In Haifa, we visited one of his cousins, the daughter of his father's sister, who was around 25 years older than my husband. She lived in an upper class apartment and looked secular. Impressed by her sweet and intelligent manner, I liked her right away.
As we sat down at the table in a kitchen filled with gentle sunlight, her teenage son swept in just then, wearing a leather jacket and holding a motorcycle helmet.
She invited him to join us, which he did. He greeted us very politely, then kept his head down the rest of the time. He behaved toward his mother with deference as she served him his hot lunch.
I was surprised to see a modern youth with longish hair and a black T-shirt behave in such a refined and respectful manner, which made me like him and his mother even more.
When she wanted to serve us fruit, my husband good-naturedly inquired whether it had undergone maaser (tithing). (This is an issue in Eretz Yisrael, where you can't even partake of something neutral like an apple or a cucumber without checking for maaser, which is why fruits and veggies need kosher certification in Eretz Yisrael.)
"No," she said, looking interested. "What is that?"
My husband pleasantly explained to her, then offered to do it for her, showing her and explaining along the way.
"Yes, yes!" she said. "Come and teach us about this!"
Relaxed and smiling, my husband got up and stood in front of her counter with a knife and a coin, and explained the process as he performed it while she looked on and asked questions.
Then they returned to sit at the table.
Her son kept his head down the whole time and only spoke to thank his mother for the food or to answer friendly questions from my husband.
It was only later that I realized that the young man understood that one shouldn't look at religious women (actually, they shouldn't look at any woman unless he's married to her or was born from her), and that's why he kept his head down the whole time.
During the conversation, she mentioned that her and my husband's grandmother had been careful about modesty and refined dress.
"Her own daughters never saw her hair," she stated.
That sobered me as I looked at this refined woman with curly hennaed hair down to her shoulders, wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt.
When you talk to them about mitzvot or Torah, they're into it. They care. Many feel reverence when going to shul or visiting the Kotel. And my husband's cousin obviously knew how to be mechanech her children in the old-fashioned Jewish way. Despite her son's biker appearance, he behaved like the quintessential good Jewish boy.
But all sorts of other influences got and continue to get in the way.
People have different reasons for having abandoned many mitzvot and for not returning. It depends.
But that good Jewish heart and soul's desire to connect to Torah and mitzvot is there underneath, waiting for the heart to be awakened.
May our hearts all awaken to fulfill our purest soul-yearning.