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Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Search My Heart

When I was in Detroit for Rosh Hashanah, my friend asked me to read the book "Search My Heart" by Sarah Birnhak and tell her what I thought of it. She said it had always fascinated her and that she had read it over and over throughout the years and she wanted to know what reaction to it would be. I apologize that I couldn't find a link to a description of the book, but apparently it is out of print. The book is a young adult novel following a women who goes in search of a missing boy and finds, not only the boy, but Torah Judaism as well. I started reading the book thinking the plot completely ridiculous, but as I trudged through, I understood what had intrigued my friend about the story. At the beginning of the book, the main character, Leah, is a totally secular teenager from a family who strives for material weath and societal status. They characterize Orthodox Jews as disgusting, treacherous people. Her father is a journalist who stumbles upon the story of a little boy who has been "kidnapped" by his Orthodox grandfather. Leah immerses herself within the Orthodox world in order to find the little boy. She becomes close with the boy's grandfather and then goes on to find the boy. But by the time she does, she has gained such an appreciation for Orthodox Judaism that instead of returning the boy to his parents, she feels the need to both join the Orthodox world and to keep the boy within that world as well. Due to circumstances, Leah is completely cut off from her family because of her decision to become an Orthodox Jew. After several years of living an Orthodox life, Leah undergoes a series of events that leads to her reuniting, extremely briefly with her family, and the boy being returned to his parents. There is a nasty confrontation between the two worlds, which leaves both sides feeling raw and bitter in regard to the opposite. The book ends on a bittersweet note, with hope for Leah joining the Orthodox world on her own. My friend told me she found the ending frustrating. I can certainly see why. I was quite frustrated myself in reading it. There are so many examples of baalei teshuvah being able to get along with their families once they have become frum, without having to force their own lifestyles upon their families. But the book refused to show that. There was one example in the book of someone who became frum while still living at home and maintaining a good relationship with his family. That person's family eventually became frum. Okay, so it is a book, and it is a young adult one at that. But the black and white picture of the secular world being bad and the Orthodox one being good still scares me. And the fact that there could be no conciliation between the two worlds, that each held such incredible revulsion to the other, was plain disturbing. I know that there are those, of both camps, who feel so strongly about the "other side," but I like to think that it isn't the mainstream opinion. And it saddens me that a book that impressionable teenagers would read would foster that kind of distaste between the two worlds. The part that I did find fascinating was the spiritual awakening that happened within Leah when she came in contact with the Orthodox world. It was a simplistic and super-quick transformation, but a lot of the thoughts that the author described were similar to what I experienced when I first encountered Orthodox Judaism. The feeling of meaning and purpose being infused into life, of seeing people who were striving to serve a Creator who gives us so much - I can relate to that. Of uplifting your actions to enact something that is greater than just us. As different as her experience was from mine, it was incredibly similar in many ways as well. Torah does seem to call and pierce through one's heart. I guess you could say that I did "Search My Heart" and find an answer.

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