Where’s The Love?
A Life-Lessons Story by Chana Klein
Why do we lose so many Jews?
I held the door for a young woman, wearing a tichel (head covering) as she wheeled her baby carriage out of the store.
She did not say “thank you” or even look at me.
It was so cold.
I use crutches, so it is clear to others that, for me, holding the door for another person is not easy.
While inside the store, another young woman shoved into me, knocking me onto some stacked boxes that were lined up in the aisle. She, too, treated me as if I were invisible, despite the fact that I was now almost on the floor.
I was clothed in a long black skirt covered by a dark grey sweater-wrap, which reached my ankles. My clothing covered me from my feet up to just below my face.
The way I was dressed could not have offended anyone in this religious shopping area. Yet, the way I am treated whenever I shop in this neighborhood has been disconcerting, to say the least.
The Way We Are Treated
It brought me back to my beginnings.
It brought me back to why it took me so many years to return to my Jewish roots.
We treat people the way that I was treated, and then we wonder why we have so much intermarriage and so many conversions — so many Jews turning away from our beautiful Torah ways.
We form organizations to prevent this loss. But as a people, as well as individuals, are we taking the most effective steps to keep our fellow Jews — our children, our teens, our young adults, and even our learned older population — with us as part of our people?
Meaning or Love?
One Friday night I heard a speaker declare that Jews leave Judaism because they can’t find meaning in it.
But my own experience has taught me differently.
Before a Jew can even look for meaning, s/he needs to know there is love.
People don’t go where they don’t feel wanted.
People don’t become a part of a people who look askance at them, even when it is one’s own people.
At the Mosque
In 1998, I visited a mosque with a friend. We were in search of Jews to bring them to the Carlebach Shul in Manhattan.
We walked into the first floor area on Broadway, where they held their prayer service.
We were immediately greeted with great warmth and acceptance by several of the members of the Sufi religion, who call themselves “Dervishes.”
They brought us up a long staircase to another meeting area. There, we were greeted warmly by many more members of the group.
Of course we shared our names with each other.
One told me his name is “Reuven,” another “Michal,” another “Chaim,” and yet another “Rivka.” (Several of them, eventually, came with us to shul, and after some time, returned to their Jewish roots.)
I had to ask. “Did your parents give you that name, or did you take it on later?”
I asked because I wondered whether these Sufi members came from Jewish roots, or whether they just took on Hebrew names for some reason unknown to me.
Each, one by one, assured me that their parents gave them their name.
These were Jews, I realized, praying and living as Sufis.
Because of The Love
“What do you like about it in the mosque?” I asked.
Each one had the same answer: “The love!”
This is where they got “the love.”
I don’t even know if it mattered that the Koran might not have made sense to their logic, or whether it had any “meaning” to those members who had a Jewish soul.
But this is where they got “the love.”
This is where the love for them began, and this is where it ended.
They entered the mosque and stayed with it, not because it had meaning for them, but, rather, because of “the love.”
Why didn’t they find that love in a shul or in a Jewish environment?
Why couldn’t I, when I was in my formative years?
I look back on the time of my childhood through the lens of one who is now an Orthodox Jew.
I find it ironic that, at age 10, I was in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital for a whole year, recovering from wounds I had received from my Jewish parents.
I had been, at the time, ripe for being brought to God and to Judaism, had only one person tried to bring me in.
But the only people to attempt to give me any religious education or any loving words in that place were not Jews — not a one.
Jehovah’s Witnesses visited me three times each week.
They sat with me and read their books to me.
They taught me their beliefs.
They gave me the love and attention that I had been so ripe to receive.
When it was time for me to leave the hospital, Miss Kaplan, a Jewish social worker, working for a Jewish agency, Jewish Family Service, placed me in a Roman Catholic home for girls.
There, each night, I heard the Rosary, recited by the girls on their knees, each holding the rosary beads at the foot of her bed. After some time, even I, knew it by heart.
We had to attend church every Sunday. Somehow, I did not feel “the love” there, and so I was, in essence, saved from having an enduring relationship with Roman Catholicism.
In my teen years, I searched and found the Jehovah Witnesses again. But being with them did not feel as “loving” as it had when I was a child in the hospital.
And so, I lost interest.
And so it was with Zen Buddhism, which was boring for me and had more silence than I was ready to bear, and so I left that one as well.
And later, Born-Again-Christianity opened its arms to me. They want “the Jew.”
My good friend, who was also Jewish, brought me by the hand to them.
But after more than five years of intense study of their writings and attendance in church, that, too, became a great disappointment, with what seemed to me to be many incongruencies and insincerities.
And so I left that as well.
And there were others, too many to name.
I do know, for sure, that had only one Jew befriended me, had one Jew showed me some kindness, had one Jew welcomed me, I would have gone with him or her and learned with them.
I would have seen the Truth in it. I would have seen, as I do now, that the Torah writings are pure, consistent, even in what may appear as inconsistency, before understanding is reached.
I would have seen the life answers that it holds, as well as the life questions that it poses.
I would have appreciated it as my own truth, because that is the root of my soul.
But that did not happen until I was an adult and a parent.
If only I could have become acquainted with this incredible Torah so many years earlier than I had been!
Somehow, I always knew that God loved me and cared about me, and I felt that He was with me no matter what religion surrounded me.
But that, to me, had nothing to do with being a Jew.
How many observant people have I met who are learned, even the most learned, and who share that they have left observance.
I wonder if at the bottom of it all, it is about where is the love.
The love keeps us and the lack of it makes us leave.
For me personally, I have been learning Torah everyday for about 35 years.
Yet, how many times have I felt invisible to the Jewish community? How many yuntifs and shabboses have I spent home by myself because no one thought to invite me? How many phone calls have I made that were not returned. I don’t bother people with nonsense. I don’t need to hear myself.
But I do need the love.
No matter how much one’s soul and spirit yearn for the wisdom of the Torah, I have found that eventually our spirit guides us to finding the places to learn where we feel that love.
Our spirit avoids the places that are not authentic. And even more so for those in which we feel invisible or just plain not loved.
Even when the learning is at the highest level and amazing. If there is no love, it is just too difficult after a while to stay there.
And when there is the love, we keep coming back.
It Starts with Us
We need to understand that our smile, our warmth, how we treat the person in the street, how we welcome a person into wherever we are, even while we shop, makes the deepest impression.
It can make or break the outreach movements to which we give so much support and funding. It can cause the learned person to “reason” out why they are no longer observant.
It doesn’t start with the organizations created for that purpose.
It starts with us.
It starts with respect, with acknowledgement, and with love that we give to whomever our eyes happen to meet.
Without that, no matter how much money we give, no matter how many Shabbat dinners we serve, no matter how many Shabbatons we create, our own people will not stay with us unless, and until, they feel “the love.”
It is “the love” that draws us in the first place and it is “the love” that keeps us coming back.
Copyright ©2014 Chana Klein