“What Judaism Means to Me” by Andy Weiner
“What Judaism Means to Me” by Andy Weiner
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
I grew up in a home with a strong Jewish identity. My parents and grandparents practiced Jewish values and were pillars of the Jewish community. Israel was always a topic, and to this day I follow the happenings of the Jewish state on a daily basis.
Jewish values were lived and talked about—and became part of my core. How to treat others. Doing the right thing. Honesty. Deep respect for others who are in the image of God. Treat everyone with honor. Pay your bills on time. Show up on time.
My father and grandfather ran their business, Weiner’s Stores, on Jewish values. I have tried to do the same in my business, RockStep Capital, and I have installed 25 rules of behavior (we call them RockSteps) at our company—many of them based on Jewish values. RockStep #1 is Do the Right Thing—Always.
I remember a story about my grandfather, Isadore Weiner, who founded Weiner’s Stores. During the Depression, he went bankrupt and was relieved legally of his debt obligations. When he came out of bankruptcy, he took it upon himself to pay all his creditors back even to the extent of hiring detectives to track down 2 of his creditors who he could not find.
I have been married twice. I have three boys, David, Daniel and Michael, from my first marriage. Their mother was raised Jewish, and her mother and her mother’s family were Holocaust survivors. All three of our sons were educated here at Shlenker. David and Daniel had their Bar Mitzvah here with Rabbi Lyon.
One of my goals was to do what I could to perpetuate the Jewish people and Jewish values through my children. My hope was that David, Daniel and Michael would be part of that legacy. During my first marriage of 17 years, I struggled to both live my life with Jewish values and maintain another Jewish value–Shalom Bayit—peace in the house.
That was not to happen.
- Upon my divorce a little more than 7 years ago and while they were in middle school and high school, David, Daniel and Michael converted to Christianity. They changed their names from Weiner to a non-Jewish name exactly on their 18th
- They also chose to not have me be part of their lives. Upon turning 18, all three have been estranged. I have not spoken to David and Daniel in over 6 years and my youngest son Michael in over 2 years. During the last time I was with Michael before he turned 18 I pleaded with him to allow me to be part of his life. In tears I told him that Jesus died on the cross to atone the sins of his followers and that in the spirit of Jesus and as a believer in Jesus he should forgive me for whatever sins he thinks I have committed.
I have studied the role of marital disharmony and how it can affect family relationships, and I have come to terms with the possibility that the damage from the marital disharmony is so deep that I might never have a relationship with one or all of my children. Given the way I have run my life and the principles that guide it-this possibility of losing my children was never within the realm of possibility. I have had to deal with how I personally managed that family disharmony.
I consulted with several rabbis as I struggled with the most difficult challenge I have ever had—managing the destruction of my family. I remember my conversations with Rabbi Lyon and the discussions about the interaction between Shalom bayit, my mental health, and how family disharmony was to affect the viability and sustainability of my business. I needed permission, which Rabbi Lyon gave me, to extricate myself from a toxic situation before I was destroyed by it. I suspected that there were going to be consequences from the divorce but I could not foresee losing all contact with David, Daniel and Michael. I did not understand that I was facing a tradeoff between personal survival and losing my children. And the process of separation was the most brutal process I have ever faced. Stunningly painful.
Intrinsically, I knew, but this really reinforced it, that everything in life has both positive and negative consequences. The negative consequence is that I have lost David, Daniel and Michael potentially forever. The positive consequence is that after this deep pain and after the divorce, I met, fell in love and married the most wonderful person I have ever met. My wife Meredith, and my step kids Morgan and Max, are the best things that have ever happened to me. And the Jewish values that Meredith and I share and the positive energy created by Meredith has helped me realize growth in every part of my life, even in business.
I have learned a number of lessons:
- In a relationship, nice is a must. And nice on the little things—the day to day. The small kindnesses. Besides cherishing the Jewish values I hold dear, Meredith has nice and many, many more things that if I said them here she would kill me—which would not be nice.
- I have learned that everyone who has lived life for a reasonable amount of time has deep scars. I am not unique. My pain is no different from others who have physical, emotional, financial and relationship setbacks.
- I have learned that everything has consequences. My entire growing up was shaped in the realm of family harmony. I was not equipped to deal with family disharmony; my error was not confronting the conflict earlier—before the damage to myself and my children had set in.
- I learned I have to confront conflict earlier, and that I can do it with confidence and with respect, and that at the end of the day things will be better as a result. And that there are resources that can help manage these issues.
- I regret not exploring the relationship between my Jewish values and Shalom Bayit earlier in my first marriage—before the deep damage occurred to my family. I abandoned my Jewish values in order to keep the family together. Looking back that was my mistake. Had I stayed true to those values and explored the conflict between those values and Shalom bayit then maybe I could have saved my family, my business and my health. On the other hand, my slow and deliberate nature plus my ability to absorb tremendous pain led me to a very small opening in terms of timing where I met Meredith and I have been able to achieve a deep and rich happiness with her. It was not a tradeoff. I did not trade the destruction of a family for a magnificent blessed life with Meredith, Max and Morgan, but happened that way. Without the pain and the length of suffering I would not have known the difference and wouldn’t have been in this magnificent place in life.
My strong desire to perpetuate the Jewish values I have grown up with have been realized in the deep satisfaction, meaning and purpose resulting from the relationship with Meredith, Max and Morgan. It is what I have been searching for.
As a family, we have taken several meaningful trips to explore our Jewish heritage. Along with my mother-in-law, Betty Steinfeld, we went to Israel and Poland. We absorbed our history and culture and witnessed both the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the triumph of Israel, its prosperity and life.
In spite of what happened to my relationship with David, Daniel and Michael, I learned that I can still feel blessed. I have the perfect partner and stepchildren; I have hit the jackpot.
I am stunningly thrilled with my life, and I pray every day for David, Daniel and Michael—that they find happiness in their lives and that one day they reconnect with me.
L’Shana Tova (Happy New Year) to everyone! May you have a year of happiness, health, meaningful relationships and lots of little nice.