I have often read the “Bintel Brief” to learn how you have suggested solutions for the problems of your readers. Now, I would like to tell you my problem. It is difficult for me to write Yiddish so I am writing you in English. I am a young man of twenty years of age. My grandparents brought a precious heritage of Yiddishkeit from Eastern Europe. I remember the good Jewish life they lived. I still remember how they used to sing Jewish songs, speak Yiddish, and prepare delicious kosher means for my parents and me on Friday evenings. These were the best days I have yet known.
However, several years ago, my grandparents passed away. My parents and I now reside in the suburbs in an area which lacks the Jewish traditions and customs that I knew as a child. Very few except the older Jewish people in my neighborhood speak Yiddish. Few keep strictly kosher homes, few people observe our wonderful Sabbath in the traditional manner. Most of the young ladies I meet are not the type of Jewish girl I would like. I feel like a stranger among the Jewish girls who are interested only in rock ‘n’ roll and wear mini skirts. I long for the days I knew as a young boy.
Many aspects of life in this area seem to snuff out whatever remains of our beloved Yiddishkeit. I have recently graduated from a local university and am not starting to attend law school in a larger city. Most of the young people who will be studying there with me will not be Jewish or will be the type of Jew who does not live as one. Most of the people I will come in contact with will not have the same interests I have.
I want to know how my family and I can perpetuate our traditions. I would also like to know where I can find people of my age to share my interests.
Blessed be the grandmothers and grandfathers who brought with them to this country the spiritual values of generations deeply rooted in Jewish life. A great many of their American children and grandchildren did not show any interest in upholding and continuing this rich, spiritual heritage. That you do not now have the Jewish atmosphere you long for is in great part the fault of your parents because they did not carry on the same tradition of your grandparents. Had they brought you up in the traditions of your grandfather, you would now have a circle of friends in which you could live as you desire.
The atmosphere, the life to which you are drawn, is usually not found in the suburbs. But if you come to New York to study you could find a circle of young people and the environment you long for.
- What does the author of the letter feel is missing from his life? How much of what he is missing is religious? How much of it is cultural? What is the relationship between religion and culture? Where do they overlap? Where do they diverge?
- The author of the letter uses the word Yiddishkeit twice. Yiddishkeit is defined as “a Jewish way of life.” Based on the text, what does that mean to him? What does it mean to you?
- The author writes “Many aspects of life in this area seem to snuff out whatever remains of our beloved Yiddishkeit.” How can life in an area snuff out culture? What aspects of a town, community, or neighborhood might make it difficult to follow tradition?
- What do you make of the editor’s advice to the author of the letter? What advice would you offer him?
- Is the author’s story familiar to you, your friends, and family? If so, what connections are you making? How do you handle the challenge he describes?
- Some people have argued that the best way for immigrants to succeed is for them to assimilate into the life and culture of their new home. What might the author of the letter say to those them?