What’s Up With the Hardcore Jewish People?

A friend sent us a link to a book called What’s Up With The Hard Core Jewish People? The excerpts help us understand a little better what some parents of Baalei Teshuva are going through:

“When our son, Carter, decided to blow off law school and stay in Jerusalem studying to be an Orthodox Rabbi, we were in cognitive dissonance. In our wildest dreams, we would have never expected such a thing. We needed to know what the hell just happened, why it happened, and what I needed to do to keep Carter’s desire to be an Observant Jew from breaking up our family. We had no one to turn to but the Hard Core Jewish People, and they’re no help. They thought what Carter was doing is the ‘bomb’. They lauded him for his courage — the consequences be damned. What about living 7,000 miles away from home on a different continent? What about the U.S. Department of State Travel Warning urging U.S. citizens to carefully weigh the necessity of their travel to Israel in light of the suicide bombings that were taking place on a regular basis? What about the divisiveness such a drastic lifestyle change can cause in a family? None of that matters because Torah rules! By learning Torah and teaching it to his children, Carter will be a part of the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition that has been carried from generation to generation for over 3,500 years. Oy!”

“The transformation from Secular to Observant Jew is rather shocking to those of us on the ‘dark side’. Why would anyone want to trade hedonism and materialism for Jewish spirituality and living up to God’s expectations of us?”

“We knew Carter was a goner when he told us he was shomer negiah. This means that other than a mother, grandmother, or sister (of which he has none), Carter can’t touch or be touched by a woman to whom he is not married. Even shaking hands is out of the question and pre-marital sex is definitely a no-no.”

“When we finally realized that Carter’s commitment to Judaism was for real and that he hadn’t been brainwashed, our job was to go into what I refer to as ‘Xanax-mode’ (staying calm no matter how preposterous something sounds) and my new favorite word became ‘whatever’.”

Originally Posted May 2006

25 comments on “What’s Up With the Hardcore Jewish People?

  1. I skimmed through the comments and didn’t see what I am about to write –
    About the 6,000 mile part – it’s interesting to note and very common that if the son was accepted to the University of Milan for a fellowship – the distance would not be an issue. Just an observation from experience.

  2. I haven’t read the book yet. But 30-odd years after becoming frum, I have more sympathy for the parents than I did when I was 17. Lighten up, guys. Maturity means tempering your initial zealousness with compassion and understanding….

  3. Response to Alter Klein:

    Black Becomes a Rainbow is the story about a BT and her relationship with her mother.

    What’s Up With the Hard Core Jewish People? consists of three separate sections. Section I is the story of our son becoming observant, the adventure it has been for our family, and how it has impacted us. Section II is everything you ever wanted to know about Judaism without really trying, and Section III is an easy-to-use Jewish glossary.

  4. “My desire to live each day as if it is my last appears to annoy a lot of people…”

    I don’t know why this is the case as that’s actually a Jewish ideal.

    In Chapt 2 of Pirkei Avos we see that R. Eliezer says “…Repent one day before you die.” Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld points out the most common interpretation of that mishna:

    “We made the obvious observation (as do most of the commentators): Nobody knows exactly when his day of death will be. Therefore, our mishna’s advice must be taken to mean that we live our entire lives with the realization that our days are numbered. Death is a reality we may never ignore. And so we must live out our days with a sense of our mortality — and with a drive to earn ourselves true immortality.

  5. Just a question to those who read the book: How does it compare to the book “When Black becomes a Rainbow”, which was also written by the Mom of a BT(daughter) and her thoughts. It is out of print now many years.

  6. Shalom Neviah:

    I love participating in this blog and I’d be happy to share more information with you.

    Would you believe that Raven was incited to riot after reading page 3, paragraph 1 of my book where it says that she and Tyler wave their hands over their food? Raven blasted me for making them seem so spiritually empty. [The truth hurts I guess.] I told her I meant no harm by that comment and that most people, after reading my book, thought that I favored mixed marriages. [Not only do I not support mixed marriages, but I’m hoping that by making assimilated Jews more aware of what it means to be Jewish, perhaps they will try harder to marry someone who is Jewish. With 47% of Jews marrying out of their faith, someone has got to help suppress that trend.] I haven’t spoken to Raven since she hung up on me on April 5th, and this has greatly affected my relationship with Tyler too.

    This book was therapy for me but more than anything, it was my way of translating traditional Judaism into a language disenfranchised Jews can understand. Some of the rules and regulations of Torah Judaism can seem very bizarre and fanatical to the untrained eye, and I’m trying to say that even if “we” wouldn’t do that, leave the Hard Core Jewish People alone. They’re simply trying to adhere to God’s road map. Instead of being bigoted, I want people to just say “whatever” and leave the Jewish People” alone.

    Barry and I still light candles on Friday night but we haven’t taken on more rituals. I had two minutes last Thursday in Washington, DC to present my book to the Jewish Book Council. They’re the people who determine which authors will be invited to the Jewish book fairs held across the country in November. I feel that spreading the word about Judaism to the 90% of Jews who aren’t Orthodox is a very big mitzvah, and that’s my way of expressing my Jewish spirituality. Carter and Naomi are very proud of me and feel that the book can make a difference. We’ll see.

    Carter and Naomi give me such happiness. I am very close to them and we speak at least twice a week. They’re both incredible people and I feel blessed just to know them, not to mention having them in my life.

    It was very hurtful to Barry when he found out that he’s not considered Jewish under Torah law. Barry is a very good and kind person with the highest integrity. Since my first cousin, Aaron David, a tzaddik who lives in Mea Sharim, met Barry, he no longer prays for us to get divorced. Now he prays for Barry to become an Orthodox Jew. That’s not likely to happen because we’re just not into the regimentation of Torah Judaism.

    Carter was an absolutely precious child, and he’s still adorable even though now he’s grown up. His grades were always great, and we were always proud to have him as a son. He was just not that easy-going. Now Carter is a much better person and very easy to get along with since he became an Observant Jew. He loves and appreciates me so much. We are very close, much more than Tyler and me.

    I feel that Hashem wanted me to write this book so that finally alienated Jews can learn what the Covenant is all about. Carter says that I can no longer refer to myself as a Reform Jew because I know more about Judaism than many Orthodox Jews. I am very open towards Judaism, and I’m not holding tight to anything. My flippant personality and desire to live each day as if is my last appears to annoy a lot of people, but that was definitely not my intention.

    Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat and I look forward to continuing our discussion. By the way, Carter and Naomi checked out this website last night and I told them to add a response to the blog. Perhaps they will after the Sabbath.

  7. Thank you for coming out and posting. As I mentioned before, I do have a problem with the tone – but it is an exceptionally honest and very easy read. If I may, I’d like to take this very unusual opportunity to ask some questions:

    • It is clear from your earlier post that you are more approving of Carter. But it still is a question – are you more *comfortable* with Tyler? (After all, spending time with Tyler doesn’t comes with the multiple restrictions that attend a visit with Carter) Which leads into my next question –

    • My impression is that this book was written (at least in part) as a way to relieve your hurt and (in my estimation) some anger at the new lifestyle Carter has taken on. Having written the book, do you feel differently now? A corollary question would, has anything changed for you in terms of your observance or perspective since writing the book?

    • I understand that at times you had to quench your disapproval just to get by with your son – the whole “whatever” mantra that you use so frequently in the book. However, as I said earlier, it made me as a reader frustrated, as if you didn’t want to engage in the discussion any further, as if you were trying to shut the door tight. Obviously in the actually planning of a wedding, it’s a lousy time to start up a discussion of why are long sleeves on a hot day a good idea for women or why are we dipping the pots in the canal. Six months after the events of the book, are you willing to enter into that discussion or are you still holding tight to “whatever”.

    • I missed Carter’s and Barry’s voice in the book. Did Barry’s desires to engage Jewishly (even at a Reform or Conservative level) change at all when he learned there was a segment of Jewish life from which he was excluded? I also have wondered about Carter. You mention as a small child he was obstinate. Was he that way as a child? A teenager? Or was it smooth sailing until Carter went frum? (and… if I asked Carter or Barry do you think they’d answer the same way?)

    • Are Tyler and Raven any closer to actually getting married? Has Carter’s newfound interests had any impact (positive or negative) on his brother? Likewise, would you be willing to update us as to what happening in your family now?

  8. In the introduction to my book, it talks about the words written in italics.

    “Note: When I refer to the Jewish People, it is a reference to the Jews as a nation in the classical sense, meaning a group of people with a shared history and a sense of a group identity rather than a territorial and political entity. The Jewish People have pride in their heritage and an affinity for Israel. By the term Hard Core Jewish People, I mean those who intensely commit themselves to following Jewish law. Words written in italics are defined in Section III, the Glossary.

    The book is divided into three sections. Section I deals with my personal journey as our youngest son became a Hard Core Jewish Kid. Section II presents everything you ever wanted to know about Judaism without really trying, and Section III is a very handy Jewish dictionary.”

  9. Margery,

    Just wait until there are, G-d willing, some grandchildren. That’s gonna take the appreciation of the direction Carter chose, to a whole new level.

    Oh BTW, does Carter go by that name these days or does he use his Hebrew name you can share with us?

  10. Dear Rabbi Seif: I thank you for your open-mindedness and I’m so glad that you’re enjoying my book. In it I write: “I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about Judaism and my heritage. I realized that casual Jews, due to our ignorance of Jewish laws, traditions, and customs, are sometimes critical or contemptuous of the behavior of Orthodox Jews. I didn’t want to act or feel like a bigot and if I could learn and share my knowledge with others, this would certainly be a step in the right direction. Moreover, I found that Observant Jews can be very judgmental toward Secular Jews. If Jews can’t get along with one another, how can we expect non-Jews to accept us? I was determined to help Jews at all levels of religiosity become more tolerant of one another.”

    By the way, Carter and Naomi, my Torah-true son and daughter-in-law, love this book, although the irreverence was sometimes hard for them to take. But they know this is a book that finally walks the Jewish outreach talk by being both entertaining and informative, making it engaging and accessible even to people who think Judaism isn’t relevant to them.

    I am way closer to Naomi and Carter, who are the most loving wonderful people, than I am with the hedonistic Tyler and Raven. I am also a better person since Carter became observant, and I am very grateful to him for that.

    Warm Regards,
    Margery Schwartz

    Admin: To those of you who haven’t picked it up, Mrs. Schwartz is the author of “What’s Up with the Hardcore Jews?”

  11. (Sorry about the pseudonym – I had posted under that earlier and didn’t suddenly want to switch gears)

    I don’t deny that she is a deeply loving, and very pained and confused mother. There’s a lot of stuff that she isn’t getting, and she is hiding behind this persona of live for today, die tomorrow… I’m a bad Jew but so what I’m having fun nyah nyah nyah… That part just frustrates me completely. I think I would be more sympathetic if she weren’t playing up the role of a tweaked teenager. And regarding being told she now has to support her son, I feel on that score, but as I pointed out earlier I am really curious to find out if they aren’t slipping cash to the other son who is living a more “conventional” lifestyle in an equally meager paying profession. In which case, it’s not about the money, it’s about the frumkeit. The wedding, I agree, sounded like it was big and over the top, but by even her admission they were able to afford it, and in the end, her issues were more about the encounters with Orthodoxy than with the liquor bills.

  12. El Cheapo (what kind of name is that?), I have a few minutes here before I have to run. I saw all the same things you did but I beg to differ strongly. Yes, I too am unconfortable with all the family’s story out there in the public eye, but honestly… didn’t you also notice a loving mother who has opened up her heart to the public? She’s shown us her energy and love for life and how she anticipated that her way would be translated to a similar life to her own through her children. Even if we think that it’s a good thing that her son chose the path he did, it hurts to read her pain (through all the humor).

    What I’m getting out of this book is a newer feeling of compassion for what it feels like from the other side. Sure, I could debate and refute every single point she makes that disagrees with my belief system. But what I’d really rather do, if only I could, would be to visit her and share a good cry. Really. Once she would come to understand how much I care about her experience, perhaps then the conversation would lead to exlaining the sublteties of Jewish thought that she isn’t understanding.

    But I’m jumping the gun. I haven’t read the second part yet where she presents what she’s learned about Judaism in a more structured form.

    There is a whole other part of the story, the part about being expected to help pay for an apartment in Israel, and the manner in which she learned about the financial expectations people had of her side of the family reagarding a wedding. I don’t know if it’s loshon hora to repeat the specifics, but I am very troubled by what I read, and I am on her side 1000%. For that part of the book alone, I hope that everyone involved in adult kiruv reads the book and starts asking some serious questions to people with great sensitivity.

    After dealing with all that “stuff”, I am very, very impressed, with the author’s ability to still look for the good side, in a very upbeat way, in all the players in that episode.

  13. Amishav #1 – If anything, the author is fascinated by chemical dependence and wild parties. She makes frequent reference to acting as if she were on Xanax to get her through difficult family moments. She fondly recalls partying with her son: “For Carter’s 21st birthday we rented a bus and Carter, Tyler and a busload of friends went to South Beach clubbing. No one had to worry about driving under the influence, and we a had three ice chests filled with water, alcohol, soft drinks and food to keep them going all night. It was a party to remember”.(p.) Her immediate reaction to Carter’s new-found faith: “My heart ached for Carter’s unborn children […] Would they get to act wild at high school football games or attend the prom?” (p.26) She even fantasizes about slipping BTs kosher hash brownies to “mellow them out” (p.38)

    Bec #5 – You are indeed prescient, as she is obviously more comfortable with the choices her elder son, Tyler Blue, has made. He lives with his non-Jewish girlfriend, Raven, who is a “non-denominational wedding minister who performs beautiful custom designed ceremonies for that special day” and is also an herbalist (p.3) As a side-note, Tyler is himself a free-lance writer. Given the sturm-und-drang over how Carter won’t be able to support himself as a rabbi, one wonders how well Tyler and Raven get along financially.

  14. I think I’ve been able to boil down the first section to this:

    “He was going to be a rich lawyer… He partied harder than anyone else… He was obsessed with his physical appearance. Then the Aish cult got a hold of him and now he’s a meek and modest Frummeh Yid, settled down with a lovely wife, living in humble circumstances and learning fulltime in Yerushalayim…

    …Where did we go wrong?!?!?!?!?”

    OK, snarkiness aside, there is a pained, passive-aggressive tone in the book characterized by frequent punctuations of “whatever”, as if the author were a surly teenager being told to do chores. And indeed, she conveys an adolesent outlook on life – to the point where her own husband calls her his “high school daughter” (*ahem*) and she luxuriates in the memories of wild partying with her son. Suddenly her son has become a sober adult, and with a mom who cherishes a life of Anything Goes, this is the ultimate rebellion. Who is the counter-cultural one, indeed?

    After reading the book (I couldn’t put it down last night, to be honest), I came to a full appreciation of my mother-in-law. Even though we’ve had tense times, she’s never written a book about it and sold it out of her garage. In the end, this book is not about helping benighted parents with newly observant kids. It’s part cri-de-coeur, and partially a desperate act of dumping the family garbage on the front lawn. It’s true, her son wasn’t an angel through the process, but he ain’t the one taking the story to the streets, either.

    As a post-script, the person I really would love to talk to is the BT himself, Carter Sky Schwartz. Interstingly, we never find out his Hebrew name (the only hint is that it starts with a samech).

  15. Even though I’ll be driving 4 hours to a Shabbaton in Wisconsin tomorrow, once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down until I finished the first section which contains all the personal juicy stuff. I laughed out loud at times, at other times I wished I could have a discussion here and now with the author in person to explain somethings. At other times I was downright angry. About what? Oy, I’m not sure how to even begin…. It wasn’t with the author and it wasn’t with her child. This will have to wait for a full explanatin when I have at least an hour to gather my thoughts. At 1:49 AM, it’s not happening tonight!

    To be continued…

  16. I haven’t rad more than the first page. First work then little league with my son. I’m off to a chavrusa right now and then packing for an NCSY convention this weekend. I’ll try to get to it sometime between responsibilties at the convention.

  17. The Beyond BT Book Club. Sounds like a good idea. How about this for format:

    1) People email suggestions on book.
    2) We pick a book
    3) Give two (to three) weeks to read it
    4) One or more people write a short review that we post.
    5) We discuss about other things about the book in the comments.

  18. As did I, Gershon. I just received mine this afternoon (Is this the start of the Beyond BT Book Club)?

    First thought on a swift dash through the book: despite her protestations to the contrary, she sounds pretty angry at her son, which she tries to cover by saying she’s being “sassy”.

    Gershon, have you noticed that she alternates between italicizing and plain-typing Torah?

  19. As soon as I saw this I got curious and ordered the book. It came in lightening speed, proiorty mail, wrapped in fancy blue tissue and a nifty gold seal.

    I’ll try to post something after reading it.

  20. i have to laugh. this is a constant struggle for us–becoming observant and planning aliyah without offending our families.
    what????
    sadly, this is reality for many (not all) becoming frum. assimilated jews have become so assimilated that it’s easier to accept their children marrying goyim than having them become religious jews.
    i have often said that in my lifetime, if no matter how frum i am, if my children one day come home and tell me that my home is not kosher enough for them (which at this point i cannot imagine!), i will thank g*d that i raised my children successfully.

  21. They’re just hurt and angry that their son left them behind for something he learned was a better way. There is hope for them, they may yet adjust and take steps toward him and his new lifestyle. Hopefully he will be strong enough in his yiddishkeit to be able to honor them and mekarev them.

    BTW, has anyone written about how BTs honor their parents? THERE is some of the greatest creativity of the BT.

  22. What’s up with the hardcore secularized Jews? Do they really believe that hedonism and materilaism makes everyone happy? Why can’t they be more tolerant of another choice?

  23. How wonderful for Carter’s parents that Carter had chosen to live his life according to conviction and ethics. I would think that they would be proud that they had instilled such a respect and love for Judaism that Carter chose to make that his reality instead of a footnote in his life. With so many people turning to drugs/alchohol and other forms of self destruction you might think Carter’s parents would be happy.

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