On the Agenda

Children in Exile

I met him at the beginning of the week, after Minchah in one of the shuls in the northern neighborhoods of Yerushalayim. He had come to Eretz Yisrael from the United States, as he did every year before Tu BiShvat, to spend time in the chassidic court to which he belongs. A mutual acquaintance introduced us. “Are you A. Ben Shlomo from Hamodia?” he asked me.

I replied that I was. I realized that our acquaintance had apprised him of my identity. “You wrote very well,” he said. From his heavy Yiddish, his articulation and his appearance, it did not appear to me that he would read the Hebrew edition for which I write. “And I must thank you,” he added.

“Thank you,” I replied, moved. “I appreciate any feedback.” My curiosity mounted. “You read Hamodia every week?” I asked.

“I read Hamodia,” he replied, “But I read the English version.”

(It’s a very good paper.)

“So if that’s the case, how did you get to one of my articles?” I asked.

“My children from Eretz Yisrael asked me to buy the Hebrew Hamodia to read A. Ben Shlomo’s article.”

“What about? Why?” I asked.

“About what? About the ‘chareidi’ internet sites and the news hotlines. Why? That’s a long, painful story. I’ll tell you what happened and maybe it would be worth it for you to write about it. I’m not the only one for whom it would be very beneficial.”

Of course, I was captivated, and listened. His story follows as he told it to me.

Because of the Fathers…

“As you have noticed, I live abroad, in America. I have two sons and one daughter living in Eretz Yisrael. We are all very close. I have the privilege of having sons and a son-in-law who are talmidei chachamim, who spend their days and nights here in Eretz Yisrael striving to reach greater heights in Torah and yiras Shamayim. They are part of the same Chassidus that I belong to, as did my father before me, and baruch Hashem I reap much nachas from them.

“Naturally, our relationship is conducted primarily by phone. We speak almost every day. I usually come here twice a year, for Tu BiShvat each year, and for one of the Yamim Tovim. Our conversations are usually long and pleasant. I inquire how things are with them, they ask how things are doing with us, and the ocean does not prevent our relationship from being close and warm. We speak about everything, openly and freely.

“Last year, I felt that for some reason, something about our relationship was not as it had been. The phone calls were not as warm and flowing as they used to be. I noticed that the children focused the conversation more on family matters and less about general news and goings-on. I also realized that more often than not, they sent regards to me via their mother, and said we’d speak the next day. It wasn’t an obvious change, but I sensed that something was amiss.

“It bothered me. About two months ago, I decided to do something about it. During a phone conversation with my older son in Eretz Yisrael, I said to him, ‘Chaim [not his real name], something’s changed. You speak to me less. You’re avoiding me and don’t want to talk about what’s going on in Eretz Yisrael. Something has happened, and under the mitzvah of kibbud av, I want you to tell me the whole truth.’

“I was sure I had hit a painful target. I couldn’t see him, but I was positive that he was reddening and paling alternately. He seemed to have lost his power of speech. He’s a good boy, sensitive and refined. His kibbud av, and that of his siblings, is exceptional. He paused for what seemed like a very long moment, and then burst out crying.

“Tell me everything,” I ordered.

“‘Tatty, I’m so sorry, please forgive me, but do me a favor and buy the Hebrew Hamodia, and read A. Ben Shlomo, and then I’ll tell you everything.’”

…The Sons Are Redeemed

“So that’s how I came to read your article. I read it once and twice, and later read subsequent articles you wrote on the subject, and I still did not understand, or more accurately, refused to understand, what my son meant and what connection the article I had just read had with the question I had asked, and the feeling that there were cracks in our relationship.

“Again, I called Eretz Yisrael. My son picked up the phone. His voice was shaking. He is so refined, a real ben Torah. ‘I read it,’ I said softly, and added, ‘And still, my kibbud av order stands. Tell me everything. Don’t be afraid and don’t leave anything out.’

“He began to talk and I became aware of the bitter and terrible reality that I had put myself into. ‘In our conversations this past year, Tatty, every time we spoke about what has been happening in Eretz Yisrael, whenever we [my brother, brother-in-law and I] happily told you about things that made us feel elevated, you kept answering us that you “read about it on the internet; it’s all politics, it’s all lies, it’s all deception.”

“‘It didn’t help us when we told you that what you read there was nonsense and had no truth, and the reality that we are living in is very different. It’s elevated, it’s holy, and we see the good of Yerushalayim. You remained firm and added more details from all the lies that you read on what are called ‘chareidi sites.’ Every phone call to you about subjects that are nearest and dearest to us ended with us feeling terrible. We felt like we were being given the cold shoulder, no understanding, and that what we work so hard to achieve in our Torah learning and avodas Hashem was being ridiculed.

“‘We are obligated in kibbud av. We didn’t want to say anything to offend you. But we are obligated in avodas Hashem, and we want to do His mitzvos. We want to feel that fiery inspiration when we do holy things. We are far from our parents, we struggle for parnassah; we want to at least be able to feel elevated without being disturbed. And now, through our dear, beloved father, who helps us so much and truly wants the best for us, cold water was being thrown over everything…’

“He burst into tears again. ‘I’m sorry, Tatty, for what I said, but I also want things to go back to being the way they were. I want us to be able to speak about the things that are important, that bring us to a higher level. I want to give you nachas, but please, without all the stuff that’s written in those impure places, without the lies, the maliciousness that seeks to sway Yidden from the right path…’

“I also cried on the other end of the line. I didn’t need any more explanations. My son had provided them, with great wisdom, when he directed me to read what you wrote, and that’s why you’ve become an invisible part of our family’s bond.”

V’shavu Banim Ligvulam

“Our phone calls are once again what they used to be. We no longer speak about ‘news’ that I read on dubious sites or hear on those silly hotlines.

“I walked around for days, deep in torturous thought. This past Monday, I landed in Eretz Yisrael, as I always do before Tu BiShvat. On Tuesday morning, I went with my sons and son-in-law to Meron. It was a most uplifting trip. You always feel hisorerus at Rabi Shimon[’s kever], but this time, I felt it more than every before.

“When I emerged from the tziyun, there in the courtyard, I stopped my children and said to them: ‘It says in the holy sefarim, and it is well known throughout the years, that at Rabi Shimon in Meron one should make a kabbalah tovah, pledge to undertake something positive. It helps, and it is a segulah for success in life. I have also made a kabbalah tovah today, or rather, am reinforcing a kabbalah that I have already undertaken.’

“I no longer have a computer at home. It is only in the office. And it serves me only for work purposes. It has a filter that is approved by our Rav who is authorized to give permission to use the computer for work purposes. I do not reach sites and read what various lowlifes and anti-Semites write, even if they claim to be ‘chareidi.’ They not only destroyed my soul, they not only made me cool to anything of substance, they almost cut me off from my dear children. Because of them, I caused pain to my children, made them feel bad, and disturbed their spiritual growth.”

*   *   *

“Write all this,” the man concluded his story. “I’m a new person. I have a new life. I live a new reality, a better, holier, more wonderful one — protected from those who sow evil. And most of all, I have my children back.”

V’shavu banim ligvulam.