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Why Do Some Opt In While Many Want to Opt Out?

on Friday, January 20 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
I had the privilege of attending three brises this week, but only two of them were open to the public. Mazel tov to the Hilfs and Sugermans on welcoming their new sons into the covenant of Avraham Avinu. It is the third bris, though, the one which was only open to a select few, that I want to tell you about, as to me it was truly remarkable.

Early Wednesday morning, Rabbi Flug, Rabbi Weinstock of YI of Hollywood and I prepared for an unusual bris by donning our scrubs. You see, we are members of the S. Florida Beis Din for Geirus, the Rabbinical Court for Conversion, and we gathered in the operating room to witness the circumcision of a 17 year old boy who is converting to Judaism.

As we stood there, a recurring thought kept entering my mind. The effort, pain and even embarrassment this young man is willing to endure in order to take the totally unnecessary and unrequired step of becoming Jewish, is nothing short of extraordinary. In order to convert, in addition to a complete commitment to an observant life, both men and women must immerse in the mikvah and men require circumcision or if already circumcised, hatafas dam bris. As you can imagine, those that convert have displayed great courage, faith and tenacity.

Among the many conversions that I have participated in, this was the first in which an adult needed a complete circumcision. Though he received spinal anesthesia and pain killers following the procedure, the entire process of having this surgery and doing so in front of three Rabbis required a truly great resolve and conviction to want to be Jewish.

The other thought that struck me is the contrast between the level of desire and willingness to sacrifice to be an observant Jew of this teenager, and the boredom, disinterest and lack of conviction of so many of our “frum from birth” teenagers. This young man can’t imagine living his life and not having Shabbos, kashrus, or being part of the Jewish people and their destiny. And yet, many of our teenagers struggle to find Judaism relevant, compelling or worthy of sacrificing for. He lives in the same world of temptation, distraction, pop culture and alien values as they do. Why is he opting in, while so many of them seem to be standing on the brink of opting out?
This is a very complicated and difficult question and I am not so presumptuous to assume that I know the answer or can articulate it in this short message. But, I will provide one point of information as food for thought. Our teenage convert saw his parents convert. He watched them go through the process of learning, growing, sacrificing and committing. The significance and importance of Judaism has been modeled for him to the degree that he too was willing to endure difficult circumstances in order to have a taste of our Holy religion and people. Every day,when he looks at his parents, he sees two people willing to work hard, give up much and make the effort to live a richly Jewish and spiritual life.

When our teenagers look at us, what do they see? Do we model a willingness to sacrifice, do we exhibit great effort and determination and do we articulate why Judaism is so important to us and how badly we want it in our lives?
Our 17 year old convert is truly a student of Avraham Avinu who also at an advanced age endured a circumcision (without anesthesia and performed on himself) and elected to embrace a spiritual journey and meaningful way of life. Even if we were born Jewish or raised observant, it is never too late for us as well to be of the greatest disciples of Avraham Avinu through our renewed journey to opt in to Judaism and Hashem with great enthusiasm, commitment, courage and faith and thereby be a source of inspiration for the next generation and beyond.

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