A Lesson for American Jews from My Father-in-Law's Life Story

The discussions about intermarriage and assimilation in the fast vanishing American Jewish community bring to mind my father-in-law's story.
My father-in-law passed away last Wednesday, in his home in Jerusalem, at age 89. His beginnings were far away from Israel and pretty far off from Judaism, an only child to his parents in New York. Sure, he went to the afternoon Hebrew School after attending public school in the morning. Sure, he hated it like most kids that I knew, resenting having to go to school in the afternoon, studying stuff that wasn't important enough to their parents to send them to a Jewish day school – so why should the kid care about Hebrew School? Sure he had a bar-mitzvah – but that bar mitzvah was also his leave-taking party from the school, the synagogue and Judaism. He stopped all connection to Judaism after his bar mitzvah – like most kids, probably, who attend afternoon Hebrew School.
When he was 20 his father passed away – and Mike, my father-in-law, went back to synagogue to say kaddish – to pray – for his father. He went to an Orthodox synagogue and liked what the rabbi had to say in his talks to the congregation.
Mike was closer to thirty than twenty, wanting to marry, but it hadn't worked out yet. He was afraid he might not get married, or marry old and have just one child like his father. Then he met my mother-in-law, his queen for the next almost 62 years – and it all started to come together. They decided to have a Jewish home. Children were born and Mike would go to the synagogue with them on the Sabbath. He attended an Orthodox synagogue, driving his car to park a block away from the synagogue, and then walked with his kids, so as not to be seen driving to the synagogue on the Sabbath, which is strictly forbidden in Jewish law. At some point he said to his wife that it wasn't sincere to drive almost to the synagogue and then walk. What would they tell their kids? It wasn't living the truth. Mike was as straight as an arrow – so he stopped driving on the Sabbath.
That was one of the pillars of life I could learn from him: you have to be sincere and dedicated in your Judaism and live it truly.
The second important pillar was that it's fun being a religious Jew. If being a sincere Jew, living truly by the laws and customs of Judaism, wasn't fun in the kids' experience – then they won't keep it when they'd grow up. If you're living true Judaism – by the books and the tradition – sincerely to the best of your ability, then it's going to be fulfilling, satisfying, worth striving and working for, because it's the real you as a Jew, and living the real you as a Jew is always fun, always makes you happy, even when it's really hard.
Some educators mistakenly try to make everything a game, but life isn't just a game. There has to be truth, sincerity, and dedication. You have to be willing to make sacrifices to be a real Jew you can't just go with the flow of the Western world around you and then call it Judaism. Kids are sensitive to truth and hypocrisy; they'll figure out that you're cheating, that you're living American culture and just calling it Judaism to please yourself. Together with that you have to know that if it's real and dedicated – then it's also good for fun, it makes you happy because it makes you real.
My father-in-law brought his family to live in Israel – because that's where it's the most real to be as a Jew. He grew up an only child, but thank God he left the world with about one hundred children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all dedicated to the Jewish people. Through his smile, hospitality and good works – he touched thousands of people for the better.
So all you experts discussing the crisis of the vanishing American Jew, take a lesson from Mike Kramer, my father-in-law: a) Educate your kids to be real, true Jews, without watering down your Judaism; b) make it fun for the kids, make being a true Jew an enjoyable experience; c) move to Israel!
May his memory be always a blessing.