Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Sivan 5759, May 26, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
This is the continuation of "Cold Feet on a Hot Line", the story of an American baal tshuva, Irwin, and how he introduces his parents to his new life. A glimpse at how the other side views the yeshiva world.

Part One of DEAR DIARY found Irwin's parents newly arrived in Israel to visit their son.

Dear Diary - Part II
by R' Pinchos Kantrowitz

Irwin, dearest Irwin, really gave us quite a shock when he called from Israel the first time. We thought he was being indoctrinated into some sort of cult. We now expected him to have a crew cut, look gaunt from improper diet, and lackluster and weary from sleep deprivation (a popular strategy among the cults). Well, I must tell you, dearest diary, that we were quite taken aback when he greeted us at the airport. He looked like Irwin! He looked even better than Irwin, if that's conceivable. It's hard for me to believe, but I've never seen him like this. There's a glow about him, an excitement that emanates from him as if he were charged with electric current, and at the same time he emits a soft radiance that bespeaks of an inner calm and peace.

Melvin did not believe it; he absolutely would not, rather, could not, believe that this was truly Irwin. Poor dear, he vacillated between states of anger ("Just what in the world is a Rabinowitz doing in a place like this?" he fumed, face tomato red. To which Irwin responded unperturbed, with a grin of wry self assurance: "Learning Torah"), and utter disbelief (a dreamy absentminded look, muttering in a faraway drifting voice: "It's hard to swallow").

Melvin was stunned, like a boxer who's used to always being in control of the fight, who is stunned by a left hook out of the blue. He got right back up, though, collected his wits, and kept fighting, like the true tiger that he is. They touseled for a good hour until I bravely waded into the fray and called it a draw. They wouldn't hear of it; they kept throwing jabs in when they saw the opening (i.e., when they thought that I wasn't paying attention). You might ask, dearest, how I know so much about boxing. Good question! I've often marveled at this incredible phenomenon myself. It must have come from my early years of marriage to Melvin, before I managed to cure him (or rather, "beat out of him") of his irrational fascination for that barbaric `sport'.

All the way to dinner this went on, Melvin coming at him with everything he could think of (for example: the `archaic lifestyle argument', the `irrational philosophy argument', the pragmatic `what are you going to do for a living argument', the `what are your friends going to say about all of this argument', used in desperation as a last ditch effort to `wake Irwin up'.

Irwin kept his balance magnificently, blocking Melvin's punches. "You don't have sufficient evidence to make such an allegation; investigate before you condemn!" At times counter- punching. "You think that our lifestyle doesn't make sense? Look at all of the problems of your own society, Dad: the corruption, the disillusionment, the crime." And at times, simply ducking: "Good question, Dad. We'll have to ask that one to one of the rabbis at the yeshiva."

Finally, to my great relief, Melvin and Irwin also decided that it was time to eat dinner. Unfortunately, even this was no longer a simple matter. We were walking through the Ben Yehuda Mall and Melvin saw a restaurant that looked appealing to him and asked, "How about that one?" To which Irwin responded that he would rather not. Melvin, then at his rope's end, snapped back, "What's the matter? Not kosher enough for you? It says `kosher' right there on the window, or did you forget how to read English already?" Irwin then launched into a lengthy sermon about how there are levels of kashrus, and choosing a restaurant is essentially choosing to trust the rabbi in charge of supervising its kashrus level. He paralleled this to the choice of a doctor. "If you needed a doctor, would you walk into the first door that had a sign outside with an M.D.? I certainly wouldn't. So why should I care less about my soul than I do about my body?"

I was beginning to follow irwin's reasoning, but Melvin couldn't hear a world of it. It was like watching the Fourth of July! What an explosion! I couldn't really make out everything he was saying. But it definitely had to do with not even being able to go to a restaurant that is kosher like normal Jews, leaving aside for the moment, normal people. Melvin really began to rant and rave there in the middle of all those people. I couldn't take it anymore and burst into tears. I was just so tense about the whole thing. Even now, as I recall it, tears well up in my eyes. At that point, neither of them knew quite what to do, so I guess that they naturally arrived at some sort of truce for the time being and worked out a mutually agreeable restaurant nearby. Everyone was practically silent the entire meal.

So here I am writing my adventurous chronicle to you, dearest. I must go to sleep, now. I'm so, so exhausted from the day and I have the feeling that tomorrow is going to be another real winner!

All my love,



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