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,