| War Diaries |

No Regrets

Of course, there had been a protest. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Had it been a mistake to send him?


hen any potential convert comes before beis din, one of the things they’re warned about is anti-Semitism. “Do you know how many people have hated Jews over the millennia?” is a question that, for most of my lifetime, was a thought experiment. So when the rabbanim on the St. Louis Bein Din asked me, nearly 20 years ago, if I was prepared to be hated, I, with all the wisdom and experience of a 24-year-old, thought I knew enough to feel warned.

I’d read countless Holocaust books as a child, a result of my mother having been deeply moved by a formative trip to Dachau while in her early twenties. I was familiar with stories of righteous gentiles who had bravely hidden Jews during those perilous years. When I was young, our Jewish neighbors had their suburban home vandalized with hateful symbols. I myself had visited Mauthausen during my semester abroad and was shaken both by the experience and by the way some of my classmates were able to casually discuss things like their favorite yoga class in such a nightmarish location. Were they so immune to the horror that was radiating from the very ground we stood on?

I thought I knew.

Over the years since I converted, I’d had my share of uncomfortable situations, where I’d wonder if the hostility was anti-Semitism, or something else, like a bad night’s sleep. I watched the reports of rising anti-Semitism in other places. I read Yonoson Rosenblum’s columns about the increasingly hostile campus environment. It was worrying, but it was happening somewhere else, still an abstraction.

On October 16th, the Israeli basketball team Maccabi-Raanana came to Cleveland to play a preseason game with the Cavaliers, our basketball team. Shell-shocked from the news that was still unfolding, which we were unable to process, my sports-going friends saw this as an opportunity to show our support for Israel. I wasn’t able to go (I don’t even like basketball), but one of my sons, our newly minted bar mitzvah bochur, went to the game with family friends.

When he came home, I was, as I often am, working on my laptop at our big dining room table. My son came over and stood close to me. “How was?” I asked, trying to remember to Stop Working and Give My Full Attention. “It was good. The Cavs won.” He paused. “There were some people outside the stadium. They were making rude gestures and screaming obscene things about Israel.” He paused again, then continued quietly, “I don’t even know why they hate us so much.”

My heart broke at my son’s harsh introduction to the reality of anti-Semitism, and in a more visceral way than I had ever experienced. Of course, there had been a protest. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Had it been a mistake to send him? On the other hand, I know I can’t shield him forever.

Thankfully, my son, like many children, is resilient. He moved on from the experience long before I did.

 Aweek or so later, I was in the local library conference room waiting for someone to show up for an interview. I tried to get some work done before it began, but I couldn’t focus. There was a very loud, very anti-Israel conversation going on just outside the door. My heart pounded. Was it the librarian? Another patron? I messaged a chat for support. “This is galus,” one friend stated plainly. I eventually gave up on working and opened my Tehillim.

Then, as I was waiting at a red light, I watched from inside the coziness of my van as some collegiate runners jogged in place while also waiting for the light to turn. They looked so All-American, with blonde ponytails and practical running attire. I wondered what they were thinking about. Their course load? The latest dorm drama? Their weekend plans?

I was pretty sure they weren’t thinking about the war or the hostages. They weren’t moving through their day with the weight of existential dread like I was. They probably didn’t have tears constantly lurking just beneath the surface, springing out at the slightest provocation. What would it be like to be oblivious to the battle of good and evil that was raging?

For a moment, just a moment, I envied them. Wouldn’t it be nice not to feel so much right now? To be oblivious? But as the light turned green and I drove toward my beautiful frum neighborhood, that fleeting emotion dissipated. Would I want to be oblivious to the clarity of Torah? Unaware of the robust gemilus chasadim of my community? Clueless about the constant thirst for learning and growth of my friends and neighbors? Of course not. Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, I thought, as I pulled into my driveway.

“Are you worried about anti-Semitism?” my beis din asked. If I could answer them today, this is what I would respond: Yes. I’m worried. But I would rather move through life with a worried heart and watery eyes if I could have the determination and purpose of a Jewish life. I would rather be hated than oblivious. And I would never trade away the tremendous privilege of giving my children the opportunity to actively connect with something as eternal as the Divine mission of Am Yisrael.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 870)

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