Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mazel dazzle

The emotional highlight of my Ontario high-school tour was meeting T., a student at Catholic Central High who, when I got to the part of my talk where I mention growing up Jewish, shouted a hearty, "Mazel tov!"

Canadian Catholic schools, owing in part to their state funding and their reputation for discipline, have a large non-Catholic population, so it did not surprise me to learn that T. is a fellow member of the tribe. After listening to me speak to Grades 11 and 12, she paid me the great honor of skipping her sixth-period study time in the library to stay and hear me address the Grades 9 and 10s.

When I finished my second talk, she told me a bit about herself. I was impressed with her generous heart, and especially that she helps her aunt care for her Bubbeh (grandmother), whom. if I remember correctly, she said has Alzheimer's. It was touching to hear her say that she is learning Hebrew so that she can understand what her Bubbeh, who no longer recognizes her, is saying when she yells at her. I complimented her on doing the mitzvah of caring for her grandmother, and told her she would never regret having shown such love to her Bubbeh.

Since she was open to what I had to say and interested in my life, I shared a bit about my conversion, telling her about St. Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of a condemned prisoner at Auschwitz, and giving her a St. Maximilian prayer card that included a medal. But I also encouraged her to take pride in her Jewish heritage, as she does, and urged her to never let anyone make her feel inferior because of it. While those who are now Christian were worshiping the likes of Zeus, I said, her ancestors were worshipping the one true God.


The Grade 12s at Holy Cross—here reacting to my giving a shout-out to those who still had their V-card—were the toughest crowd.

Please pray for T. and for the other teens who approached me after I spoke at high schools this week. I don't envy teens' being that age and in that environment. High school was not a happy time for me. Seeing the way the Ontario girls competed to wear the shortest skirts reminded me of how the social pressure to conform could be unbearable. Thankfully, there were some in each school who had the courage to risk the teasing of their peers and tell me they appreciated what I shared with them.