I was born and raised in a typical Jewish conservative family in a suburb of Chicago. I went to Hebrew school a couple of times a week-unhappily-and my family went to synagogue on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. We had a Seder on Passover. I had a Bat Mitzvah, but I couldn’t tell you what I read because I just wasn’t interested. However, I could tell you everything about the boy I had a crush on that day and what he wore.
I went through high school, college, and entered the working world. I was dating and dating, but I hadn’t met the right one-probably because he wasn’t Jewish- that’s when my road to Jewish re-discovery began. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen over night. The spark of inspiration was ignited back in 1991 when I took my first trip to Israel-UJA Singles Mission to Israel- a graduation gift from my parents. I was not the same person after that trip. Something had been ignited in my soul and it was hungry for more Israel. Six months after that first trip, I was back on a plane to Israel and enrolled in the WUJS Program. I spent one full-year in Israel; six months in Arad and six months in Tel Aviv. This was not a religious experience, but the work experience did wonders for my resume.
After that year in Israel, I returned home and became more involved in Jewish events, at least for a few months. I was lured away by a busy social scene, dinner parties, and shopping my way down Michigan Avenue. There was almost nothing Jewish in my life except the Mezzuzah on my door post. My parents were very concerned with my lack of a Jewish identity and begged me to meet with their friend who just happened to be a Rabbi. Very smart parents. We spoke for a bit about my current priorities and just where my Jewish roots, or lack of them, had gone. In his very calming voice, he suggested that I sign up for a 2 week program in Israel and have my “batteries re-charged”. I thought it was also a great idea and joined up with Livnot . This is where I really connected with my Jewish identity; observing Shabbat, eating only kosher foods, and praying. I never knew Shabbat could be so much fun; singing, schmoozing, and eating. I was in love with it. I wanted more, yet, I was returning home to a very non-Jewish lifestyle. What now?
At that time in my life, Friday night was for clubbing, Saturday was for shopping, and Sunday was for brunch. After a few phone calls from the local Chicago alumni of Livnot, I was hooked-up with a group of Jewish people with their own ‘road to re-discovery’. We became very close. Not long after I had met them, I signed-up with a torah study partner and started to spend every other Shabbos with them. There was never a shortage of invites from hospitable families for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. Whoever labeled Jewish food as unhealthy and full of salt must go to these families. Who knew kosher Chinese, Italian, and Mexican cuisine could taste so authentic!
After frequent visits to the community, I was introduced to a young, charismatic Rabbi. He told me that Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov, founder and director of She’arim College of Jewish Studies for Women, was speaking in Chicago. I went. I listened. I signed-up. After meeting some of the alumna from She’arim and Reb. Pavlov’s lecture on “giving without taking”, I was sold. Sign me up, I want more. That is when the rocky path on my road to Jewish re-DIScovery was got smoother. This is how I wanted to be Jewish. I felt at home with the reasons behind keeping Shabbos and eating only kosher food. And the reason behind not speaking idle gossip and honoring our parents, loved it. It made sense to me. It was who I had always been, I just hadn’t discovered until I was 33 years old.
I gave notice at my job, sublet my apartment and boarded what would be the most exciting flight of my life. When I arrived in Israel and met the other women at She’arim, I had never felt so in the right place at the right time. The friendships made in those 6 short months have become like family to me and my family. We started out on our very own roads to re-DISCovery with minimal or no Jewish observances. We have grown into Jewish women raising our own Jewish families on Shabbos, Kosher, and Torah. That’s my road to re-DISCovery and I’m staying on it!