There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when ultra-Orthodox parents would sit shiva if a child of theirs left Orthodox Judaism. To them, it was as if their child had died.
That does not sit well with me, to say the least. My child will always be my child, and I will love them forever--even if they choose a path of life different than mine. I would prefer, of course, that they continue to be religious, even a little. Why? Because I believe it is one of the most wonderful religions out there. Orthodox Judaism has a beautiful way of life--regardless of whether it is "true" or not. Because I tried, as best I could with the tools that I had, to teach them the positive values of our religion, the beauty, kindness, love, which are manifested through chesed* and tzedakah*, caring for others in the community, in our close Orthodox kehilah*.
The Jewish religion, as practiced through the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rituals, plain and simple: makes time Holy. It creates a beautiful structure which daily, orients a person to positive actions and hope for the future.
My children are now adults, as my youngest is 24 years old. Are they all religious? No. For their own personal reasons, four out of the five are not. Two out of those four are 'traditional,' or at least they try to be sometimes, celebrating holidays such as Chanukah, or even Rosh Hashana,with its beautiful 'seder' rituals: the different foods which symbolize the yearning for peace, safety, and happiness through G-d's help, etc. - albeit in more of a cultural, not religious way. They are still my children, they have grown to be good adults in so many ways--and I am proud of them.
That's why I am incensed at the horror stories of the behavior of some parents and community members of the kids who go "off the derech*." Case in point, a young woman has apparently committed suicide after having left her Ultra-Orthodox, tightly-closed Chassidic Jewish community and divorced her husband several years before, because she was denied access to her children and considered a pariah. Here is something of a description of the sort of town in which she originally lived, emphasis mine:
Friends and family of Deb Tambor, a former resident of the ultra-Orthodox community of New Square, in upstate New York, believe she killed herself on Friday, September 27 in the bedroom of the home she shared in Bridgeton, N.J. with her boyfriend, Abe Weiss. Like Tambor, Weiss is a former member of the Skver Hasidic sect, which founded and controls New Square, a village about 50 miles north of New York City.
Since when is this Judaism? Sex segregated streets? Women not permitted to drive? It smacks of Saudi Arabia:The village is considered one of the most culturally isolated towns in America, with sex-segregated streets and female residents who, in obedience to the town’s rabbis, do not drive.
This is not G-d's Judaism. It is some sick, twisted version in an alternate universe, perpetrated by people who have lost the forest for the trees, who have descended into the cesspool of authoritarianism, tormenting and, yes,terrorizing, to the point where a human being, by all accounts a good, kind person who wanted out of the totalitarianism towards a different way of life--took her own. Now, instead of her children having a secular mother, they have no mother at all.
As for me, I am very happy that one of my chldren returned to Orthodox Judaism; he is a Ba'al Teshuva, one who returned. But, I love all my children, no matter what their choices. I will never disown them (actually, there's nothing to disown them from...!), nor will I reject them. It took me a while to accept their choices, but I have. And I'm actually surprised and proud that some of them chose, even when not themselves "religious" the way we Orthodox Jews define the term, to send their children to a religious Hebrew school, to incorporate rituals (which kids just jove) into holiday celebrations, to make kiddush on Friday nights, to observe and respect holy days when with family or religious friends, and just plain respect their parents. They are mentschen*, so actually, you could say that I succeeded in my efforts in raising them: they do follow the commandments; those called: mitzvot bein adam le-chavero.
Kids, I am proud of you, and love you so much. Continue to be the mentschen that you are, and go from Chayil le-Chayil!
chesed: loving-kindness, a tenet of Judaism
tzedakah: commonly translated as "charity," but really meaning, in Hebrew, 'righteousness.'
off the derech: literally, "off the path," referring to those who have left observant, usually Ultra-Orthodox, Judaism.
mentschen: literally, the German or Yiddish word meaning "men." Connotatively meaning a 'fine human being.'
mitzvot bein adam le-chavero: commandments, or good deeds between man and man.
Chayil le-Chayil: An expression of praise and hope in Hebrew, 'she-telchu mi-chayil el chayil,' meaning "go from strength to strength."