There are two stories concerning two different uncles that occurred approximately eighty years ago. Both incidents ended in a tragic outcome.
The first story took place in Chicago and involved my great-uncle (who was born on 3.3.03, March 3, 1903), and my uncle. The uncle was a young boy. He was taking a walk with the great-uncle and they were met by an observant Jew. He asked whether the young boy was wearing Tzitzit, the traditional four cornered garment with fringes, under his shirt.
This led to an impromptu examination as to whether the boy maintained his religious obligation. When it was revealed that the Tzitzit were missing, the boy was slapped in the face for his transgression. This “slap in the face” was the slap that meant good riddance to anything that resembled traditional Jews. I have heard this story on numerous occasions that “explained” why my uncle was not a practicing Jew.
At around the same time in India, a different uncle was asked to help make a Minyan, the necessary quorum of ten men needed to recite holy prayers. This uncle was a teenager at the time. He was horrified to see that this group of Jews, refused to count a black Jew as part of the Minyan. It was clear that the racism of these so called pious Jews, denied the possibility of praying in the Synagogue.
This was the episode that caused this second uncle to become “allergic” to religious observance. He wanted no part of a religion that acts in such a despicable manner.
Then there are the more recent instances, where observant educators disgrace their students for not meeting up to Jewish dress codes. This is done in such a degrading and humiliating tone, that the student becomes turned off for life to Jewish Law or anything that reminds them of this horrible teacher.
Judaism also gets blamed when religious figures treat others less observant in a degrading manner. They act in a superior “holier than thou” manner. They act in such a superior fashion that it causes the degraded to despise Judaism. They want no part of a religion whose adherents act in such a manner.
It appears that many, many families can tell similar stories explaining why traditional Jewish practices were abandoned. The narratives are similar as are the end results.
I often remind my students the huge responsibility they have, just by having a Kippa, or skullcap on their head. They might be the only observant Jew that the person they come in contact with, will ever meet. The opinion they have of the religious may be based on that one encounter.
While all of the above is true, and such situations do take place regularly, the conclusions drawn are so unfair. It is difficult to tell a young boy or teenager that he is being intellectually dishonest, but he is.
If one were to search a little deeper, he might find many more upstanding and pious Jews, than those who bring shame to our religion. There are many stories connected to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Shneerson, where upon meeting a Jew, he would express the importance of Shabbat and Kashrut observances. The Rebbe would explain the benefits of such observance. And the Jew would be so moved by the rabbi’s great piety, that he began living a traditional observant way of life.
Dr. Eliezer Berkovits, in his book, “Faith after the Holocaust”, made a distinction between those who actually witnessed the atrocities of the Shoah, and those who only heard about. Dr. Berkovitz felt that if someone was there and abandoned his faith, it was understandable. But those who were not there and blamed the Holocaust for their lack of faith, were cowards.
It is certainly clear that anyone identifying himself with traditional Judaism, must go to great lengths to live in such a way, that all will admire the beauty of our sacred religion. If their representation of Judaism is ugly, they are desecrating the Name of G-d.
But for the uncles and ridiculed students who left Judaism because of the bad behavior of one individual, they need to rethink what they have abandoned. The traditions and observances that began on Mount Sinai, and was upheld by our ancestors in the best and worst of times, is too beautiful and rich to throw away. All Jews need to come home to G-d, our people, and our Land.