Beryl Tritel, LMSW
I became religious when I was in college. I decided to go to the school that I did because it had a large Jewish population and a Jewish feel to the place. I was entranced with the idea of going to a place where I wouldn’t be “the other.” Growing up in my neighborhood, there weren’t very many Jews around; I think there were two others in my high school class of 250.
I was used to sitting at home on Christmas Day, watching movies and feeling lonely because everyone I knew was out and celebrating with their family. I was used to Easter Day, hearing my friends talk about their new dresses and the Easter Egg hunts. Now, I knew then that Chanukah and Passover fall out around those times; however, our self-definition of being Jewish just meant that we weren’t Christian.
There’s a difference. Growing up, we were raised to be “just like everyone else.” Our families had the same goals like everyone else: do well in school, get into a good college, get a job, get married and have kids. Now, I think those are pretty reasonable goals, even for the religious among us. After all, in my opinion, these are the main ingredients for a satisfying and fulfilling life.
However, we weren’t really like everyone else. Our lack of plans on Christmas and Easter made it pretty clear.
When I think of my life at that time, I imagine trying to fit into an outfit that, well, just didn’t quite fit. The style is nice, even attractive. But, either it had an annoying tag, or the waist band was just a (wee) bit too tight (ahem). I could squeeze into the outfit, but I could never really get comfortable.
We didn’t have a tree, nor, did we hunt for eggs. But we didn’t do much of the “Jewish stuff” either. We went to temple on Rosh Hashanah until I had my bat mitzvah. At that point, my parents stopped our synagogue membership – it just wasn’t relevant anymore. We lit a menorah on Chanukah – which also petered out during my teenage years. We did have a seder – at a friend of my mother’s – until springtime meant sports practice and afterschool clubs that made going to a several hours-long meal no longer feasible.
So, our Judaism wasn’t defined by the beauty of being Jewish, but, rather, on what we weren’t supposed to do. That left me with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction.
I tried the idea of just “believing in G-d,” and that was my spirituality, for a time. Then, I met people in college who really had a relationship with G-d, felt His presence in their existence. Suddenly, Shabbat, kashrut and halachah were no longer ancient relics from the days of my great-grandparents, but rather the basis of a real, living, and breathing existence that I could have – if I wanted.
After soul-searching, questioning, and observing, I realized that not only was G-d real, He was a force in my life. He cared about me, and my becoming religious was not just about serving Him, but, improving myself.
So, I still do not hunt for eggs or buy a tree for my house. But, rather, I prepare for Shabbos, make challah, keep kashrut, and light my Shabbos candles on time. I try to learn halachah, try to listen to shiurim. When I open my windows come Nissan, I hear the sounds of vacuums whirring, water splashing, and music blasting to help keep us motivated with our Pesach cleaning, and I know that this is what I was meant to do.
While it isn’t always easy, I try to keep Hashem in the forefront of my mind. When the good and the bad happen, I remember that there is One who is in control.
Yes, I still struggle sometimes. Yes, there are times that I think that things would “certainly be easier if…” but then I think of all of the billions of people in the world, and all the different paths travelled by them. And, that is when I feel truly blessed to have been picked to be a Jew.
So, yes, I still strive to be just like everyone else around me. But, now, the annoying tags are gone, and, my waist band has gone elastic (cough), but, at least I know that I am wearing the outfit I was meant to wear.
Beryl Tritel, LMSW is an individual and marriage therapist, specializing in the full range of Women’s Life Issues. She has offices in Ramat Bet Shemesh and at The Place in Jerusalem. She also sees clients all over the world over via Skype. She can be reached at 011-972-58-9454 or at email@example.com