Reconnecting Through Meditation

B”H

As I prepare for Yom Kippur (and similar with preparations to the recently-passed holiday Rosh Hashanah), I look back and see where I need to do some teshuvah, repentence, for behavior, actions, thought, speech, etc., that could have been done differently. A lot of the time I can get stuck in a rut, saying “I can’t believe I did that,” and “I’m so dumb.” I really like to engage in self-deprecating speech, thoughts and action. It’s almost as if the more I dislike myself and act this way toward myself, the more comfortable I get because I don’t have to have any decent standards, because I’m not decent. No, it’s not “it’s almost as if,” it is!

Contrary to my popular belief, the goal of evaluating my life and doing proper teshuvah is not in order to devalue myself, but rather to find ways to value myself even more than before and for others to find value in what I can bring to the world.

A few days ago, I was talking to my married neighbor who has two children. She said to me how she is in awe of what I do as a mother who is also in school and also an employee. She said she doesn’t know how I can do it all by myself. The first thought that popped into my mind was that she was saying this just to be nice. But what would have forced her to say this?! Absolutely nothing, that’s what. She was actually being sincere! Once I understood this, a smile took over my face. I began to see what I am doing right and the positive things about being the person I am today, single mother and all.

Recently, I read that mediation is for yourself and that prayer is for G-d. I know, prayer and meditation seem to be awfully similar, and sometimes I can even use these terms interchangeably. Some define meditation as something Buddhist monks spend a great deal of their time doing. Others define it as time to focus on a specific tefilah, prayer. Others just focus solely on the individual letters making up a tefilah. All of these answers are correct, and it depends on what helps you attain the end goal of meditation.

To compliment this statement that I read, I was privy to a discussion about meditation last night. The more I listened, the more I realized how true this statement is. For each person – who all meditate in a non-prescribed way – felt better connected to G-d afterward and were able to communicate straight to Him as they finished with the tefilot of their choice.

Meditation helps me to prepare to connect with G-d. It allows me to be in a state of bittul, self-nullification, and to carry out acts that G-d would like it if I would do. This includes praying to Him with the utmost respect, concentration and kavanah, intention. Beyond readying myself for prayer, meditation also helps to nullify myself in order to be G-d’s messenger, and to carry His message to the world, rather than the message that I see important and fit for the day. We are all G-d’s messenger, we just have to seize this opportunity and listen to what His message is in order to carry it forth to all of His creations.

When I focus on what needs to be done, I can make positive choices for my family and my surrounding community. However, before meditation, it is hard for me to see outside of my personal struggles and all I want to do is propagate the misery I’m feeling when I can’t see out of this hole. Always striving to be able to do the next right thing seems like it should be easy, but many times I allow myself to get in the way and I need to find a way to kick myself out of the way! I’ve found that meditation accomplishes this in the most painless way.

During Rosh Hashanah services, I felt that my davening was taken to a different level than it normally is. I felt this true connection, this nonstop direct flight to G-d from me in my chair in the women’s section. I felt the true power of these words that are so eloquently picked to be in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, special siddur for the High Holidays. Why was this davening so special to me? Why did it take on such a different vibe than during normal times of tefilah? I had meditated for the entire month of Elul (and continue to do so more intensely than normal during aseres yemei hateshuvah, the ten Days of Repentance) and was finally ready to do some serious tefilah for G-d. Not for myself, but for G-d.

G-d doesn’t need me to daven with such kavanah, but He wants me to, and I want to be able to do what He wants of me. Hour after hour of High Holiday services, I’m telling Hashem simply this – how I want to right what I’ve done wrong and to continue to cleave to Him as He has directed the Jewish people. It feels really good when my daughter apologizes to me after doing something I repeatedly told her not to do. This is so basic and on such a low level compared to each Yid’s connection to G-d. I can only imagine how special it makes G-d feel to have more than just an apology, more than just a few tears when I realize how bad I’ve been, more than “bad to good.” This is all just more. This is so much more it’s on a level I can’t comprehend, one that is full of spiritual juju and powerful vibes to elicit this innate connection Yidden have to their neshama, and in turn to G-d.

To put it more simply: I felt a physical and spiritual change when I realized that this davening is not for me, but in fact for G-d. While G-d doesn’t need anything, He appreciates when we walk in His ways and it helps to strengthen that finite-infinite bond that we have with Him.

Now I’m re-evaluating my year. I see the positive in it, and I also see missed opportunities to connect with G-d. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t do right, say right, think right, etc., I’m focusing on how I can change these missed opportunities into taken opportunities. Even though the events are still the same (I’m not a time-traveler!), the way I approach them are different when I realize that I’m doing life not for my benefit, but for the benefit of G-d and to ultimately create this world into His dwelling place.

Keeping in mind that I am constantly working toward creating this world into His dwelling place seems easy at first, but with a second glance it’s easy to see how life can get in the way of this thought. When I can realize I’m not going down the path I need to be in terms of thought, speech or action, the best thing I can do is to recognize it. Once I recognize this, then I can take steps to correct it, such as meditating and subsequently strengthening that ability to connect with G-d. All within a split second.

When I get into this rut of “I’m not good enough,” I can recognize it, stop, breathe, meditate, and continue to connect with G-d. As I heard a wise person say, if I feel that G-d is far away, it’s me that’s moving because He is always there. Meditation is one way to move back toward G-d.

May we receive many brachos this year, grow closer to G-d and may merit the coming of Moshiach NOW!

G’mar chasima toivah! May you finally be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Letting Out the Refined Radical

There this urge inside of me to let my wild, rebellious, anti-the-man, live-off-the-grid personality run free. But yet there is this influence of calm, a sense of modest personality and “refinement” that is also tugging at the coattails of my persona. Who am I really? Can I be both?

Pre-ba’alat teshvah, I would say I was a rebellious, who-cares-what-they-think, let-me-run-this-show type of woman. I am going to fight for every right I believe I deserve and do it at all costs. I was going to educate my daughter on everything that I wasn’t, she was going to be the most political-minded little girl I ever knew. She was going to understand that the world was only evil if you looked at it that way, but it was hard to not look at it that way. She was going to see that everything really is rainbows and ponies, you just have to believe it and they will follow.

Then I started becoming religious. I backed off of swearing, I started dressing more modestly, when before I prided myself in the freeness of my skin. Certain garments were deemed torture devices and weren’t worn at every moment possible. Now I get upset when I buy a shell and it doesn’t cover all the way up to my neck. Even a shred of skin showing past my neck is unacceptable, in my eyes. I also refuse to wear the sheer nylons. I wore them for a while, and then I decided I wasn’t happy with the covering that they do. My daughter would ask me why I wasn’t wearing tights. I then showed her I was, but I realized that they were a poor excuse of “covering,” once again, in my eyes.

I only listen to religious Jewish music, and I’m pretty picky about what I will accept (sometimes). I won’t even walk in to a non-kosher restaurant (that’s Halacha – Jewish law). I read only Jewish themed books, mainly written by religious authors.

So where did this wild, rebellious, anti-the-man, live-off-the-grid girl go? Did I smother her with religion and she couldn’t breathe and now her corpse, h”vs, is forgotten about in the corner somewhere?

This sometimes now-seeming mythical girl is still inside of me. She’s thriving off of the Chassidus I’ve been learning. She’s been becoming stronger, smarter and faster and has started to reappear in the past month. She also has lost some of her “refinement” due to outside influences, i.e. work. The swear words have returned, but I realized and I’ve began to muffle them again.

It wasn’t unusual for someone to tell me I put a sailor to shame. And now I find it appalling when others swear. So why is it coming back? What happened to all of this “positive change?”

I don’t think I ever left the I’m-changing-the-world-NOW part of myself behind. I’ve become an activist within observant Judaism. And, recently, I’ve started to see me make choices as a renegade woman turned mother. I want to instill truth in my daughter and push age off to the side. I want her to know what life is really like and how to make it amazing and to prevent bad things from happening. I want to do this by education of history and the horrible things that have happened. I want her to be far more educated than her friends in terms of politics (or at least in the parts of it that I care about). I want her to care about the greater goodness of the world.

Have I forgotten in this whole charade that she is in fact a child? And that possibly living with childhood innocence isn’t always a bad thing?

I was stripped of my innocence as a child. I was bullied for as long as I can remember. And then beyond that, I was graced with middle-child syndrome, which has always described my relationship within my family. How I raise my daughter, or think about raising her, is based on my current personality, likes, cares, etc. and also about what I didn’t like about my upbringing. Am I mad that I was sheltered as a child to such an extreme I was unready for the “real world?” Yes, but thankfully I was resourceful as a child and I introduced myself to the “real world” at a very young age and became street smart very quickly. But I also forgot that I didn’t like having my innocence stolen at such a young age due to the unhappiness felt deep inside of me.

Now I have a dilemma that I believe many ba’alei teshavah have at one point in their life. Based on my past personality and what I am working toward at the moment, how do I act? The answer seems simple but in actuality is a bit more complicated. It becomes complicated because you’re in a space of transition and the real you is still being molded ever so slightly.

My answer to myself at the moment is to not stifle everything. Yes, I will put the kabash on things that don’t feel right, things that make me feel yucky afterward. But in terms of radicalness, I can still be radical. Maybe not in the ways I would have been before, but I can still be radical. I just need to search for the right about of tone that I want to be displayed to others. After all, a part of observance to me is also the essence of refinement. This doesn’t mean that I need to speak only when spoken to, but rather to be able to monitor what I am displaying to others. Of course, I want people to know that I’m serious about topics I have vested interest. But I don’t need to go off on the deep end when sharing this passion. I need to find a way to share my enthusiasm without it becoming categorical into me deeming everything else as bad. Rather than focusing on the negatives, I need to focus on the positives and find a way to display enthusiasm as positive for what I believe is right.

Refinement. It seems like such an archaic word, but yet something that I’m striving toward so hard that I almost am missing it even though it’s within my reach. I’m not sure if I will ever reach that moment of “Okay, I’m completely where I need to be with no changes to be made!” Changes are applicable to everyone at every moment. Only one Being is perfect, and it’s the One Above. I’m just striving for enough refinement today to make myself happy, to make Him pleased, and to be able to be of most service to others. All while not shunning my past, but rather welcoming the positive aspects of it with open arms. I am a product of who I am now and who I have always been.

What 8 Days of Freedom Taught Me

I’m asking myself this question that I’m sure many of you want to ask me as well. Why am I posting a blog after an 8 day holiday where I have a lot of clean up afterward (turning the kitchen over…) and a lot of studying for finals to be doing?! It’s because I learned so much this very, very long chag (holiday) and am very grateful for so many things, even though they may have gotten the best of me at the moment.

It all started in the kosher market before Pesach even started. My daughter and I were shopping for food, and we came to the frozen meat case. On top of it were cans of macaroons. Even though we don’t eat processed food on Pesach, I really have a thing for macaroons! I thought, okay, we’ll buy two cans, for before and after the chag. I was pointing to each can and telling my daughter what kind they were. At one point, a woman was just staring at us. This store is packed – the only kosher market for a whole tri-county area, if not larger. I assumed she wanted to get by. So I asked her if we could move for her, she said that she was just admiring what was going on between me and my daughter.

I didn’t know at the moment how powerful that was going to be, but after eight days of no chametz, a deflated ego, a tired child and mommy, as I’m sitting here eating said macaroons, I realize that I’m not the worst mother and that no person is perfect. For me to expect my child to be perfect is definitely a stretch, but most of the time she is an angel. Other times when she isn’t being on her best behavior, it’s not because she’s a bad kid, but rather because she’s a kid and a human. If we were all always perfect, what would our purpose be to our Creator? He’s perfect, he doesn’t need a perfect world, but rather one that can make the choice to be as perfect as possible to be able to have a better relationship with Him.

Throughout Pesach, I came closer to my wits end with each day. From my daughter not wanting to listen during Bircat Cohanim to doing the little things that irritate me to just being a kid, by the end of Pesach I just couldn’t handle it any more.

And I sat back and evaluated what was going on. I’ve been actively trying to work on my anger so that, G-d willing, it won’t be something I have any longer.

Pesach is the holiday of freedom. We were redeemed from being slaves in Egypt and were able to begin our journey to the Holy Land and to, G-d willing one day, receive the Torah during the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. This is basically the lease on life. But first, we had to do a few things in order to merit being redeemed. After we took the Egyptians idol into our homes, smeared blood over our doors and ran as our bread was still in the process of rising, we were presented with our next biggest problem. The Yam Suf, Sea of Reeds, was in our way and we thought, Why?! Why, Moshe, did you bring us here? Were there not enough graves in Egypt?

When we decided to have a little bit of faith, we found that Hashem was not going to redeem us from Egypt only to have us killed by the Egyptians who had changed their minds about letting us go. But rather everything was done with importance and reason, during the plan made at the time of creation.

This was not the last time the Jews had to “have belief,” nor was it the first. Religion, in and of itself, is belief. I don’t have to have believe in something that is proven. What is there to have belief in? It’s proven! But G-d, there’s not direct physical proof that I have that a Higher Power exists. I just have to believe that one does exist.

At the moment that my daughter is kicking and screaming during Bircat Cohanim because she doesn’t want to stand up, go under her friend’s Tatty’s talis, or do whatever is being asked of her, I have to have believe that Hashem is allowing this for a reason. And it’s not just to be cruel to me! But rather a learning experience for the both of us, even if I don’t know what that lesson is quite yet. When I can have that belief, freedom is sure to follow. I don’t have the frets in regard to the situation and I can rest easy knowing that this, too, shall pass.

The fact that this woman told me she was admiring how I am with my daughter at a time where I was definitely stressed out, but my daughter wasn’t yet, tells me that I’m not a terrible mother. It tells me that this is a long holiday, and that my daughter is now stressed, tired and over stimulated. And that’s okay! We are allowed to have our better days than others, but we should keep in mind that maybe someone else who is having a good day may have a not so good day on a day we are having a better day. We are all entitled to our feelings, others just need to recognize that. And in recognition of this, we also can see that these feelings are not because we did something to them to make them feel this way, they just do because of their own self-contained system.

Over Pesach, I not only gained freedom from Mitzrayim, but I also gained freedom from parental guilt.

“In every generation one must look upon himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt .” (Pesachim 116b)  B’chol dor vador

Women and Men

I’ve been having extremely vivid dreams lately, and last night was no exception. They’re generally dreams that I would normally consider nightmares, however, they have not had the same effect on me as usual, baruch Hashem. Although I did have an additional type of dream last night that was more thought-provoking than scary. And this is all I can remember from it: Menachem* asked me, “What kind of emotional connection do you have with him when you speak to him?”

Menachem* is a shliach in a shul I frequent and the husband of the woman who first asked me to spend a Shabbat, resulting in me being shomer Shabbat today.

I can’t remember who I was speaking to, except for the fact that it was not a male friend, but either a family member or someone I needed to speak to because of professional concerns.

This is a topic I’ve been thinking heavily about recently.

Shomer negiah: one who observes the halachic prohibition of touching a non-family member of the opposite sex

I’ve been trying to be strictly shomer negiah, but making the transition is hard. One awkward part is telling people why you won’t take their extended hand when attempting to shake. But once you’ve done it a few times it gets easier….theoretically! But it’s worth the awkwardness, because it’s what I believe is the right thing to do.

The next part that has been difficult for me surrounds my friendships with men. Before I became observant, I had many male friendships. And it wasn’t a big deal, because in 2014, men and women can be friends. And I still can be if I want to. However, the question that I was asked in my dream is the big deal about it. Is this relationship extremely emotional?

I have an emotional connection with many of my female friends. We talk about heavy things, and sometimes lighter things. But we have experiences together that can be emotional. Visiting places together, such as a museum, a city or a speaking engagement, causes there to be an emotional connection. In secular society, we don’t pay attention to this connection, or if we are aware of it, not in this sense as to actually what that connection is.

There is also this emotional connection with the male-counterpart friendships. Is this an emotional connection you want to have with a member of the opposite sex that’s not your husband? Do I want to connect aimlessly with every male I run into in such an emotional way – from the electric feeling in a handshake to sharing our life’s aspirations with each other?

Since becoming shomer negiah, I have made a few slips. I’ve taken a males hand for a handshake in weak moments where I didn’t want to trudge forward in the awkward, “It’s a religious thing” statement of refusal of his extended hand-of-peace. And when I’ve made the slip and accepted the seemingly hand-of-peace turned hand-of-desire. This electric current ran from the union of our hands up my arm and made me feel weird, giddy and guilty all at the same time. This is when I was able to realize how much of a connection you have with a person from even such a simple action of shaking a persons hand.

If this is the connection I have with a person from just shaking their hand and not even knowing them past a hairs breadth in that moment, what kind of connection does a conversation with a male friend create?

When sharing the details of an emotional trip with a male friend who had been in similar places with similar feelings, that connection is extremely emotional.

When speaking with a male friend about an ill family member, that’s extremely emotional.

When speaking with a friend about the trials and tribulations of university courses and the selection for next semester based on said trials and tribulations, that is an extremely emotion connection.

There is virtually an extremely emotional connection in every encounter with a human being in this realm. And to not be able to be conscious of this because you’re having an emotional connection with every human being without care is a sad existence as I have discovered. It’s allowed me to treasure each interaction I have with someone and allowed me to be conscious of what kind of relationship – or lack thereof – that I want to have with people.

In all honesty, when I began to have these emotional-connection realizations, I started to feel kind of dirty when I thought back on the relationships I have had with male friends. Strictly platonic relationships made me feel dirty. While some may start to think now how oppressed I’m becoming, I’d like to think the opposite.

I don’t feel guilty, or dirty, or shameful for the relationships I’ve had in the past. Initially, yes, these were some feelings that I had (and sometimes still have). But to move beyond those feelings, I realized that the feeling I was truly having was sadness and regret for not having this realization of how emotional these connections were and could be. I just missed out on such a large human connection within such a desensitized interaction.

In those moments is when I realize what a bracha it is to be able to be shomer negiah. I get to be able to realize what a deep connection you have with people with even such medial tasks as shaking a persons hand or sharing stories about one’s day.

Having these connections with female friends is amazing. I love that I can have such strong platonic connections with people.

But do I really want to have these connections with a member of the opposite sex who is not my husband? It’s like I’m sharing my most intimate moments with every male, and that’s not necessary or a pretty thought.

Making the decision to save these seemingly platonic but deeply emotional intimate moments for just my husband (iyh) is a decision that will change the intensity of said relationship (iyh).

While a dream of clarity mixed in between strange non-nightmare but used-to-be nightmare dreams seems awkward, I’m glad I had it. Such a simple question has completely given me the last push to really be conscious of these connections and to honor my innermost desires to not have these connections recklessly.

*Names have been changed.

Adding One More Thing

It’s been a little bit over a month since I’ve posted anything to this blog. Why is this? Probably because I’m taking 18 credits at an astute university, an only mother to a super cute almost-5-year-old and a part-time employee for a job I highly dislike. I have realized that without sleeping, there simply isn’t enough time to get everything done. With sleeping, there’s just enough time to get nothing accomplished.

So my dilemma is huge – do I not support my family but am present to raise my daughter or do I drop out of college in order to pay the bills I have now and to never hope for more for my family?

The choice is obvious: go into tons of debt in order to get ahead in life.

Okay, so maybe not tons of debt, but more than I had anticipated. And what do I gain by doing this? Everything.

I’m able to go to school and do my homework, take care of my super cute little muffin and sleep. Whoa, I didn’t realize 5 years ago how precious sleep is, but now, under the pressure of three super hard classes, a yucky job and being an only parent, sleep is like a rare gem. You only find it in the most desolate of places, and my life is anything but desolate.

Among having a nervous breakdown at the end of my Hebrew class as I cried to an almost-ba’alat teshuva friend and my teacher who’s known me since my baby naming, I realized what’s really most important. What I should be putting in front of everything else in life.

For years I thought it was my daughter. And my studies came in at a close second. I, of course, came at the dead end of the list. But still, I am not at the top of the list now.

What should come first is Torah study. Being so busy all I have had time to do is daven the minimum and occasionally pull out my Chayenu (weekly Torah study newsprint) to read some Chumash (five books of Moshe) with Rashi (revered Torah commentator) or possibly a small spark of chassidus as I teach it to my daughter through a made-for-kids daily study pamphlet.

However, every time I managed to learn a little Torah, my day got progressively better. I understood how to conquer life just that much more. I understood how I need to treat my relationship with Hashem just that much more. My daughter loves having the Jewish learning, and for me to deprive her of that is simply not healthy.

So my resolution from this big mess I call my life isn’t to necessarily quit my job (but I will) or to quit school or to be a better parent. My resolution is to simply add one more thing to my never-ending list. Isn’t it funny how adding something to a list can actually make the list worth while?

When I study Torah I daven better. I have more concentration in my prayers. I understand the heaviness of the words that I’m uttering.

When I study Torah I tend to think about others more. I tend to leave the judgements at home and find a way to make myself closer to Hashem.

But of course, I make mistakes and sometimes think that I can’t fit Torah into my schedule. But just when I thought my schedule couldn’t get any more rough, I find myself browsing Facebook or planning my upcoming trip to Eretz Yisrael (!!!!). So in those few moments, I’m sure I can manage to squeeze in the most important thing to life – learning Torah. And when I realize I can’t possibly fit one more thing into my schedule, that’s when I need to the most.

Joy on the Solar New Year

At the beginning of last year, I began my second year cigarette-free and had given my daughter a Jewish name. I started trying to get Saturday’s off to attend synagogue and to learn more about Judaism, the religion I was born into.

The Shabbos before Tu b’Shvat, I was invited to a Shabbaton, and after a few exchanges, was hosted by a wonderful family and completely kept my first Shabbat. I subsequently told my teachers about the issues I had with some assignment deadlines because of holidays and/or Shabbat. I have kept Shabbat ever since.

As people would introduce themselves to me with their Hebrew/only names, I would always respond with, “Nice to meet you. I’m Anna, but my Hebrew name is Chana.” I made a decision to start going by my Hebrew name around April, and I even published several articles with it instead of my English name per-usual. That made it real. I made a new email address and changed all of my “from” names to Chana. My Facebook page name subsequently changed, and I put my “preferred” name at university as Chana.

I said things such as, “I can wear the long skirts, but I can’t do the long sleeves. I wear tank tops all the time in the summer — it’s who I am.” I was told to take things as they come after this same woman told me a story about how she wasn’t going to do the things that she now does today in honor of Hashem. Then came my birthright trip at the end of May, and I started to keep tznius (Jewish code of modesty) and kosher inside and outside of the home. Before, I ate what I wanted to wherever I wanted to and kept tznius on Friday’s and Saturday’s.

When my lease expired at my residence placed 3 miles from my choice of synagogue in my town, I decided to move close to it so I could stay in my own home for Shabbat as well as be able to host people for Shabbat dinner or to sleepover. My kitchen is completely kosher and I keep halav and pas Yisroel.

I started to keep shomer negiyah, but found it hard to instill. On the Single Jewish Mother’s retreat, I spoke with a woman (now friend) about it and she said to just get over myself and tell people I won’t shake their hands/give them hugs! If it was this important to me, I needed to show others that it’s important, and they will follow in line. I have found that people do just accept it, albeit a little taken aback at first. But it’s better to live by my morals and be happy than always worry about other’s feelings and be miserable myself.

I have gone to many Jewish retreats, learning sessions, Women’s Circle events, etc. I want to not just be a part of the Jewish community, but to help make the Jewish community. I want to participate in everything that I embark upon in my life, and I want to help create the community and not just take from it. I’m doing what I can, also, to help pass on to the next forgotten Jew what was so freely given to me. If it wasn’t for that first contact with a kind soul in the synagogue/before I even got there, I may not be where I am today. It’s like the starfish story. If I can affect one person, my job is complete.

I attended Burning Man for the first time, and as an observant Jewish woman. What an amazing experience that was. I broke my ankle while I was there, and discovered the kindness of others and how to ask for help. I learned it’s okay to not be completely reliant on myself, and that to build a community sometimes we can’t be. Without the assistance of others, we’re running through life with only a partial perspective — that of ourselves. To be rich with a community, I need others to put in their experience, their strength, their hope. I need others to make a community, to make a network, to make a world.

While my life right now is not completely perfect (as I observe my living room still in boxes from moving in September and toys strewn between the boxes), it’s a life I’m happy to be living today. If this is what 2013 brought, I can’t wait for the wonders to unfold (and many which already have only five days in!) this year in 2014.

It’s not the Jewish new year, but it is a time where the world is happy. And when the world is happy, Hashem is happy and rejoices.

I Am Who I Am

Through my journey as a ba’alat teshuvah and a single mother, I’ve wanted to just “fit in,” for someone to not realize I’m a ba’alat teshuvah. I felt like it would be a big achievement when no one questioned how I knew something or didn’t assume they needed to teach me something. When an observant woman would confide in me as a confidant, rather than show me the ropes, that to me was the biggest success.

Last night, a woman asked me, “Where did you find time to learn all about kosher?”

“Excuse me?” I said. I thought, who are you to assume I didn’t grow up with this way of life?! I was very taken aback.

“Well, did you learn it in your home or….?”

“Well, I just learned it because I had to.” I decided that I’m proud of who I am and that I’m not going to let someone shame me into pretending that I’ve always been frum from birth (FFB- growing up in an observant home). “When I made the decision to go ahead with to make a change, I had to. I also have a 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and it’s just how we have to live.”

Why is “blending in” a big achievement? I am someone who has never really “blended in” her whole life. I have always been the black sheep of society, doing things to the beat of a drum that I didn’t even know of the origin. So why now do I want to fit in?

You have to go back a lot further than to when I started becoming observant. You have to go back to the beginning. I always felt out of place, and even though I never fit in and did things contrary to what one might do to be accepted, that’s all I ever wanted. The reason I stuck at the Chabad shul I first attended, but never went back to the conservative shul I was brought up in was because of that — acceptance. People noticed me and accepted me as who I was. They didn’t try to change me, they didn’t even let on that they knew I was different.

So as I became observant, I still wanted to fit in, as I have wanted to my whole life. But last night I realized that fitting in isn’t the greatest achievement. When I can be firm in who I am, I can let this woman know that even someone with dreads, a never-married single mother, can also become observant. That people from all walks of life, people with different stories, can become interested in something that you hold so dear. This club isn’t for people who look just like you or who want it, for me, this club – and I say club affectionately! – is for me because without it I will die. For me, spirituality and a faith in a higher power is what keeps me on this side of the earth.

I’m committed to letting people know that everyone is able to have this life, to become interested in this life and to adopt this life. I’m committed to this not by words, but by actions. I’m committed to acting as an upstanding observant woman. I’m committed to serving HaShem with the highest of standards and without folding when things become tough.

In today’s standards, I became observant in a relatively short period of time. You hear a lot about how people who have done this have given up the lifestyle when things became hard. I was recently asked this same thing by one of the shlichim in my town. “How do you know that you won’t give this up if things go wrong?”

I started first by explaining how within the ba’alei teshuvah movement of the 60’s and 70’s, people became observant very quickly. They did so because their lives depended on it. They were spiritually bankrupt, living a lifestyle that was very sketchy, that wasn’t conducive for a positive lifestyle. They became observant because they knew that without it, they wouldn’t prosper for much longer. They felt their neshamas crying out for HaShem.

I feel the same way. I have a spiritual malady with physical presentations (addiction/alcoholism). Without the spiritual cure, I’m doomed. I cannot recover without it. I will return to the unhealthy lifestyle and lose everything I’ve worked so hard for, including my life, G-d forbid.

I already had a difficult situation arise. I questioned for a split second, should I keep going down this path? YES! Yes, because by giving this up, am I hurting others or myself? I’m only hurting myself, and I deserve better. I deserve to have this faith in G-d and to serve Him in the best way possible. To serve Him is the greatest responsibility of them all, and it’s one I’m not willing to give up for anything. Especially when I know the repercussions, and the image is anything but beautiful.

So yes, maybe I became observant rather quickly, but I needed it. When you look at my daughter, you see that she needed it, too. Judaism is her whole life, and without it, I’m scared to think about what life would be like for her. She latches on to everything she learns and craves to learn more. This is the greatest gift I could ever have given her.

I’m here to stay, and I’m to show that everyone has the ability to grab on to this lifestyle. I’m here to bridge gaps, I’m here for me, I’m here for you.

I’ll go now, so I can put all of this into action, because without actions, works are dead.