Dear Mike,

Although I don’t know you, I was nevertheless profoundly moved by what you said about your father, Ray Pawelski. I wanted to respond to your post immediately, but I waited because I felt that I ought to give this a great deal of thought. I haven’t experienced a loss of this magnitude yet, and, as such, I’m sort of skeptical about what kind of solace mere words can provide, especially the words of a stranger. Be that as it may, I can relate to having a craftsman in my life, and perhaps what I have to say will be in some way meaningful to you:

While growing up, I remember my grandfather showing me how to solder wires, patiently going through the steps with me, allowing a young teen to handle a blow torch and melt metal in an act of creation. With a tug on each end of the wire, he showed me the strength in what I had just created. The permanence and accomplishment that he showed me through his simple acts have become ingrained in my memory. The pleasure that glowed on his face after he helped someone with his craft. Even today he retains this ingenuity of a craftsman. He recently showed me his contraptions in the retirement home where he lives. He’s a little out of his environment, but he’s making the best of it despite his old age. Still, he has that infectious craftsman’s grin of fascination.

I think these fond memories of my grandfather where a driving factor in why I couldn’t complete my conversion to Judaism. I would hear that my pursuing this new path made my grandfather uncomfortable, and it was starting to make me uncomfortable as well. Judaism began to distance me from him, and that worried me. When I was in mechanics school, a teacher would remind me of these moments I spent with my grandfather, how he would teach me, and each time it hurt a lot. Judaism was clashing with the system of values that my grandfather had instilled in me, values I did not yet know I cherished. Only in this pain did I begin to understand the simple values that he clearly exemplified: namely, that being a mechanic is a way of life (e.g., stopping on the road for a person having car trouble, fixing or welding a broken tool back into functionality, to be used again by a friend in need).

I can relate to the pride that you expressed about your father. We craftsmen strive to create works that we can be proud of, works that will, as you say, stand the test of time. And I realize this lesson is one I treasure deeply, as I see kids around me mindlessly rushing through their mechanical work, unaware of what it really means to be a mechanic, what it really means to be a craftsman, like your dearly departed father.

With great respect,