Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From Jane Hughes to Sarah Brooks

I often speak about my great admiration for Baalei Teshuva and Gerim - converts. An article in the Jewish Week reinforces that in me.

The article is about New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Nothing really. He is neither a Baal Teshuva in the commonly used sense of the term, nor a Ger. He is Jewish. But one has to go back several generations to see any connection to observant Judaism at all. His maternal great grandfather had a Kosher butcher shop on the Lower East Side of New York. The road his family took after that was entirely secular. How secular? Here is Brooks’ description:

I went to Grace Church School, sang in the choir, went to an Episcopal camp.” He also went to Hebrew school at the 14th Street Y, and the family celebrated holidays, but it was a “bar mitzvah-then-you’re-done” kind of Judaism.

He eventually ‘married out’ to a non Jewish woman by the name of Jane Hughes. 3 years later Jane Hughes became Sarah Brooks after deciding to convert to Judaism. I don’t know if her conversion was an acceptably Orthodox one. I suspect that it was done by a Conservative rabbi. But that is not my issue here.

My issue here is sincerity and idealism. And to make the point about why I consider people who choose observant Judaism to be on such a high level. These are people who the rest of us - those of us who were born Jewish and into religious families - should look up to. They are people that we should emulate. They will often put the rest of us to shame by dint of their devotion to our religion. Their decision to become Jewish and observe Jewish law is done for idealistic reasons rather than out of habit or in some cases for social reasons.

As is often the case with converts and Baalei Teshuva, Mrs. Brooks is far more observant than her husband by his own admission. And she has succeeded in bringing him into more observance. They now keep a Kosher home. She apparently uses a Mikva and actually volunteers as a Mikva Lady. But most importantly she sends their children to Jewish day schools. Coming from a completely non Jewish background and marrying a totally secular Jew who couldn’t care less about his wife being Jewish let alone observant… it is a truly inspiring thing to see!

Lessons can be learned here. It behooves us all to re-examine our lives and rededicate ourselves to doing the will of God as best as we can understand it. We can and should look at Mrs. Brooks as example for doing things L’Shma. Her every religious action is done because she believes in them. This is how she thinks. This is how every Jew should think.