For the second phone call in a row, Adam, 27, asked me to pray for a good shidduch (marriage partner) for him, saying that a mother’s prayers are especially powerful. When I responded that I didn’t know how to pray, he implored: “Just say “Adam ben Miriam” (Adam son of Miriam) and channel your energy outward.” I promised to try. Until a year ago, I didn’t even know a shidduch was an arranged date, the way Chassidic Jews like him meet their spouses.
I feared some of Adam’s attraction to traditional orthodoxy was due to my being a bad mother.
I repeatedly turned to Sister Senga, a social work colleague, when I needed solace during Adam’s journey to Chassidism. I didn’t feel close to any rabbis. Once, when I told her I feared some of Adam’s attraction to the endless rules of traditional orthodoxy was due to my being a bad mother, she gingerly ventured that G-d has been calling him since he was a little boy. She reminded me of the examples I had shared with her, especially his appetite for Jewish learning and his bar mitzvah tutor’s prediction that he would become a rabbi.
During the five years of his spiritual journey in Israel, Adam has phoned his father and me in Boston every other Sunday. These calls and our annual visits whether in the U.S. or Israel were how we followed his progression to the alien Chassidic world which our Jewish friends and relatives cautioned us against. Powerless, we watched Adam transform himself from being a college leader of liberal causes, to studying with the campus Chassidic Lubavitcher rabbi, to ending up at a yeshiva preparing to be a Lubavitcher rabbi himself. He planned to return to a campus to bring other Jews closer to Judaism.
For the first few years, I tape recorded many of our phone calls to capture Adam’s gravelly voice and hold onto him a little longer. Eventually, replaying the tapes became a too painful reminder of how much I missed him. After hanging up, I usually cried from a deep sense of loss. Two years into his odyssey, Adam informed us in one of these calls that he was ready to buy a black hat and black jacket. He already had a full beard. My stomach cramped at hearing those dreaded words. Had I lost my son to a sexist 19th century society? What if he would no longer let me hug and kiss him?
Three months later, I had trouble finding him at the Tel Aviv airport among all the other Chassidic men. After I ran into his arms and finally stopped sobbing, I was relieved to detect his one dimple peeking out just above his beard. “It could be worse,” my husband and I tried to console ourselves, Adam could be a Moonie, a drug dealer or an unscrupulous businessman.
Rarely do I stop searching for clues to his becoming traditionally orthodox, or a “Torah observing Jew,” as he would say. I struggle to identify the mistakes I made as a mother. Could it be that our crime was living in a predominantly Christian town that holds elections on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath? Were we wrong to move there hoping to instill in Adam and his sister respect for people from different backgrounds? “Part of the reason I’ve always felt very Jewish is that there weren’t many other Jewish kids in school,” Adam tells us now when we interrogate him about why he became a Lubavitcher. Were we too strict with him so that he needs the comfort of all the rules of the Chassidim? Were we too lenient?
Had I lost my son to a sexist 19th century society?
In the last couple of years, I’ve stopped crying after the phone calls and have started to see Adam’s spiritual journey through another lens. Could Sister Senga be right that G-d is calling my son? Could G-d also be calling me, in a way that I can hear, I’ve begun to wonder. Adam has taught me about some of the beauty of Jewish philosophy and moral precepts, things I never learned in Sunday school, and would never have sought out. He has helped me feel more Jewish. I’ve given up shellfish and try to buy kosher meat.
But, I’ve also given up ever going to a movie again with Adam and dropping in to any restaurant that catches my eye during a family outing, as well as many other activities we’ll never do together again.
Still, on Friday afternoons I remember the Sabbath, sometimes light candles and even consider going to synagogue. I am grateful to Adam for pulling me on to what seems to have become my own spiritual journey. Perhaps it was beshert, another new word Adam has taught us, which I now know means part of G-d’s plan.