While Conservative Jews living near large frum communities (like New York) may seem indistinguishable from some Modern Orthodox Jews, those living far away from major frum communities range from the totally assimilated to the traditional, with the only Sabbath-observant members being the rabbi and cantor—maybe.
I always really liked our synagogue’s cantor and his wife.
I remember him passing out lollipops to all the kids each week.
When my youngest sister felt too shy to accept the lollipop from the open flap of the cantor’s pocket, I remember him getting down on one knee so that the lollipop would be within arm’s reach of the little girl. Then he inched it out so it would easier for her to take.
His gentle, thoughtful approach was so much more appealing than that of most adults I knew, who would make fun of a child’s shyness and play stupid little verbal games before finally giving the child the proffered candy.
The cantor’s wife, the child of Holocaust survivors, was a successful business woman with a natural warmth and candidness, who always related to me with the chumminess of a friend, even though I was just a child/teenager.
After I started keeping Shabbat, they once hosted me with great warmth so that I could attend a family simcha at the synagogue over Shabbat. He kept Shabbat and she kept everything except the prohibition of turning on and off lights.
Coming of age when she did, the lures of feminism spoke to her and she allowed that to warp her Judaism, although she never saw it that way.
Both maintained a fondness for Medinat Yisrael and she always yearned to make aliyah.
It was great to see them after all these years.
They expressed genuine interest in my family and my life, and showed so much pleasure that I was frum, even though my brand of frumkeit is extreme in their eyes. She labeled herself as frum too, and this made her feel an extra bond between us.
She told me of their visit to relatives in the Golan who sneered at them for being “so religious.” Her Israeli cousin’s disdain of Torah traditions dismayed and bewildered her.
She also expressed a lot of confusion and disapproval about their Conservative congregation’s rate of intermarriage back in America.
“Nearly all the weddings have been with people who aren’t Jewish,” she said. “Even worse, none of our youth want to marry a Jew. They want to marry non-Jews—especially the Jewish boys; they want to marry non-Jewish girls.”
She made a face.
While she was happy for how my children were turning out, the contrast between their lives and hers saddened her.
“We should have thought through things more,” she said. “Our kids were the only ones keeping Shabbat in the whole city. We thought we could just pass on our love of Judaism to them, but I guess that wasn’t realistic….”
Their 27-year-old son was living somewhere in the boondocks with a 41-year-old non-Jewish woman and couldn't be bothered attend his parents' Pesach Seder that year—or any Pesach Seder, for that matter.
On a trip to Israel, their son refused to wear a kippah or keep Shabbat, which his mother found particularly distressing because Israel is one of the most comfortable places in the world to wear a kippah and keep Shabbat. And when his parents came to visit him at his far-off college, he barely gave them the time of day.
“I really wish we’d made aliyah,” she said, looking around my little Israeli living room longingly. “We kept meaning to, but….”
But it was never the right time.
Yes, they meant to take that well-paying cantorial job that included a nice home in an exclusive neighborhood only until they’d saved up enough to make aliyah.
Having read tons about emuna and Hashem’s Omnipotence, combined with my innate desire to give chizuk to anyone I see suffering and relieve their anguish, I popped out with, “Don’t be too hard on yourself about it. It’s from Hashem. If Hashem wanted you to make aliyah, you would have. Somehow, where you are now is the best place for you to be. Everything Hashem does is for our best good.”
She looked at me skeptically and said, “Hashem wanted us to stay in a predominately non-Jewish materialistic neighborhood in America rather than coming to Eretz Yisrael?”
I blinked. Good point! Maybe I just took this whole emuna thing too far?
Why did I say a wacky thing like that?
“Sure,” I heard myself saying. “Because if Hashem wanted you to make aliyah, He would’ve found a way for you to do it. You could’ve lost the job that kept you in America, you could’ve just felt an irresistible compulsion to go...I mean, anything could've propelled you to go rather than staying.”
Now I sounded even wackier.
The cantor nodded with a knowing smile at my words, but she still looked doubtful.
My heart went out to her. Growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust compelled her to fan her Jewish flame.
But it wasn’t working.
Everything she invested in, whether the community or her children, was sinking into the swamp of assimilation.
Her whole life, she meant to fight back at the Nazi Holocaust. But the West’s spiritual onslaught overwhelmed her.
After they left, I indulged in a bit of forehead-smacking self-reproach. Why do I get so wacky sometimes? Why didn’t I think before I spoke?
Yet I really do believe that everything is from Hashem—and that means that all the wacky things I said to her were also ordained by Hashem.
And the truth is, perhaps Hashem really didn’t want them to make aliyah at that point.
But in my eyes, the Conservative movement caused the most destruction.
Maybe I am wrong.
But the Reform movement is all about shiny American liberal values. It makes no secret of its desire to encapsulate non-Jewish ideals.
Growing up, I remember my Reform peers making fun of their own temple for having an organ and such a tepid English service, calling their temple by derisive nicknames. They were all assimilated, but their Jewish souls rebelled at the obvious forgery.
And while every Jew is precious, missionaries entrap very few, relatively speaking.
(Although they are starting to become as insidious as the Conservative movement by twisting Torah concepts to grant themselves legitimacy.)
But the Conservative movement slithered into the Jewish people like a parasitical worm.
It came under the guise of being a legitimate Torah alternative, rationalizing itself as taking the path of Hillel as opposed to the Orthodox (who they claim took the path of Shammai).
Many of its rabbis, cantors, and youth leaders feel genuine passion about Judaism and are proud of their heritage. They bring a freshness and enthusiasm to their congregations.
They’re also completely brainwashed by the Conservative movement’s propaganda.
For example, Conservative leaders acknowledge that there is a Torah prohibition to drive on Shabbat. At the same time, they acknowledge that there is a mitzvah to daven in a minyan and a prohibition against separating from the community.
So guess which takes precedence?
This is why most Conservative Jews feel perfectly comfortable driving on Shabbat. Never mind that many of them could care less about attending a regular minyan...
For Shabbos Koidesh, they are mesirus nefesh to drive to daven in a minyan for Shabbos Shacharis(!)
By twisting things around and omitting certain information, you can even legitimize eating poultry with dairy as "kosher." This type of thing is what Christianity did with the Torah, too.
The Less You Know, The Better!
When I was a kid, some of the adults had received a Jewish day school education up until eighth grade and taught by Orthodox teachers (and how that was defined, I'm not sure).
But back in the Fifties, the education and methodology were often tepid, depending.
Yet my parents’ entire generation of non-Orthodox Jews were left with the impression that’s all there was to Torah-observance and, with a few exceptions, refuse to delve any deeper until this very day.
Some of the elderly men had attended cheder in Europe until the age of 12-14, spoke Yiddish, and had grown up going through the motions of Torah observance. I didn't get their humor or their Yiddishisms, yet I liked them very much.
But again, their impression of Torah Judaism was superficial. For them, Conservative Judaism offered them the best of both worlds—or so they thought.
They were a warm and rollicking little group, but as they aged even more and their children assimilated, they grew embittered and haggard. When I first started coming closer to Judaism, one elderly man used to approach me every time he saw me and beg me to marry his son.
“I’ll buy you a house—a nice one!” he said. “A nice house in a good neighborhood!”
I laughingly rejected his offer.
Each time, he grew increasingly agitated and upped his offer. “I’ll leave you a million dollars. A million dollars! I promise—I’ll write it in my will with lawyers and everything! I’ll prove it to you. I promise. And with me, a promise is a promise!”
I remember the last time he approached me.
When I turned down his offer for the final time, he shot me a look of disgust and flapped his hand at me. “You kids today,” he said. “You have no appreciation for the value of money and property! Look at what I’m offering you. How can you say no?”
Strangely, I wasn’t offended.
I think because underneath his disgust lay some very legitimate Jewish grief and frustration. He wasn’t disgusted by my priorities; he was disgusted by his own that led him into the desperate situation he now found himself.
But to my teenage self, it seemed like a scene out of Fiddler on the Roof that should be acted out by people with funny names I’d never heard anywhere else, like Tzeitel and Mottel.
I deeply regret that I was insensitive enough to laugh when the man was clearly in pain. But the whole idea of matchmaking and promising material rewards—buying your child a spouse, in a sense—seemed outlandish and comedic to me.
And I also couldn’t imagine that his son would want me under such conditions—not to mention that his son was around thirty, which seemed middle-aged and gross to my teenage mind.
Anyway, the whole idea seemed embarrassing.
So despite the anguish etched in his wrinkled face, I was convinced he was joking.
In a world of breezy intermarriages, drive-thru “conversions,” and people who only kept the mitzvot they found personally meaningful (and even then, not the whole mitzvah; only the parts of it they found meaningful and convenient).
It never occurred to me that a Jew could care that deeply about preserving his Jewish continuity.
But the whole time, they’re sinking lower and lower into the quicksand of anti-Torah ideas—and they drag a lot of innocent people down with them.
The Conservative movement is also the most responsible for the phenomenon of non-Jews who, sincerely thinking they’re Jewish, declare themselves Jewish and even insist on marrying Jews and participating in minyanim and Jewish activities, with real Jews none the wiser.
And while the Reform movement offers "conversions," it’s the Conservative movement that insists on illegitimate conversions, considering all the offspring of marriage with such a female "convert" as Jewish, when basic halachah proves they are not.
I remember one such family.
When the Jewish patriarch died, his not-Jewish-but-thinks-she’s-Jewish wife still held a yearly Seder with all their children and grandchildren—not one of whom is Jewish.
You also get these bizarre scenarios in which the not-Jewish-but-thinks-they-are parent or fiancée try to convince the non-Jewish love interest to "convert" to Judaism.
I dread the phone calls or emails I get from or about the not-Jewish-but-think-they-are in which they obviously feel the need to “break the news” to me (the fanatical Orthodox Jew) that they/their child is marrying a non-Jew and hope that’s okay with me.
Or sometimes they don’t hope, but assert: “I know that this may offend you, however….”
I always tell them it is more than okay with me, and even preferred.
Depending on who they are and how they feel about their pseudo-Jewish identity, I may even tell them why. The reaction is always surprised and sometimes even disappointed.
(Disappointed because they were hoping for a religious attack so they could go back to their family and friends and talk about how persecuted they were by me, the religious zealot. And then everyone could feel victimized and commiserate. But alas…)
What I really hate, though, are the phone calls and emails that chirp things like: "Your cousin's wife attended the Purim Megillah reading! I think she's really starting to come around! Maybe a conversion is in the works???"
My cousin isn't Jewish, but thinks he is. His wife isn't Jewish and knows she's not. Everything is fine. But people who don't know any better tell me this because they think it'll make me happy.
It makes very, very sad to see non-Jews-who-think-they're-Jewish and Conservative Jews running around trying to convert people's non-Jewish spouses with the freneticness of a freshly caught fish flapping out its last moments on the dock in the open air.
I also find it bizarre that they are blind to how obnoxious and hypocritical they are.
I mean, Conservative Jews HATE it when Christians proselytize them and when frum Jews try to impose "their" values and beliefs on them. Conservative Jews also battle at the forefront to stop public expressions of Christian holidays and a moment of silence in schools.
But then they insist that their child's intended spouse bow to their ways and switch religions. They can be very friendly about it, but they are still persistent.
It’s a point of humbling gratitude to Hashem that He pulled any of us out of this quicksand and scoured that duplicitous gunk from our minds.
This is when “Dayenu” really speaks to me. I’m not different or better than the people I grew up with. So why was I rescued and not them? It’s such a huge unearned kindness that I can’t wrap my mind around it.
Technically, I have no right to ask Hashem for anything more. (But I still do.)
Maybe Hashem Didn't Want Them Here
And getting back to the lovely couple with which this post started off:
There are already a lot of well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning destroyers in Eretz Yisrael.
And while I tend to believe that coming to Eretz Yisrael inspires a return to Torah (hey, it worked for me!), it clearly doesn’t for many people (although for many people, it does). And maybe it wouldn’t have either for the cantor and his wife.
Maybe they would have become part of the problem here instead of part of the solution.
So Hashem saved both them and us from that.
It hurts because I like the cantor and his wife so much. And I see them as victims of the greater Conservative movement, even though as enthusiastic participants, they became an active part of its destructive force.
There is still always the opportunity for them to do teshuvah.
And we can pray for their children along with all the other lost Jewish children.
But in the end, maybe what I said wasn’t so wacky after all. They made their decisions.
And maybe because of that, Hashem truly didn’t want them here.
(But real teshuvah can still change all that!)