To say the least, my husband and I don’t have the typical baal teshuva shidduchim story.
On a beach littered by seagulls on the edge of Lake Michigan, I brought sushi to a first date that I had asked him out on ( more on that story another time). I had been Frum for many years, professionally kiruving Jews like nobody’s business. He had just committed to wearing a kippah at an Iowa summer writing residency program four months earlier, after being in yeshiva for a year. We had known each other for 13 years, and yet not at all.
I wore a black shell over a long white shirt; he had on the fanciest gray button down he could find and dark blue jeans.
In the dusk of that magically momentous night, a night that was eerily the most comfortable date I had been on in years, I asked him the question: “ What exactly is Chassidus, anyways?” And through the night air, I remember how he explained in his answer that Chabad holds that when the Torah says “the hand of Gd”, it also means literally. I listened, totally not getting it, but interested nonetheless.
He was a gung-ho Chabad-is-the-best. I was a self proclaimed post-denominational Jew, hooked on Rabbi Tatz and Rav Soltoveitchik.
We had our moments.
“We need to decide on a derech!” he would proclaim, and I would look at him quizzically, my heart contorting, resistant to this notion so against its nature.
“ But, why? “ I would squint.
“For our children! “ he would emphasize in concern, and I would shake my head and try to change the conversation.
Luckily for us, he had the truly brilliant idea of setting aside our wedding money before it disappeared, for a trip to Israel for 6 weeks to study at Mayanot Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Mayanot happens to be one place I now consider to truly “ get” Chabad Chassidus, more than anything I had experienced prior to or since. I fell in love. With Israel. With Chabad Chassidus. (and of course with my new husband) Our 6 week adventure turned into a long, pest-filled, shawarma-stuffed journey of a year and a half, with a beautiful daughter Tanya at the end of it.
I remember our fight at the Kotel, when he gazed at the men and muttered offhand, “ I would like to get a hat someday”.
“What ?!” I shrieked, disturbed. “Why? “
But slowly, people change, and big things become small things, and small things become natural, and natural becomes enjoyable, and everyone is fine and moving together.
With our move to Brooklyn, I started to understand the way in which the external world did matter, how our clothes did make statements, and our style of dress shifted.
There we were, four years after our beach night date, sheitel-ed, black-hatted, with a painting of the Rebbe on our wall. And that was okay, too. And enjoyable.
And in this hilarious world, which I find quite comical, my husband started to unexpectedly shift. He started thinking differently, questioning differently, reading differently. He wanted to change, to learn other types of Torah. Which I, coming from a different background, thought was terribly healthy and fine.
Mostly, the reaction was positive, though just a trifle negative. Just a little bit of the well-worn pressure of: “You need to choose. You can’t flip-flop. You have to decide on a derech. It’s too confusing for the kids.”
Says who? Where are these kids, hiding in alleyways and skulking around the dreary parts of town, messed up because their parents were so enlivened and inspired by different words of Torah at different times in their lives, different sages influencing them at different years? Where are these kids, traumatized because their parents were obsessed with Breslov, and then embracing and diving into Chabad teachings, and later discussing the Rav with intense admiration until 2 in the morning years later? I only see children struggling from the heavy burden of parents who told them too sternly: This. Is. How. It. Is. There. Is. Only. One. Way. Do. It. Or children from emotionally unhealthy frum homes. That is what I have seen.
I will say it until I am blue in the face; what our children need is for us to be passionate about Torah. Any Torah. Our children need for us to have words of Torah on our lips and in our minds and on our hearts. The Torah beating our hearts forward. Chabad, Modern Orthodox, whatever. If it came from Sinai, it is good and we and they will be fine. More than fine. Alive. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. The only thing you need to choose is the decision to keep on growing.
Am Yisrael Chai.