by Michele Kriegman

An Open Letter to Buddhist Jews

I’ve been writing mental drafts of this letter ever since my estranged husband gave our youngest daughter a stone Buddha and told her to pray to it every day. Was this odd of him? No. Just spiteful. Although we had agreed to raise our children Jewish, he and his siblings are natives of Thailand, where the state religion is Theravada Buddhism. We met and were married in Japan, where most of the population are Mahayana Buddhists belonging to the Pure Land sect. If my children become Buddhists someday, it will not be out of a hankering for the exotic, but an embracing of an authentic part of their heritage. I consider Buddhism as worthy a religion as Judaism. In fact, many of the born and bred Buddhists I know (including my children’s paternal relatives), understand menshlichkeit as well as any Jew (in Thai it’s called namchai, in Japanese it’s called omoiyari). But if my kids left the People of Israel I would fear for their very souls.

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