Dr. Hylton Lightman, MD, DCH (SA), FAAP
Our neighbors know that we haven’t subscribed to the New York Times in years because my wife has arranged to receive their Times “leftovers.” Whatever my wife’s reasons are for no longer subscribing to the Times she has chosen not to break her lifelong habit of reading the Sunday Styles section. Truth be told, this section no longer holds the same charm for her but “a habit is a habit!”
This is how Tova Mirvis’ well written piece entitled “Finding God in a Hot Slice of Pizza” from the September 10th NYT’s Modern Love column in this section made its way into our home.
Mirvis was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Memphis, attended a Jewish school, graduated from Columbia University which abounds with Jews and where she met her husband, a fellow Member of the Tribe from a similar upbringing when she was in her early twenties, moved to the Boston area, gave birth to three children, and pursued a career as a writer who has published several times. Clearly, she is educated, bright and ambitious, and her career is on the ascent.
In her recent Modern Love piece, Mirvis weaves together her lifelong religious restlessness which led to her abandoning Orthodox Judaism, together with how she initiated her young son into eating non kosher pizza. According to Mirvis, when she and her son’s father divorced, there were “no rules for who retains the rights over the children’s beliefs.” Only tacitly did they agree that when the children are with Dad, they would do as he does (he lives as an Orthodox Jew) and when with Mom, they would do as Mom does. Writes Mirvis, “Like rulers of neighboring kingdoms, we only have jurisdiction within our own borders. Our children are dual citizens.”
Whoa and Woe. What a burden for our precious children to carry. It’s said that children are the casualties in a divorce. Sadly, this is true. Yet how greater is the damage when Mom and Dad lead such different lives. I hope that Mirvis and her ex-husband discussed raising emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy children because that trumps all.
No matter, you can’t fool kids. Mirvis opens her piece with her 10-year old son asking, “Do you really believe G-d cares about kosher pizza?” Children pick up by osmosis the spoken and unspoken in their parents. It’s amazing how our children absorb our beliefs. They have a sixth sense about what we hold near and dear: by the same token, they know beyond a doubt our Achilles heel. This forms the foundation for that searching, questioning time called adolescence and young adulthood.
Mirvis’ piece left me wondering about several things. She doubted while growing up but did she speak with an appropriate person like a teacher or rabbi? Did she ever sit down with her parents or other loving family members? Were their positive role models during her camp experiences? Did she do the “gap” year in Israel? As an adult, did she seek spiritual guidance regarding her questions? We Jews are encouraged to question. Mirvis must have been exposed to our people’s answering a question by asking a question at some point. The Talmud is replete with this dynamic.
My hunch is that Mirvis’ Jewish growth stagnated somewhere along the way and never kept pace with her secular education and career. As a result, she is on one level Jewishly and then veered off yet never sought out the tools or developed the skills to grow as a Torah Jew. The national parks which she now chooses to visit during Rosh HaShanah are beautiful – Mah Rabu Maasache HaShem – How beautiful, Hashem, are your creations. But national parks are not the proper environments for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. To be in shul with a community of people, singing the timeless prayers and reading the words that are meaningful today, long after the Anshe Kneset HaGedola wrote them in their infinite wisdom – that’s what Yom Tov is supposed to be. Ms. Mirvis: You can visit the national parks on other days of the year.
Undoubtedly, Mirvis has created a new community for herself. I’m sure she’s been embraced within its folds and validated. She will emerge as some kind of leadership voice for it. She has skills and is primed for it.
A cursory study of Jewish history portends no longevity for this kind of digression. Despite the odds, and with so many peoples who have professed our destruction as well as those among us who’ve assimilated, we Jews are still here. We have survived pogroms, anti-Semitism and other outside forces as well as inside ones. We have thrived. Our contributions to society are far greater than our numbers. We are here because we have clung to Torah, the same Torah that was given to us thousands of years ago at Har Sinai. And it will be the Jews who cling to Torah who will herald and usher in the era of Moshiach.
I sincerely wish Tova Mirvis and her children a Happy and Healthy Jewish New Year 5788/2017. Should you read this, Ms. Mirvis, our door is open to you: when your travels bring you to the Five Towns, we’d love to host you in our Sukkah or at our Shabbos table.