexorable from our Jewish identity. So, remaining close to family building even when it’s under great adversity. It’s not easy. Not every family unit is easy, but when you lean into family, in a larger sense, you’re leaning into yiddishkeit itself, and everything that you are doing and your sharing your story is such an inspiration. So, thank you so much for joining me tonight.

Anonymous Mom: 
Thank you for having me, and I hope it helps out.

David Bashevkin: 
I was moved by that conversation. I felt there was a heartfelt practicality nurturing an ember of Jewish identity. Blowing it like it’s a coal, slowly losing its fire, but hoping that with enough love and with enough warmth that little ember can reignite into a flame. I think about in many ways those initial reactions, there’s a lot of response in literature when it comes to the question of mourning. The rights, the rituals of mourning, sitting Shiva for a child who apostasies.

Now, that is not something that I have seen being done nowadays. In my lifetime, it’s not something I’ve ever seen, but it was a custom that is discussed at length. Again, that derives from the initial reports or that psak, that observance that is recorded in the name of Rabbeinu Gershom even if it may have been misunderstood. There is one Responsa that moves me a great deal that was written by the Shevet Sofer, that is Reb Simcha Bunim Sofer, that is the grandson I believe, of the Chasam Sofer, the great defender of tradition. His son was the Ksam Sofer. They all took on a similar name because they all had the same last name, which is Schreiber, which I believe is Yiddish for a sofer, a writer.

I hope I have that correct, and the Chasam Sofer’s grandson was the Shevet Sofer, and he has a Responsa, a teshuva that is recorded in Teshuvas Shevet Sofer in the section of yoreh deah. It’s number 108, I believe, it’s kuf ches. He actually writes about this custom and pushes back very hard, and he writes something very, very beautiful. He’s talking about the thought that some had to sit Shiva in the lifetime of a child who, so to speak, leaves the Jewish community.

He writes as follows: “Vkol shiken shein lhitavel mamish kishadayin chay. And all the more so, you should not observe the rituals of mourning so long as that child is alive. Shyesh tikva sheyasher. There’s some hope that this child will return. Sheyesh tikva sheyasherod There’s some glimmer of hope that they can still return. Vgam lo nizkar bshulchan aruch. This custom is not mentioned in the code of law of the Shulchan Aruch. There’s no obligation to sit and mourn. Anytime. We have a doubt about the laws of aveilus, there’s a general principle that we are always lenient. We don’t have observances of mourning. When there is doubt, we’re always lenient and do not follow the observances. All the more so in this instance.

For the parents to cry and to beseech, that is appropriate for parents to do. As it is written in the work Sefer Hasidim the great work on Hasidei Ashkenaz. Maybe, maybe God will have mercy to place in the heart of this child, so that there is some glimmer, some faint ember of hope that they can still return and that we don’t observe, so long as that hope still exists. So long as there’s some window to peek through and hope that there’s an entry point for that return. We do not cut off all ties and observe morning rights in the lifetime of a child even for something as painful, and as disastrous, as an apostacy. We still hold onto that God maybe will have some mercy and place in this heart something, something, something that the child will still return.”

We heard the story of someone who is in a relationship that ultimately ended. We heard the story of a parent who is navigating a child’s intermarriage, and it’s this final story that makes me think of these words: There’s still a little bit of hope that they’ll come back and not to let go completely, and this is a remarkable story of a couple that began as an intermarriage and ended as a Jewish family where the husband ultimately converted. The family is now a Jewish family in the Jewish community. It’s an incredible story. It’s a miraculous story, and as uncommon, unimaginable as the story may be, I think, for even one person who’s listening to this and feels like there’s no hope left, I hope that it’s this final conversation that gives some, some, some glimmer of tikva. Even after everything that has transpired in our lives, in our family’s lives. Maybe, maybe, there’s always a little bit of hope for a return and for parents to continue praying, to continue davening for that hope, in whatever form it may come, to continue davening that some form of hope is realized.

Here is our conversation with the incredible story of a couple who, after leaving, finds a way back.
I am with Huvi and Brian who really have an incredible story, and I want to begin with Huvi’s story. Huvi, maybe you could tell me a little bit of where you were religiously, as a person, leading up to your early twenties. 19, you went to kind of standard, I would say, yeshivish. You weren’t just a run-of-the-mill kid. You were actually quite accomplished in who you were and where you went. Tell me what was going on in your mind. Maybe we could pick up who you were when you were in seminary.

Huvi: 
Oh, okay. Yeah, I definitely was that part of that run-of-the-mill yeshivish crowd. I chose Beis Yaakov. My father did give me the option to pick my high school, and the other option in Toronto at the time was Ulpana, which is like an NCSY, Bnei Akiva school. And I had every intention of going there scholastically and just I felt Jewishly. But then I literally applied and was accepted and I was going to go, and then I went to the Beis Yaakov orientation and I just felt a pull and I decided I wanted to go to Beis Yaakov when I came home and I told my father I want to go to Beis Yaakov. And I loved Beis Yaakov, I loved it. I loved the bubble that it created for me. It was a very safe place for me.

I was very involved in everything there, the extracurricular, the play, the choir. I was head of everything. I was in every main role in everything. And I really like absorbed the whole hashkafa of Beis Yaakov, like to the max. I also, I had top grades. I was best friends with every teacher, every Rav. I was very close with my teachers. They were my mentors.

David Bashevkin: 
I don’t know if you’re underselling yourself or your father oversold you, but is it fair to say you were valedictorian of your class?

Huvi: 
Yes, I was.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s okay.

Huvi: 
I definitely took school very seriously. I used it a little escape for me from my home life, which wasn’t like the most amazing at the time. I got a new stepmother who I didn’t appreciate at the time. I just had just, I guess unresolved issues and I loved school for that. I was able to go there and be who I was. I had tons of friends. It was great. So when it came time to choosing a seminary, I went the very Beis Yaakov route and I applied to a few schools. I got accepted to this one school actually tried to recruit me. They were starting a school. They wanted me there. They’re like, oh, you’re going to be what we want. Whatever. I’m happy. I didn’t go there. I don’t even know if it exists today. I have no idea. But I did get accepted to BJJ and to Bnos Chava and I went to Bnos Chava.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow. We have a running bit in the very background of this podcast, of my fascination and appreciation with BJJ. It’s not where you chose to go.

Huvi: 
It is not.

David Bashevkin: 
But someone wanted to ask me if I had one interview with anyone, who would I want? And I said, Rabi David, yes, of BJJ. That’s fascinating. But you didn’t go there. You chose Bnos Chava also a very serious seminary.

Huvi: 
It was very serious. I hear it’s changed lately, but it was very serious at the time. We were before the uniform days, and we did not have to wear a uniform there, but we did have to obviously have very, very modest attire, which was fine. That was who I was. There were little things that peeked through. I loved to get a tan, so I would go up on the roof and I would lay out and whatever, and I just did my own thing up there too. We used to walk with friends. We walked all the way to town. We weren’t really allowed to go in town, but we would go on the edge and then we would come back. So I had little teeny tiny little bits of rebellion that would poke through. And I don’t know if that came from my mom, which is a whole other backstory on how she influenced my thinking.

But I loved seminary. I loved it. I was very, very homesick till sukkos and then I absolutely loved it so much. I made tons of friends. I did really well. I loved it. And I had every intention of not doing what I thought I was going to do, which was go to medical school or go to college and medical school. That was originally my plan years prior. But I took that Beis Yaakov , Bnos Chava mentality and I wanted to go to a religious college and then be a Jewish mother or whatever. So I came back home and I went to what was Maalot at the time, it doesn’t exist anymore in Toronto to do a bachelor’s in psychology program that they had with only frum girls. And I was going to start dating. So I started, I put myself out there, and again, I was a pretty good girl.

Everyone liked me. And so I got a lot of calls and I went out with some very interesting people, and some were so weird. They were women in my shul that just really wanted me to go out with their son or their friend’s son. But it was not shayich at all. What are you doing? And I don’t even know why it was approved or maybe we just didn’t know what we were doing.

My stepmother didn’t really know what to do. My grandmother took me to New York for a few dates and I was okay with the shidduchgame, I guess I could call it. It was fun at the time. Everybody was doing it.

Everybody was starting. So we would date and we would go out. I didn’t go out with somebody more than twice. I didn’t go out with tons of people, I think all together. It was 10 people in a year and a half or whatever it was. One was a bit longer. He was about a month of back and forth to Monsey. He was a baal teshuva and it was good. But at that time, he was closer to the end of my time dating with shidduchim and he was definitely going towards the rabbi route. And I knew that at that point I was already starting to have thoughts of this is not for me. Something was changing in my brain.

David Bashevkin: 
When you say this, are you talking about the Orthodox yeshivish life? Are you talking about Judaism in general? What was this that you realize is not for you?

Huvi: 
I guess I was starting to feel a little bit disgusted by some of the hypocrisy and just gross behavior from the parents in the shidduch process. There was one person, we were both interested in each other actually in a very kosher way. We both worked at the same camp, but we wanted it to be kosher. So we had someone redt ad the shidduch and then his parents said, no, because my mom had all her stuff and my parents were divorced, and they were very Eastern European, old shtetl kind of thought process. And it was so stupid, and I just felt like he should have stood up. He was a man. He was 23 years old. Say something to your parents. It was so silly. Obviously, I’m super happy that nothing happened from that because he ended up not getting married for a very long time. Neither did any of his siblings really. But the point is that there was that and there was other things that I had heard through the grapevine that people were saying no to me based on my family history.

David Bashevkin: 
Your parents are divorced and your mother is not really part of the Orthodox community anymore.

Huvi: 
Right? Correct. I mean, right now she happens to be, in the last few years, she’s definitely much more involved.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, beautiful.

Huvi: 
Yeah, it’s been like actually I think seven years that she’s been much more involved. But yeah, no, growing up, no. They got divorced when I was 11, and she had her own demons to battle with and she didn’t win for a long, long time. So my father was the one that raised us and did his best to raise us in from house.

But we had that little, we used to visit her and we would see things. So I mean, this brings me to this one time where I had a friend who wanted to go to Florida. She just wanted to go to have a vacation. And I said, well, I’m going to visit my mother, so if you want to come, you can come and then you can stay there and have a place to go.

So she came and when we were staying at my mother, I was still very frum and dating. And I even had a date while I was in Florida. I went out with somebody and she wanted to go to the beach, and I didn’t go to the beach. I didn’t do beaches anymore at the time, but she wanted to go to the beach and she wanted to talk to the lifeguard. So I was like, okay, fine. So we went to the beach. We were talking to some lifeguards and Brian was in the background. I didn’t really meet him at the time. We kind of said hello, but I was talking to some other lifeguards and this was the first time that I was really talking to males in that kind of sort of social environment. It was very awkward.

David Bashevkin: 
Were you still dressed a Beis Yaakov girl at this point?

Huvi: 
So I did wear a bathing suit to the beach, but out of the beach. And it was funny because that was another, I gave a whole speech on tznius in school once in 12th grade. I spoke to the whole women in…

David Bashevkin: 
When you were in school?

Huvi: 
And I talked about how so many people would go to Florida and then they would put on their ankle socks because Hashem doesn’t exist in Miami. They always changed their tune when they were out of town. And I did the same thing I did. I did.

David Bashevkin: 
Just to pause, the fact that you have come back from a Beis Yaakov, Bnos Chava, and even felt comfortable in Florida wearing a bathing suit, something was already kind of fractured in your religious identity. It wasn’t broken, I would say, but it was, it’s like the pieces were falling apart, the hypocrisy. Would you call it alienation? How would you describe it? What your relationship was to yiddishkeit at that point?

Huvi: 
I don’t think it was alienation. And I always said that I was never angry at Hashem. I feel like people always say, don’t get angry at Judaism. Just be angry at the people. And I really think I did a good job of that. I think that I was angry at people and I wasn’t angry at the religion. And it shows in the way that it progressed and how I really just, I never fully let go of Judaism and I never felt comfortable. Even when we did not keep Shabbos for a while, it was never comfortable for me whether it was the Jewish guilt or it was this true affinity for Hashem and for my religion. I never hated it. So it was the people that are just gross sometimes.

David Bashevkin: 
You had bad experiences and the dating process highlighted a lot of that?

Huvi: 
Yes, very much. Very, very much.

David Bashevkin: 
So. Now you’re at the beach, and this is the first time you meet Brian?

Huvi: 
Yes, but very much in passing. And I met his roommate who we ended up chatting and exchanged numbers. And then when I went back to Toronto, I called the number and Brian answered the phone and we ended up talking for three hours about Bio rhythms.

Brian: 
It was my pickup line, the Bio rhythm.

David Bashevkin: 
Brian, maybe you could jump in. Now you at this point were not Jewish and you meet Huvi. Did she introduce herself as Huvi when you met her on the beach or on the phone, or was it like a lot of people like Yonason, like, hi, my name is Jonathan. They’ll use a more pronounceable or common name. Do you remember how she introduced herself?

Brian: 
Sure. I mean, she’s Huvi to everybody. I mean, her name is Ahuva, but I’ve never really, the only time I hear her say who Ahuva is when she’s identifying herself with a company that has her real first name. Right. So no, she’s always been Huvi to everybody. I knew her as Huvi. I didn’t even know Ahuva until later.

David Bashevkin: 
Did you realize when you met Huvi the first time, the cultural religious barrier that would eventually rear its head? But did you realize at the time how different you were?

Brian: 
Not when we first met, what I told her was when we were on the phone, we started having this friendly phone liaison that we would have, and she was up in Toronto. And I said, anytime you come down to Florida, I’d love to show you some of my favorite spots and show you what Florida has to offer, the fun spots and whatnot. And I don’t remember from the last conversation to the first time we actually saw each other again, but it was Mother’s Day of 2000, so it was May of 2000. And I was driving down, some of your listeners may know the Road by the shul, which is in Surfside. And I was actually at that light, which is I think 96th and Collins. And my phone rings and she calls me and she says, Hey, I’m in Florida. You said to call you, so I’m calling you.

What’s going on? And I was like, oh, wow, that’s really amazing. I said, yeah, totally. That’s, let’s get together whenever you’re ready. She said, she, well, I’m ready now. If you want to do something tonight, it’d be great. And I said, all right. I was dressed nicely because I just come from Mother’s Day at my mom’s house, and I looked presentable enough. I said, where do you live? And she said, I’m at my mom’s on just off of 96th and Collins. And I said, you may not believe this, but I’m at the light on 96th and Collins.

David Bashevkin: 
And you just got out right there.

Brian: 
I got out of the straight lane and into the left lane and made a left. And I was at her house in two minutes. That’s where I was.

David Bashevkin: 
This is like an inverted Hashgacha Pratis story.

Huvi: 
Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
Like an inverted, right. Because you at this point, Huvi meeting up with him. I assume your intentions were romantic, but you must have known how transgressive it was. Forget about what you’re dressed as modesty. To have an interest in a non-Jewish boy is unthinkable in the circles that you grew up in. I think that’s fair to say.

Huvi: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m curious, your mindset, was this transgressive, was this experimental or was there something about Brian that was the antidote of everything that you were looking to escape? It was Jewish…

Brian: 
Brian thing for sure.

Huvi: 
This was three months after I had left. When we were on the phone for three months after that initial wave by meeting. I was here in February, and then I went back to Toronto and I decided I’m moving to Florida, which was I’m sure, very shocking to many. And they were like, what are you doing? And then they thought, oh, you’re going to go in your mother’s footsteps. Oh, blah blah. So when I moved here, yeah, and I called him, was it transgressive?

I think that I was still very, and to this day I still am very naive. I have a very innocent mind. I don’t even know if it was romantic at the time. For him, he says it wasn’t at all. I mean, we had a 13 and a half year age gap, and we come from two different worlds. For him, he says it wasn’t romantic from the very beginning. He just thought of it as a friendly, nice thing to do. And we got along on the phone. For me, anything with a boy is romantic because anything with a boy was supposed to be a tachlis job.

Brian: 
What else?

Huvi: 
What else is it? You don’t just be friend. We learned there’s no such thing as platonic relationship. I guess subconsciously it was going to be romantic and then.

Huvi: 
I guess subconsciously it was going to be romantic and then transgressive. But this is the beginning of where I feel, and we’ve talked about it many times. I feel like there was definitely some kind of shade that was put over my brain. I don’t feel like I was fully myself for a while all the way until I became pregnant with my first child. That’s why I know that Hashem is in charge because there’s no other explanation for any of it at all. For him to be at 96 … He was never at 96 and Collins. He probably didn’t even take that route on his way home from his mother ever again or ever before.

David Bashevkin: 
Could you maybe just say a word on what attracted you to Brian and what you weren’t finding within the shidduch world? Meaning, something was keeping you. You were calling him back, you’re having some long distance phone flirtation, whatever you want to call it. What was it about Brian that was either an antidote or something that felt comfortable enough? Because normally for a Bnos Kava graduate to speak to a boy who’s not Jewish, who lives in a different state than you, that would make most people very uncomfortable. But there was something very comfortable about Brian. What was it that was comfortable, especially in contrast to what you were experiencing while you were dating?

Huvi: 
He was very funny and he was very casual. And dating was not casual, especially if you’re only going out on one or two or even a third date. It was very formal, very contrived, very sit in a lobby and get maybe a diet Sprite if he even offers one. It was so not comfortable. So he was like the antidote to all of that. It was comfortable. We just chatted.

David Bashevkin: 
It was natural. It was organic. Okay, maybe let’s fast forward a little bit. You meet up in Florida. I assume, you realize this is more than just a phone relationship. At what point do you decide, “I’m going to marry this person?” How did you muster up the ability to tell your father who you know this is the most heartbreaking call that nearly any parent can imagine short of an actual physical tragedy?

Huvi: 
We didn’t date for a long time at all. I was living in my own apartment at the time. I had no money at all. I literally just worked and paid my rent, which was on the beach in a little efficiency.

David Bashevkin: 
Are you religious in this period? Are you keeping Shabbos still or no?

Huvi: 
I was keeping Shabbos. But I remember the first time that I decided I wanted to eat something that wasn’t kosher. I remember I went to Pizza Hut and I got myself a pizza that had pineapple on it. Not ham, obviously I would know. But the pineapple. I remember feeling every bite was like the guilt was just intense. But it was also the Bais Yaakov teaching of very, very black and white Judaism showed me that if I could eat a pizza and not be struck by lightning, then I can probably date a non-Jew. It was very black and white for me. It was very clear cut.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow.

Huvi: 
Like, I am fine. It even happened one time, he was working on the beach and I went to go visit. I walked over and then it was Shabbos and so everybody gets in the lifeguard truck at the end to go back to the main headquarters. I hopped on the truck and I realized midway down the beach that it was Shabbos and I freaked out. I was like, “Get me off of this truck. Please stop the truck.” I couldn’t believe that I was on a truck. But nothing happened to me and nothing happened in the world and nothing is going to happen to me. It just is a thing. I just went on a truck and I’m off the truck. It was very weird. It was a very weird thought process.

David Bashevkin: 
But this whole time would you describe yourself as an atheist at this time? I don’t believe in God?

Huvi: 
Oh, not at all. Me, no.

David Bashevkin: 
You believed in God the whole way through?

Huvi: 
Oh, a million percent.

Brian: 
And frumkeit which is the dichotomous thing about the whole story is that she was never mad at God or mad at her father or mad at anybody. The way we’ve talked about it over the years is that she was really just sort of taken over by this. We feel like our story is, with our seven kids and all being yeshiva even and how that all ended up and how the journey has been, Hashem did all of this for us.

Huvi: 
It doesn’t make sense any other way. It just doesn’t.

David Bashevkin: 
When I first spoke to Brian, I’ll be honest with you, I was in my office, and he was just telling me the background to the story just to see if it made sense. When he told me that you were a graduate of Bnos Chava, I fell out of my chair. Because I understand the world from which you emerged from. And speaking to you, I actually better understand why it felt so suffocating at that period in your life. I do understand that.

Take me to your now in a romantic relationship. You now have intention. You feel this great comfort and connection to Brian. You have to tell your father you plan on marrying him. Is that a phone call that you plan out together? Do you call him together? Did you have expectations for him to be angry, happy, betrayed, embarrassed? What were you expecting from him and what did you hear?

Huvi: 
I think we might have done it together.

Brian: 
Well, what happened was she went to go pay her rent. It was the first, but she had been in my apartment for the majority of the prior month. I said, “Why are you going to give them $750? Why don’t you go get your deposit back, hand in the key, and you just move in with me because you haven’t been here?” So she said, “Okay, great idea.” That’s how we discussed the significance of-

David Bashevkin: 
Moving in together.

Brian: 
… moving in together. We were right by the place where she was living. She had a great place that she literally opened the door and saw the ocean. It was where she always wanted to be. It was on the water. I lived a mile and a half from there. She turned in the key, got her money, and we had really the impetus for calling her father was that she didn’t have a cell phone at the time. It was when cell phones were becoming more predominant. She said, “I need to call my dad and tell him that I don’t live there anymore and I don’t have a phone there anymore.” I said, “Yeah.” So she calls him up and she said, I should just tell him. She says, “I met this boy.” That part should probably come from her because that was her conversation with her dad. But I was there. We did it together, but I didn’t participate in it. I was only a voyeur, if you will, of it.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s so interesting. I just want to tell both of you, cause I have spoken to your father. I spoke to him beforehand. And I’m speaking to you, not Brian, but you and your father, you have almost memory lapses with this entire period. I see your face now. It’s almost like out of body of what-

Huvi: 
Correct. That’s how I explain it.

David Bashevkin: 
… led you to the place.

Huvi: 
That’s how I describe it.

Brian: 
We say it’s a possession. We were numbed and guided. You eloquently said the world that she emerged from. Well, in the same way, I emerged into-

Huvi: 
Emerged?

Brian: 
… another world. I had an equal … well it maybe not equal, but I had close to an equal of an evolutionary process as she did because I was going back in and she was guiding me.

David Bashevkin: 
We’ll get there in a moment. Huvi, tell me what you remember about that call with your father?

Huvi: 
I just remember telling him that I met a boy and then he said, “Well, where is he from?”

Brian: 
Which shidduch?

Huvi: 
Like who had the shidduch or whatever, and I was like, “No, it wasn’t a shidduch.” And then where is he from or what Yeshiva did he go to? “No, he didn’t go to Yeshiva.” And it just very quickly narrowed down to “Look, no, he’s not … He works for the fire department on the beach and he’s not Jewish and he’s 34 years old.” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation and I don’t remember much more about that except that he did say that he needs to come down and see about the situation. So that’s when he decided that he’s going to come to Florida and see what’s happening.

David Bashevkin: 
So he jumped on an airplane how much later? A month later or pretty soon?

Brian: 
That was soon. I think it was the following shabbos.

Huvi: 
It was quick. It was quick. I don’t remember exactly, but it was fast.

David Bashevkin: 
And he showed up. He says, “I want to meet him.” Were you nervous now that he’s going to come and try to drag you in a carry on and put you back on the airplane to come back with him?

Brian: 
That’s not his style.

Huvi: 
It wouldn’t have been his style to do that. Okay, so he came down, but there were two instances that I was dragged, sort of.

Brian: 
We’ll get there.

Huvi: 
Oh, well that was earlier actually. My grandparents, my mother’s parents. My grandfather passed away now, but my grandmother’s still alive. My mother’s parents came to Florida and took me from the apartment that I was living in, told me they were taking me to dinner and they took me to-

Brian: 
To Boca.

Huvi: 
To Boca, which is so weird, to meet with Lori Palatnik, who was going to be opening an Aish HaTorah community in Meisner Park, and I was going to be living with her according to them, as a personal trainer, which is what I was doing at the time. And I was going to train. It sounded what lovely. I was going to live in her house in a guest room and I was going to be part of her life and her family. I thought I was going to dinner, but they took me all the way to Boca from Miami and showed me where I was going to be living. And then brought me back, because obviously like I am an adult technically and they can’t just make me do that. But that did happen and that I remember pretty clearly. I don’t remember what happened after that. They dropped me off. I don’t remember what happened after that. Obviously the community never happened. Lori never opened a community here.

And then another thing that happened was a Shadchan in Toronto apparently gave somebody my information. A boy who had been read to me a few times, but was busy and whatever, but he decided that I was his bashert. So he came to Florida with a couple of his friends and knocked on our door and I was not home. Brian’s neighbor, who was this Thai lady said, “Oh, these boys in beanies come knock on door, look for you.” He called me on the phone and he said, “Meet me in the Winn-Dixie parking lot. We need to get you home. You’re my bashert.” It was so weird. I don’t know how they got my information, but we evaded them. I mean, obviously Brian got on the phone and he’s like, “Who? Who’s this? I’m not letting her go to a parking lot. What are you talking about?” So that was weird.

David Bashevkin: 
You could imagine, I mean, you weren’t in Toronto at the time. I don’t know if it’s uncomfortable to think about, but you were probably a communal emergency like we have to-

Huvi: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
You could imagine what was going on in your community. She must have been kidnapped or brainwashed or something.

Brian: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s a scary thing.

Brian: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
But come back to the conversation with your father. That’s the hardest conversation. You’re telling your father that you are going to get married. He discovers after narrowing it down, he’s not in that yeshiva, he doesn’t daven in that shul.

Brian: 
We weren’t officially engaged at that point.

Huvi: 
No, we weren’t engaged.

Brian: 
But she did tell him, “Look, I’m with this guy and I think that we’re going to …” We probably did give him indication that we were serious.

Huvi: 
I moved in. I moved in with you.

Brian: 
Right.

Huvi: 
So that was serious.

Brian: 
But we weren’t officially engaged. But what he said was, let me see about the situation. The next day he called Huvi and he said, “Can I speak with Brian?” She’s like, “My dad wants to speak to you.” I said, “Sure.” I said, “Hi Mr. Klein, what can I do for you?” He said, I’ve looked far and wide. There’s not a place that I can go to shul and walk to you over the Shabbos. Can I stay by you?”

David Bashevkin: 
So he was coming in and he asked you to stay in your apartment with you because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to be able to visit with you and not violate Shabbos?

Huvi: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s right. So I said, “Sure, we have an extra bedroom. You’re more than welcome. Do you want us to pick you up from the airport? I mean, it’s fine.” I always detected that when I express kindness to Huvi’s family, they’re always surprised. Are you sure you’re not Jewish because you sure are. I’m like, there’s nice people that aren’t Jewish, but that’s like an aside. So he flew down and he spent Shabbos with us. In fact, we didn’t have a dining room table at the time because I was kind of a bachelor. Huvi said, “You have to go out and get a dining room table for my father today because we have to have Shabbos.”

We’ve just spoken on a series on dating and commitment, and somebody mentions that the mark of a true bachelor is someone who does not own a table.

Brian: 
We ate at the coffee table in front of the TV. So I went to the store, we built this table, this cheap table, and she kashered everything and she made her father a beautiful Friday night dinner with lit candles. I mean, she lit candles anyway.

David Bashevkin: 
You made a proper Shabbos for him.

Huvi: 
Right. I did. I made a very nice Shabbos for him. He was able to walk to shul. I don’t remember anything at all from the whole weekend. The only thing that we remember from the end was when he was leaving and he said to Brian, he said, “I came here expecting to meet a schmuck and I’m leaving disappointed.”

David Bashevkin: 
Because he liked him.

Brian: 
We got along really well.

Huvi: 
But he said, “You have to understand that it’s not at all personal. It’s not at all personal, but I cannot condone this relationship. But it’s not at all personal.” So he had to keep saying that.

Brian: 
He said to me, “If you continue with your relationship and you end up getting married, you’re either going to be divorced or Jewish in the future. It’s not like a warning. I’m not trying to meet a mean guy or anything. I’m just telling you those are your two outcomes. Because she’s going to wake up one day and when you guys start having kids, it’s not going to be this thing that you think it’s going to be.”

David Bashevkin: 
At that point. Your impression of him, were you offended that he said that? Were you like, “How dare you?”

Brian: 
No. When you’re around my father-in-law, you’re disarmed by any thoughts of him being mean or nefarious about anything. He’s got such a gentle way. Even in a very short time I figured out that he was not that kind of person to levy those sort of meanness on anyone.

David Bashevkin: 
So let’s fast forward a bit just to the wedding. I know he did not attend your wedding. Did that hurt you or shock you or you were basically kind of resigned to the fact that he would not participate?

Huvi: 
Yeah, I knew that he wouldn’t come. I mean, he always benched me a Friday night, every Friday night no matter what, except for the week around the wedding.

David Bashevkin: 
He called you every Friday. He mentioned this to me. Did you find those calls annoying or did you appreciate them?

Huvi: 
I appreciated them. I always say that that’s one of the things that led us right back into frumkeit was the Friday calls.

Brian: 
I appreciated them too because when she got off the phone with her father, she came back and she always would nod and say, “I need that connection.” It just so happens to be the only person in the world besides my children now, but the only person in the world who rivals my wife’s affection is her father. Her father and her are extraordinarily close, and I know that it was very important for her to have a good relationship with her father for my own preservation. I appreciated him not cutting us off and not saying that she’s a failure or whatever. All he did was continue to show love and support.

David Bashevkin: 
Were you ever concerned that he was going to cut you off? That this would break the relationship? Not even in a malicious way, but the distance, the how different of a path you took is simply too much for your relationship with your father to bear? Were you ever worried about that?

Huvi: 
I don’t think so.

Brian: 
He wouldn’t have given us that ultimatum. He wouldn’t do that to his daughter.

Huvi: 
He just wouldn’t.

David Bashevkin: 
I could only imagine. I grew up in the five towns and I could imagine if, and I’m going to speak in a very veiled language, I don’t have to imagine there are incidents in the five towns of people in very similar situations as you. Also highly decorated valedictorians awardees who have been through, every situation is different, but in a situation very similar than yours. And the gasp and the communal “What do we do? How do we stop this?” is very real. I think usually it’s motivated by something very sweet and very decent. I think it’s very often expressed on an individual level as something it could come out very harsh if that message is not delivered by the right person. Maybe a stray aunt, uncle or different friend. They don’t have the love to couch the concern in. They don’t have love enough that big to deliver that message.

So you get married, and throughout he’s calling you an Erev Shabbos. And he mentioned something and I’m curious if you remember it the same way when he would call you and would say, “Good Shabbos,” you did not say Good Shabbos back initially. Do you remember that as something deliberate or you don’t even recall?

Huvi: 
I don’t recall.

David Bashevkin: 
You don’t recall.

Huvi: 
But he would bench you like the proper benching yishimche elokim ksarah rivka, rachel vleah, like the brachos that we give on Erev Shabbos. It was like a quick phone call. Every Eruv Shabbos from before the relationship to after you get married. You are married now, you’re intermarried now. You did it. You are properly intermarried.

Brian: 
Can I just tell you, we got married in Key West Florida, barefooted on Shabbos by a pastor who was reading out of Corinthians.

David Bashevkin: 
Were you uncomfortable with the fact that you had a non-Jewish … It wasn’t like a minister of the peace. You had a Christian ceremony. Did that bother you at the time or no?

Huvi: 
Like I said, honestly, I literally do not remember the day. I do not remember it.

David Bashevkin: 
You do not remember your own wedding?

Huvi: 
The only thing I remember is from what I see in pictures. I do not remember it. I know that just from learning basic psychology, I think that it was a trauma for my neshamah and I feel like I suppressed it. I do not remember my wedding day.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow, a trauma for your neshamah. That is powerful imagery. Let’s fast forward now to the moment when things begin to change. You’re married, you have a life together, you’ve kind of created almost a new identity. It’s like witness protection program, but for a new spiritual identity. It sounds like there was a moment where you decided something needs to change. Tell me when that moment was and how it unfolded.

Huvi: 
So I’ll tell you exactly when that moment was. That was the moment that I literally took a pregnancy test. This was a year and a month and a half after we got married. I was pregnant and I very really felt the veil lift. I knew it. I cried and I said, “What the hell am I doing? You have to be Jewish. That is all.” My baby’s father has to be Jewish. That was it. It lifted.

David Bashevkin: 
Something about the pregnancy and having the next generation. You looked at that pregnancy test and then you turned to him directly and said it in those terms? How did you tell Brian who you loved and were building a life with? What did you tell him?

Brian: 
Let me just tell you, before she told me that I had to be Jewish. There’s a little tiny backstory, and that is that before we got married, I made her promise me that she would never ask me to do that. I said, “I’m not going to wear not tzitzits.” I mean, I didn’t know these terms then. “But I’m not going to wear tzitzits, I’m not going to wear kippah. I’m not going to daven. I’m not going to learn. I’m not doing any of those things.” I mean, you have to come into this relationship knowing that I am who I am and I don’t want to change. And she agreed.

David Bashevkin: 
You had gotten a better idea of the world that she had emerged from at that point?

Brian: 
Oh yeah, for sure. I was meeting her friends. The friends that would come to Florida and surreptitiously look her up and want to catch up with her. I mean, nobody could really publicly talk to her. But no, I had a pretty good understanding at that point.

David Bashevkin: 
And you told her in no uncertain terms, “Do not ask me to convert. Do not ask me to change who I am”?

Brian: 
And then when she gave me her word that she wouldn’t do that before she asked me to become Jewish, going back on her words, she first asked me if she can go back on her word.

David Bashevkin: 
Did you know what was going to come after that? Did you know exactly what she was referring to?

Brian: 
I only remember when she asked me that later learning about some of the halakha about your word. I realized that what she was really doing was asking me if she could go back on her word and I could allow her out of her word.

David Bashevkin: 
Like out of her promise to almost resolve that hataras nedarim. That’s really, really powerful. So Huvi, you turned to him. Is this an emotional conversation? Is it just a kind of-

Huvi: 
Yeah, I was crying.

Brian: 
Desperate.

Huvi: 
I was desperate.

David Bashevkin: 
And how did you couch it? I need the father of this child to be Jewish.

Huvi: 
That’s it. And I remember remember crying. I remember him saying that he promised me that he was going to start to learn.

Brian: 
And that’s all I could do at that point.

Huvi: 
That’s all he could do. Right after that was when he found Eli Safran, who had been this guy that walked along Collins Avenue and Brian would see him when he was riding his bike to work. He saw this guy and he always mentions his tzitzit used to sway in the wind.

Brian: 
It’s a really nice tzitzit. The ones you get in Israel that all moved together. You know?

David Bashevkin: 
The good thick ones.

Huvi: 
He’s like, “I’m going to stop this guy.” He rode over to him one Shabbos and he said, “I married a girl from Beis Yaakov or something really jarring. Eli was really not sure about this weirdo who just approached him on Collins Avenue in his bathing suit. But it started a relationship. He ended up going to study with him for a while all through the pregnancy. Because then even I joined in and studied with him a little bit. He lived nearby. We were able to go over there and he learned with him all the way up into a point where he said, “That’s all I can give you.”

David Bashevkin: 
At this point when you start learning, Brian, are you becoming more observant or you’re just learning from a distance?

Brian: 
I’m not doing anything other than learning. But I enjoyed reading what we were reading and then discussing it. I’m a debater. Sometimes I pick a fight that I don’t need to pick a fight, and I just love the idea of having a concept and exploring the ideas behind it. I really enjoyed learning with Rabbi Safran. I started to fall in love with Judaism in a rational sense, not in a spiritual sense, yet I started to gravitate toward learning and discussing and that kind of thing.

David Bashevkin: 
Would you say Brian, in this journey, and it wasn’t a short journey, it never is when you really establish authentic roots in the Jewish community, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. Do you remember a breakthrough point where you’re like, “I want to become Jewish.”

Brian: 
I came home from work. I work seven to seven. It was the fire department was four days on, it was on the beach. I was lieutenant on the beach patrol. It was one of the erev Yuntif I don’t even remember which one it was. The house was spotless. Huvi had blow dried her hair. She had the most gorgeous Aish style dress on. There is candle, it was lit. The house, it had this air. I just knew that in this realm, this is where Huvi. This is where she’s on her game.

I remember becoming emotional and I remember thinking to myself, “If I don’t participate in this part of her life with her, the first thing is that I could lose her; the second thing is, if I don’t participate in this and she goes along with it, I’m not allowing her to be the best person in the best environment and have the best version of herself. And if I don’t participate, I’m robbing her of that identity.” That is when I said, “Okay, I got to get more serious about this because this is amazing.” I have never seen her so at peace and so attractive and the whole environment so conducive to love and support, and I had to be part of it. I had to develop it.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s so fascinating how the story, what threads it through is the Shabbos wishes, the Shabbos blessings, that air of Shabbos setting the Aishes Chayil, whatever it is, it is very, very powerful. I’m curious, Brian, this time your relationship with your family, you don’t come from a Jewish family, when they hear that you are converting, is it the same reaction as a Jewish family who would hear that their child is converting to Christianity, which would be-

Brian: 
It couldn’t be further from the opposite. My parents loved Huvi from the first time they met her. I happen to have born again Christians in my family, but not my mother and not my stepdad. Everybody was just happy I was having religion in my life.

Huvi: 
It’s true.

Brian: 
They accepted her and my decision with open arms and have never wavered one minute about my decision.

David Bashevkin: 
Your integration into the Jewish community and more importantly, I’m curious, you finally convert and you really do a proper conversion. Did you ever have a conversation: What are we going to tell our children about how we met? You have children who are growing up there within the Orthodox community. You have a very unconventional story. How do you share this with your children?

Huvi: 
We were always very open about everything with our kids. We went to Brian’s parents for Christmas and they knew that they had non-Jewish grandparents, non-Jewish great aunts and uncles. We just explained that they celebrate it and we go and celebrate it with them because Brian is an only child and we weren’t going to take that away from them. So in terms of our relationship, I know that they know that we got married two times. They don’t all understand that yet, I’m sure. The younger ones definitely not. The older ones-

Brian: 
Two times meaning halachically.

David Bashevkin: 
Exactly.

Huvi: 
But the older ones, I feel like you’re always afraid that your kids are going to look at something that you did as a kid and throw it in your face like, “Oh, but you tried a drug. Why can’t I try? You dated, you kissed a boy before you were married. Why can’t I kiss a boy before you married?” Those things I do get worried because like we’ve said, now we have a 20 year old daughter. I was 20 when I made the call to my father.

If our 20 year old daughter would call us and say she was dating a 34 year old non-Jewish lifeguard, you would be like, we would be wringing her neck. My father was too easy. He was a pushover. His humility was probably not working for him at that time. Like I said, obviously our entire life was guided by Hashem and that’s the only reason why it makes sense.

David Bashevkin: 
Because if he would’ve been stronger and less of a pushover, I think you’d be less likely to be where you are now in a way.

Huvi: 
That’s right. But I feel like if our daughter would make that call, I would definitely not be taking it like he did. You wouldn’t either.

David Bashevkin: 
But you made a choice. You’re not raising your daughter like super Yeshivish, I assume?

Huvi: 
No, they go to modern Orthodox Yeshiva Day school. The high school is co-ed. It’s a Bnei Akiva school basically. They’re more to the right of their school. The oldest ones, she’s actually interested in, not necessarily shidduchim, the way that we did it in the Yeshivish world. And I did listen to your podcast about the dating, which was very, very interesting to see the different types of dating.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh yeah.

Huvi: 
Thought I did it obviously in the Yeshivish world way. She’s looking more at the why you connects kind of way.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Huvi: 
She acts and those kind of things.

Brian: 
That’s what’s available now. Her seminary was affiliated with Stern, so she’s got a sort of a Stern mentality, right?

David Bashevkin: 
Gotcha.

Huvi: 
The second one might be a little bit more modern than she is. She’s still in Israel now and then she plans to go to college, regular college when she comes home. She’s like, I don’t know, we’re not really sure how she’s going to turn out yet. We’re actually going to visit her in a couple of weeks, so we’ll get a little feel for her. We haven’t seen her since August.

Brian: 
And our third one-

Huvi: 
The third one-

Brian: 
She’s going to wear a sheitel.

Huvi: 
She’s definitely.

Brian: 
She loves it all.

David Bashevkin: 
She’s all in full circle. Full circle. Maybe she’ll end up in Bnos Chava. We’ll see what happens.

Brian: 
Who knows?

Huvi: 
Who knows?

Brian: 
How often do you find yourself reflecting on your life and how you got here? Is it something that you wake up and you don’t even think about what I would call the rupture? It was a very real rupture in your journey. I’m curious if now you wake up and it’s something that it’s just exactly who I am or the circuitous route in which you built your life is something that you do find yourself thinking about. Not God forbid, regretting you have a wonderful family, an incredible husband, et cetera, et cetera. How often do you have moments where you’re just like, “How did I end up here? How did this all happen?”

Huvi: 
I have them pretty often actually. I feel like for sure every Friday night when I bentch licht, when I daven for each one of my kids, I do think about it.

David Bashevkin: 
Because what are you thinking about in that moment on Friday night? If I were to think of the holiest moment in the Jewish world, it’s not Yom Kippur, it’s not Neilah. It is the moment where a parent pray for their children in front of the Shabbos candles. For you in that moment because Shabbos was such a pivotal moment of your father calling you up, that tether that brought you back, where do you find your mind going? What are you thinking about?

Huvi: 
I just think of each child and I daven that they should find peace in the outlet that they need to find their peace and that hashem should help them in the weaknesses that they’re feeling. So each kid I have to focus on because they’re each so different, and they each need different things at this exact moment. So I always think about what’s going on in their lives, and then I have to focus. Even if it’s for 10 seconds each, because I have people tugging at my skirt.

David Bashevkin: 
Do you think about young Huvi ever? Do you think about your 20 year old self? Because you said it’s very out of body. What’s your relationship to that young Huvi?

Huvi: 
I’m not sure. I mean, now that I have a daughter that is that age, I feel like it’s become more of a thought that I’ve had. I don’t think I thought about my younger self in a long time, but I think now that she’s that age, maybe it is becoming more of something that I’m thinking about and hoping that we’re guiding her in the way that I think I should have been maybe guided better. Not in a regretful way, I’m just saying. I know that my father probably thinks that. He probably regrets a little bit, not being a little bit more pushy.

Brian: 
Regardless of where we were then, we’re so grateful for what we have now. If I can speak. There’s no regrets as far as that goes.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s not regret. It’s like almost how you think back at that period in your life and how you reach out and what you would almost tell that younger Huvi. In many ways, it’s an impossible question that doesn’t have a clear answer. It is a miraculous story. I’m wondering what advice you can give to parents, and then secondly to children, who are going through this? What advice would you tell a parent who has a child who is in a relationship with somebody who is not Jewish? What did you learn from this experience that could help guide a parent to react properly and healthily and productively?

Huvi: 
Number one is unconditional love. That’s number one. Your child is your child. Anything that the religion teaches us from four about tearing Kriah and making believe they don’t exist anymore is narishkeit It’s ridiculous. It’s old. If you want your child to even have a chance of being part of your family, of what you foresee your family, your legacy to be, you need to love your child. You have to do what a parent is supposed to do naturally, and that is to love your child no matter what they choose to do.

David Bashevkin: 
What I find so moving is don’t just love your child in your heart. He called you every Erev Shabbos.

Huvi: 
Acts of love. Acts of love. Yes.

Brian: 
When we have kids, we expect them to grow up and be true loving Jews. That’s really what we’re trying to do, isn’t it? I mean, there’s some other goals in there, but that’s really what we want your children to be, is to love Judaism in the way you do. His plan was to have Huvi a frum girl who keeps all the folk with a husband and her kids in Yeshiva, and that’s where she ended up. My thought is that just because there’s a hiccup in that process doesn’t mean the endgame is going to be you can still have what you want. You just have to understand that people are in a work in progress. Their outcome could still be the same regardless of the journey.

Huvi: 
And he asked me many times over the course of the seven years that it took for us to have the beis din. Because in that time I had to relearn a lot of the things that sort of disgusted me at one point too. And certain things we would have to circle back a million times. I remember lo tivashel gdei bchalav imo used to drive him crazy. He’s like, “Then why do we need two separate dishes?” Like certain things like emunas chachamim and torah shbaal peh was difficult to navigate.

Brian: 
He just kept asking periodically, “Is Brian moving forward?”

Huvi: 
Is he going to do it? So is he going to do it? I’m like, “Dad, just try to be patient. I really think it’s going to happen. I really think it’s going to happen.”

David Bashevkin: 
What would you tell a child who’s going through this? What would you tell younger Huvi? What would you tell someone who feels that alienation, whatever it is, that grossness that you spoke about from the community they grew up in and wants to build a life outside of it? And knowing what you know now and the family that you’ve built now, what, if anything, would you tell that younger Huvi or somebody who is thinking or is in a relationship with somebody who was not Jewish?

Huvi: 
So I had a friend, a friend of mine from Bais Yaakov, she called me, I guess it was 10 years after high school or whatever, and she told me that she was in a relationship with a non-Jew for three months. She really likes him and he’s so nice. He loves Judaism, but he’s probably not going to convert. He’s Catholic or whatever. I told her, “Three months you know him? Break it off. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it.” She’s like part of this big Sephardi family. It just wasn’t worth it. It’s not worth it. I probably would tell that to a younger girl. I would say, “First of all, don’t look at the religion, look at the people. Don’t be mad at Judaism. Just ignore the people.” Like what I tell my 10 year old when she’s annoyed by the drama in her class, “Just-

Huvi: 
… like what I tell my 10-year-old when she’s annoyed by the drama in her class, just walk away and be like, “Bye, I don’t need you in my face telling me this and that.” Be your own person and those people will come around. But also, if someone is disenchanted, and I would definitely discourage it, because our story is an anomaly, and I think that it took a lot of work and it’s not a normal thing. If people could say, “Oh, look at them. It worked out really well.”

David Bashevkin: 
It was hard.

Huvi: 
It was hard. It was not a normal thing. And if you’re just venturing out, and want to go to a bar, and meet somebody because you feel like you want to date a non-Jew, there’s no reason to do it. There’s no reason to do it. It’s too difficult. And I really say that it was a trauma to my soul and I feel it. I feel like it was, and that’s why it was totally erased from my memory, for such a long time. And I wouldn’t wish that on someone that was 20 years old and just trying to find themself and figure out where they fit into the adult, overall, world, let alone the Jewish world. Go get therapy, and talk it out before you leave everything that you know.

David Bashevkin: 
Do you feel like you healed with the community that you temporarily left, or felt betrayed, or even did betray for a temporary period? Are you able to go back to Toronto, where you grew up, and speak to people? How did you heal those rifts? You’re coming out with Brian, this is the source of the rupture. How did you reintegrate to your home self?

Huvi: 
In the beginning, it was probably very weird, for people to see me, the staring, and that kind of thing. They don’t know what to say.

David Bashevkin: 
And you felt that?

Huvi: 
Oh-

David Bashevkin: 
You felt stared at-

Huvi: 
… yeah. A hundred percent, yeah. For sure. I looked different. I was tanned. I didn’t cover my hair. Even though I always dressed appropriately, I never wanted to bring shame on my father, the point is that yes, I went back, and I would speak to some of my teachers. They were usually very happy to speak with me.

They wanted to know what happened to me, because a lot of my story, I guess got dropped, after people thought I just disappeared. So when I came back, and I went to go visit one of my most favorite, favorite teachers, who I was very, very close to, and I brought a few of my kids with me. He was crying. He was so happy to see me, and that I was alive and well, and my kids were these Jewish little kids, and they were so cute.

Just this past October, when I went to visit my grandmother, I was going for a run, and I ran past Beis Yakov, and I burst into tears. Well first, the principal came out because apparently during COVID, they had had people spying on the school, and reporting them if they weren’t wearing masks, or whatever. So I was there with my phone taking a video of the school.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, they thought you were one of-

Huvi: 
Yeah, they were like, why are you taking pictures? And I was like, “I’m so, so sorry. I’m an alumnus.” And then I burst out crying, and I said, “I don’t know why I’m so emotional. I guess I really have very fond memories of the school.” And we ended up schmoozing for a half an hour, and then she told me, come anytime, come see the school. Come see if some of your teachers are still there.

David Bashevkin: 
But you started crying when you saw the school.

Huvi: 
Yeah, it’s very raw. It’s still very raw. I could cry at any second. I’m holding it back. I definitely, right away, burst into tears. And then, even when I went back to my friend, my cousin Nechama, who I was staying by her house, her mother was saying, “How is your run?” and I burst into tears. It’s just very raw for me.

David Bashevkin: 
What is so raw? What are you holding back? Because you do speak about it now, in a very third person, like this happened to somebody else. In a way, and I don’t mean to exclude Brian from this, but I feel like I understand the rupture of your own life, more than even Brian, because I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been in the community, and heard whispers. Is what you’re holding back your own rupture, your own family story, the coming full circle, the shame that was happening, potentially, to your father? What is being suppressed? What is the source of that emotion that still bubbles up?

Huvi: 
I feel like it’s all that, whatever you just said, I definitely didn’t want to cause any hurt to anybody. I didn’t think of anybody else. I didn’t think at all, but I certainly didn’t think about anybody else. So that was the ultimate act of selfishness, even though I really wasn’t thinking. I definitely didn’t want to hurt anybody.

And bringing shame on my father was probably something I don’t even want to think about. The veil still exists I guess, in a sense in that I don’t really want to go too deeply into it, just because I could cry at any moment. I don’t need to do that anymore. I don’t want to cry about it anymore, because my life is good. So even though there was that part, that I could still, if I think about a little deeply, for a little bit longer, the tears will still come right out, because it’s still right-

Brian: 
But why the tears is what he wants to know. Why is there tears?

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah.

Brian: 
Why are you a second away from crying?

David Bashevkin: 
Who are you crying over?

Huvi: 
I really don’t know. I feel like the shame brought on my father would probably be the most reason for me, to not want to think about it so much. Because I just know that we want our kids to make us proud, and I feel like-

Brian: 
Right, but your dad has so much nachas for us now. You know what I mean?

Huvi: 
Now. Now, but it took years.

Brian: 
It would’ve been…

Huvi: 
I mean he always came down. He would come down to name our kids, in the beginning.

Brian: 
Yeah, because I couldn’t name the kids in shul. So he would come down with every birth, and name the kids until I was Jewish and I named my son, Shimon Yosef.

Huvi: 
He was the first one.

Brian: 
Yeah, he was the first one.

David Bashevkin: 
I just want to come back, just for really one moment because we didn’t totally answer it. Repairing your relationship with your relatives, with your grandmother, with your uncles. How did you go about doing that? Was it a moment of reconciliation? Was it a conversation or just people said things to you that were hurtful? So do you have to re-confront it, or do you have to just pretend it never happened, and just seamlessly get back into the family rhythm?

Huvi: 
Well, in my family, we always kind of pretend things don’t happen. We just move on. Nobody talks about stuff.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m seeing that as a trend.

Brian: 
Not in my family though. In my family. We’re like Italians. It’s an elephant in the room. We bring it up right away. We don’t… Let me just say something really quick. There’s the whole concept of loving a ger, along with the widow, and the orphan. So when I did become Jewish, and I have kosher, you can ask Rabbi Goldberg, nobody has a bad…

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, no one’s questioning. God forbid. Yeah.

Brian: 
Her grandfather, and I’m going to cry now, because her grandfather was the roughest on us. He was an old school product of, we had eight kids in a one bedroom, in Brooklyn, and we played a nickel for a chicken, and we all split that chicken and hardcore guy. And when I became Jewish, he was the first one to come over and say, “I love you.” He was the controlling patriarch of the family, and the uncles fell in line with me. I remember we were at a simcha at the atrium in Monsey, which I’m sure a lot of your listeners know. We were at the simcha and her father’s brother came up to me with a l’chaim in his hand, and he said, “welcome to the family. I mean, it is what it is and we accept you.” There wasn’t a re-acclamation period for us, I think it was-

Huvi: 
But it was once you you were Jewish.

Brian: 
But it was once I was Jewish. Oh, yeah, yeah.

Huvi: 
It was not before. For sure, not before you were Jewish. When we were at a wedding, and my grandfather walked out of the picture, because you were in the picture.

Brian: 
They put me in the family picture with 80 people. Her grandfather got out the picture.

Huvi: 
He walked out of the picture. He did. And when he found out that you have a son, well, before, way earlier.

Brian: 
The divorce, yeah.

Huvi: 
Yeah, that was when he didn’t talk to me at all. First, he was okay with me. Definitely not with him. And then, he didn’t talk to me at all. And then when I had my daughter, and we went to a wedding, just me and my daughter, my grandfather came over to me, and it had been like a year since we spoke, and he said, “Can I hold my great-granddaughter?” because it was his first…

Brian: 
He passed away in the last couple of years, but he turned into our biggest supporter. He knew how hard it was for us, and he showed up at the end, that guy, and he was like an Archie Bunker.

David Bashevkin: 
He showed up, and I see that that’s an emotional thing to remember. He did come back, when he saw, and when he held that great-granddaughter, that was before Brian converted, or after?

Huvi: 
Yeah.

David Bashevkin: 
That connection was still there and endured. So you didn’t really hash it out, so to speak, with your family, but once it came together…And you’ve let go. You’re able to interact with your family, and you don’t feel that like anger. Do you have that with them or-

Huvi: 
Not at all.

Brian: 
Not at all.

Huvi: 
Not at all.

Brian: 
We’re a very happy family. I don’t want to open up a can of worms, but I think he wishes, some gers go really hardcore and wear a black hat. And some are comfortable with where they are. I have a chevrusa I learned, I also wish, I mean, I run two insurance agencies. I’m a very busy guy. I mean it’s not an excuse. I think he wishes I do more. I think she wishes I do more. So that’s the only little rift.

David Bashevkin: 
You still feel a little bit that, culturally, because you’re kind of like a regular Modern Orthodox Jew, who married into a much more yeshivish family, your extended family, Huvi, is a little bit more yeshivish.

Huvi: 
Yeah.

David Bashevkin: 
So you still feel almost like the cultural difference and expectations, you’re not kind of all the way there culturally?

Brian: 
I’m comfortable in any setting with any of them.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah.

Brian: 
But last night, I was helping my third grade daughter with her spelling test. I read Hebrew, but I don’t sight read Hebrew so much. I’m sounding out these words for her spelling test. So I’m not ever going to catch up to a third grader. People take it for granted that you’re taught the aleph bet when you’re four or five. I learned it at 45. She said, I’ll never catch up, but I’m okay with that. I’m okay with sounding out the words, as I’m helping her.

David Bashevkin: 
The entire foundation of our Torah shbaal peh of our oral law, really, are all students of Rebbi Akiva, and Rebbi Akiva, aside from the fact that he only began learning, when he was in his forties, and that’s a famous medrish, but he came from a family of converts, did not come from a family that was born Jewish.

And to know that somebody else, who’s in their forties, is kind of digging up that Talmud, that idea that’s been buried for so long, that Huvi had buried, and now you’re digging it up together is very powerful. It is an anomaly. It’s something that, I hope that you and I get to meet in person so I could thank you, and let you know how moved I was from this story. But what you’ve been able to carry, and what you’ve been able to recreate, in your own family, is nothing short of miraculous. And I am so appreciative of you speaking with me today.

Brian: 
You’re welcome. Happy to do it.

Huvi: 
Thank you so much.

David Bashevkin: 
I was so moved by this notion of Huvi coming to her husband and saying, I need you to break a promise, and asking a spouse after they’ve made a commitment, to break a promise, in order to fulfill an even deeper promise. A promise that we’ve kept through the generations, throughout families, a promise that we have to knesses yisroel. And asking him to find a way, I need you to convert, I need to be a part of a Jewish family. Almost the breaking of a promise, in order to fulfill an even larger promise, is something that I find so moving.

The way that this unfolded to me are those erev Shabbos calls that she got from her father, a father who was unwilling to let go. A father who’s unwilling to say that this is the end of the story. A father who, like that tshuva from the Shevet Sofer, continued live of the aim, continued to cry, and to beseech in the hopes, in the hopes after hope. In the hope upon hope that may be there’ll be a way back. And I spoke to the father, briefly, about that hope, and those prayers that he had for his daughter. What gave you the capacity to remain connected to her? How did the relationship not fall apart after such a cataclysmic shift? How did you maintain in touch with her and what gave you the strength to continue to remain in touch with her?

Anonymous: 
Maybe because of my bewilderment about what happened. So I couldn’t believe it really. Not that I said it was just a passing phase, or something like that, but I just couldn’t believe it. I had nothing to say, “Oh, this is what happened. To me, she was just like a lost kid, or lost sheep. So I just kept trying to grab onto her, so that she wouldn’t be lost completely. I totally didn’t know what the future would bring. I just couldn’t believe that my daughter was just going to fall off the face of the earth. So there wasn’t much that I could talk to her about, at the time, because I wasn’t going to sanction everything that she was doing. But I did decide that I would never stop. I always benched the kids before. My father did that, my grandfather did that, so I always benched the kids.

David Bashevkin: 
You always benched the kids. Give them a blessing on erev Shabbos.

Anonymous: 
Right. I don’t believe I missed one time, even when, at the beginning, and then throughout this whole period, every Friday, despite the fact that I knew that she was not going to keep Shabbos, I called her, and I wished her a good Shabbos, and I benched her. So I said yishimche elokim kefrayim vkiminashe I finished the bracha, and I would say, “good Shabbos,” and she wouldn’t say good Shabbos back to me. She would say something like, “all right,” or “thank you,” or something like that. And she couldn’t give me that traditional Shabbos greeting from that.

I understood that she appreciated the bracha, but she couldn’t really allow herself just to even utter the words of good Shabbos to me because she knew that she was not going to keep it. That didn’t deter me. I kind of sensed that, but it didn’t deter me. I said, one way or then or another, this might do some good. If it doesn’t, what do I lose? If it does do some good, then who knows. So I did that and then some short time later, she was already living with Brian. It was about a year later, and she said to me one Friday, “Daddy, I don’t know. I can’t live without Shabbos.”

David Bashevkin: 
I can’t live without Shabbos. That’s what she said.

Anonymous: 
Yeah, yeah. I think she said that it helped, that I kept benching her.

David Bashevkin: 
You called her every Friday and gave her a bracha.

Anonymous: 
Every Friday yeshimche elokim ksarah rivka.. and she knew what I was saying. For a while, she just didn’t want to hear it, but she did it anyway. When she said, I can’t live without Shabbos, I felt like maybe it was accomplishing something.

David Bashevkin: 
The tefilos of a parent. I often say to my siblings that any success we see in this world is in some way attributed to the prayers of my mother on erev Shabbos by the candles. I mean, there’s no question that it has an effect on us in this world more than anything. What I think our Jewish identity and what I think Pesach, Passover, asks of us more than anything else is to consider when is our beginning. For most people, when you ask, when did you begin, their beginning is their birth year. For me it’s 1985. For some people it may have been right after the war. For some people it may have been in the 1960s. In the heyday for some of my students it’s after 9/11. It always shocks me that they were born in the 2000s. For most people, when they think of their beginning, they think of when they are born.

And I think that what Pesach is a reminder of more than anything else, and what Pesach through the lens of our Jewish identity reminds us, is that we don’t begin when we’re born, we don’t begin as some blank slate of an individual without any ties to the past. Our beginning stretches back so much further and our identity stretches back through the generations collectively of the Jewish people, going back to the ultimate beginning of knesses yisroel, and that of course is yetzias mitzrayim when we left Egypt. It’s why that beginning, like all beginnings is always mentioned. I always think what group of years shaped somebody’s life more than their beginnings? You could be in a meeting with somebody and you see their insecurities, you see the way they talk either nicely or they lash out or their anger. So much of the roots of somebody’s personality comes back to where their beginnings are.

Sometimes our beginnings haunt us. Sometimes our beginnings nourish us. But I think there’s no question that if there’s any set of years that shape somebody, shapes their personality, shapes their character, It’s always that beginning. It’s what Donald Winnicott, the famed psychologist and psychoanalyst, always mentioned. He wrote once, “tell me what you fear and I will tell you what has happened to you.” He would always tell his patients that I would like to feel that as a result of what I have to say, this is Donald Winnicott, you may be able to see a little bit more clearly that in every case that comes your way, there was a beginning and at the beginning there was an illness and the boy or girl became a deprived child. And there’s something that we spend the rest of our life seeking because of our beginnings. And our beginnings don’t just fade away and we grow up and we kind of bury them and never think about, but our beginnings continue to endure and continue to animate.

It’s why the ultimate beginning for all of us, the beginning of knesses yisroel that continues to animate our Jewish identity hovers over all holidays. We mentioned on Shabbos, we mentioned for all of the yamim tovim, we always talk about zecher lyetzias miztrayimremembering the exit from Egypt because that beginning continues to weigh and shape the contours of our personality.

It is an article that I wrote part of a series that I’m quite proud of that I do with Tablet magazine that along with Daf Yomi, I write about the central themes of each tractate. And you could check them out online. They’re all online to find the essay that I wrote on tractate Pesachim, which is all about Passover and Pesach, is called Absolute Beginners. It’s about how Pesach really shapes our beginning and why, specifically on Pesach, so many of the rituals ask us to kind of get in touch with our childhood, why so much of the rituals of the Pesach Seder are to stimulate children, to ask them questions, to stimulate their curiosity because we look that each of us has an inner child and an inner beginning that needs attention, that needs warmth, that needs rediscovery.

And we all return to that beginning every year at the Pesach Seder. And in that essay I wrote, “A nation like a child is born with all of the potential for greatness. A potential that has never lost or dimmed. That’s why the Talmud explains in each and every generation, all of us must view ourselves as though we personally had left Egypt. It’s a crucial reminder that while individuals are born and live and die, the Jewish nation is constantly reconstituting itself, beginning anew in each generation, always constantly beginning, always full of fresh hope and possibility. It’s why so much of the Seder is focused on children. Indeed, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch seems to translate the very word Pesach as baby steps, reminding us that we are always just a few good questions away from awakening our national childhood.”

And to come back to that beginning and to realize that we don’t start when we’re born, but we stretch back so much further in time and that our identities include within it our families and our communities and the greater body of the collective knesses yisroel that lives within each of us and the sacrifices and prayers of previous generations continue to whisper within each of us, I think is what we hear and what we listen to at every Pesach Seder as we look around and as our beginnings reemerge, and the middles and the ends continue to unfold slowly, we can look around and we could try to reconnect to that ultimate beginning.

And the Pesach story is the promise that God made to Abraham. That every Jew, no matter how righteous or unrighteous, no matter which of the typologies of the four children at the Seder, the why son, the wicked son, the son who doesn’t ask, or the simple son, no matter what child, no matter what typology of child you may see around your Seder, the Passover story is God’s response to the original question of Abraham when God first reveals himself to him. In the 12th chapter of Genesis, God says, ani hashem asher hotzycha meor casdim, I am the God who took you out of ur kasdim. Ur kasdim is the place where Abraham, where Avram, was willing to jump into the fiery furnace, to give up everything, to give up his life, to sacrifice everything for God. And Abraham looks at God and says, you’re the God of ur kasdim you’re the God who saved me there, who saved me from the fiery furnace.

But he asked, bma eda ki arishena. How do I know that I’m going to be able to inherit, to transmit this tradition? What about the children? What about the people who are not willing, who are not close enough, who are not committed enough, who are not dedicated enough to give up everything for your sake? What about them? Are they going to be a part of this movement? Are they going to be a part of this family? And it’s the answer to that question, bame eda ki arishena. “How do I know,” Abraham pleads, “that this is going to endure even with the children who are not so connected?” And it’s God’s answer to that, that begins with the story of Pesach and says, you are going to go through an experience that is going to create a beginning for everyone. And that’s going to be when the Jewish people, so to speak, begin and they begin as a people and as a nation.

And that has to do with a different essay that I wrote, one that I wrote at the end of tractate Yevamot, which is titled Family Ties that You Can Read. And Yevamot is not a classic tractate for beginners. It is really much more in depth and intricate. But it is there that I write in that essay that Judaism really begins not as a religion but as a family. And it’s that familial identity and that familial beginning that’s a promise to everybody that they can always hold onto and always keep. And that’s the secret, I write, is that “Judaism is more than a faith tradition. Yes, our religion may have formally begun with the giving of the Torah, but the familial component of Judaism began earlier. Judaism began not as a religion but as a covenantal family. The Jewish bonds that endure even through tragedy were forged much earlier.”

Sinai was the beginning of Judaism as a religion, but the preexistence of yibbum, levrotie marriage, which is one of the only commandments that was practiced prior to the giving of the Torah, tells us that we’ve always been a family because what levrite marriage and what yibbum is all about are the enduring connection to family even through tragedy, even through difficulty.

Which really brings me to the email that I responded after meeting with that family that had reached out to after our last intergenerational divergence series. I met with them and I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have a pamphlet, I don’t have a book that has all of the answers, but I want to read to you what I wrote because I think it has to do with this formative question of when do you begin. It’s not when you’re born and that we have an identity that lives within us and for some people is haunting, but for some people can be nurturing, but it’s not something that you can ever run away from and it’s something that we need to find as painful and as difficult and as much as we put it through, we need to find that beginning.

And this is what I responded after meeting with the family. I continue to daven for your children and for your family. You have an incredibly moving story and as painful as it is, I find your faith and commitment incredibly inspiring. No book article or rabbi is a replacement for prayer. And along with your own, I will continue to daven for your children’s return to the Jewish life you built for them. I have no doubt you’re familiar with what I’m about to share with you already, but I want to share with you an essay from Rabbi Sacks on Why Be Jewish. It is the most moving presentation of Jewish identity I have ever read, and this is what Rabbi Sacks writes. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement in the 18th century, said that the Jewish people is a living safe for Torah and every Jew is one of its letters.

I am moved by that image and it invites a question, the question, will we in our lifetime be letters in the scroll of the Jewish people? At some stage, each of us must decide how to live our lives. We have many options and no generation in history has had a wider choice. We can live for work or success or fame or power. We can have a whole series of lifestyles and relationships. We can explore any of the myriad of faith, mysticisms, or therapies. There is only one constraint, namely that however much of anything else we have, we have only one life and it is short. How we live and what we live for are the most fateful decisions we ever make. We can see life as a succession of moments spent, like coins, in return for pleasures of various kinds, or we can see our life as though it were a letter of the alphabet.

A letter on its own has no meaning. Yet when letters are joined to others, they make a word, words combined with others to make a sentence, sentences connect, to make a paragraph and paragraphs joined to make a story. That is how the Baal Shem Tov understood life. Every Jew is a letter, every family is a word. Every community a sentence, and the Jewish people through time constitutes a story. The strangest and most moving story in the annals of mankind. I conclude to the mother, I am sharing this with you, even though I have no doubt you have already read it because I think it encapsulates what I think your focus should be. Instead of a specific argument or cutting off a child, you should serve as the reminder of the letters, sentences, and paragraphs that have preceded your children, share with love your story and the story of the Jewish people and Jewish life.

And I think that is the best way to motivate them to continue their own story, etching their own letter in the grand narrative of the Jewish people. And for each of us as we come together this Pesach, we are reminded that we can look at our birth year as a blank slate being born into the world with no unchosen obligations, commitments, or identity, or we can understand that our very existence is the continuation of a story, of a question, of a promise that God gave to Abraham. How do I know that we’re going to be able to transmit this and that our very existence is an opportunity, a beginning that continues to endure within each of us, that we are each a continuation of this incredible moving story through the annals of mankind, each of us a letter and a continuation and a beginning and a reconstitution of knesses yisroel, that even through all of the pain and the difficulty and commitments and time that our family stories place upon us, our beginnings, our familial connections always endure.

Wishing each of you a chag kasher vsameach. So thank you so much for listening. This episode was edited by our dearest friend who really deserves a special thank you for her heroic Herculean efforts, her patience throughout this entire series, throughout this entire year. But particularly with this episode, please give a silent, sitting round of applause for Denah Emerson, who really does incredible work and is the editor, visionary and leader of so much of what we’re able to share. So really on a personal level, Denah, thank you so much.

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