The street I used to live on in Sakura, an area of Setagaya, Tokyo.

I don’t know Shara Jacobs. But her almost-love story on the Chabad.org website could have been mine.

Who is Shara Jacobs?

She’s a woman of undisclosed age looking back on her teenage self. It was summertime. She was in training in the Poconos to become a lifeguard,  together for the first time with non-Jews, one of whom she fell for.

Shara came from an Orthodox family. She had impeccable Torah values to steer her clear of embracing a non-Jewish boy as her husband. But she did have a vivid imagination, which she used to entertain thoughts of what could never have been.

My own story was so different.

Shara walks us through the agonizing process of daring to even think about a serious relationship with someone who wasn’t Jewish and had no desire to become Jewish.

Unlike Shara, I jumped into a relationship with just such a man–who wasn’t Jewish and had no desire to become Jewish.

The courting is engraved in my memory. First, there is the chemistry, the attraction, the aching for a relationship with someone who is ready to reciprocate love and affection.

Maybe it had to do with impulse control and my lifelong struggle to not act upon every thought that crosses my mind.

Just before reading Shara’s story, I’d had a conversation with Tracey Shipley, a counselor in Jerusalem, who told me how impulse control can be predicted through the cookie test.

When children were presented with a cookie in a research setting, they were told not to eat it for twenty minutes, and if they could wait they would be rewarded with two cookies. A video camera ran the whole twenty minutes, showing the heartbreak of a child losing control, giving in to the impulse for immediate gratification.

The study followed the cookie eaters and found that as adults they were much less likely to complete college, follow through on their goals, and succeed at life.

Whew, I’m not sure I would have been able to abstain from eating the cookie–even though I did manage to graduate from college and graduate school.

I know that when I met my future Japanese husband I didn’t think for a minute about the inevitable problems that would surface somewhere down the road when we would start a family. I wanted the cookie and I wanted it now.

I ask myself now what would have happened if I had just said no to the Japanese father of my two children. It’s unthinkable. We brought into the world a creative daughter and a courageous son made in Japan, and with Torah values that Japan’s young and new Chabad community miraculously offered.  I was slowly learning how to be a Jewish mother on a mission to give my children Torah values, one Shabbat at a time.

Shara reminds me that her admirable story of just saying no is just that — her story.

When you say yes, as I did, you can’t live with the regrets. Instead, you learn with the powerful lessons.  I had a roller coaster ride of a lifetime for thirty years in Japan, with a traditional Tokyo family.

The thing about impulse control is that it can be tamed. Even out there in Tokyo. In Japan I started to copy what I saw at Chabad House, eager adherence to mitzvot –or rules for a happy life, as I’d prefer to call them.  It’s never too late. I have grown children now, and soon it will be their turn to decide whether they eat the cookie or abstain.

This subject is close to my heart. It’s the reason I felt so strongly that I had to write a memoir that puts my thirty years in Japan into a thriving Jewish context. Eventually,  me and my children were led to a new life Israel in 2017 and how we got there is my story. 

 

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