Today is “St Valentines Day” and in true baal teshuva style, we’re not celebrating. What we are (or, what I am) celebrating is 4 years baal teshuva. There is no true date when my journey began, although I can probably pin down the start to a few diary entries I had when I was around 16 years old, when I unassumingly wrote about how grateful I was for all I had and how the world was too perfect to occur by chance – maybe it had a source, a provider, I had pondered, not daring to use the word ‘G-d’. That may have been the start to my inner-journey.
Four years ago I came back from my first trip to Israel. It was in Israel that my ‘spirituality’ got sparked and I stopped being scared of this ‘hippy’ and ‘irrational’ word. It was in Israel that I had decided to go out and find myself some Jewish friends and some insight into what Jewish actually means. At that point in time, I didn’t go to a Jewish school, I had practically no Jewish friends, I wasn’t ‘in’ the community and being Jewish was purely a symbolic birthright. At that point I decided to take matters into my own hands and on my return to Melbourne in early 2006, my journey into Yiddishkite began. I was to stumble up on, with Hashem’s unending puppet strings, a weekly class ran by the local Aish Rabbi. It was nothing intimidating, nothing you had to sign up to, nothing too public. I started going in early 2006 and I went every single week (maybe with the exception of 4 weeks in total) for about 1.5 years. The classes were always fun, the crowd of a similar age and similar lack of knowledge. It was the perfect environment: ask any question no matter how ridiculous, be greeted with a happy welcoming family, make friends, and simply explore. A lot of where I am today I owe to this family.
It was a year after my classes had began that I was ready to hear more, to go further. I had all the basic philosophy down, except the obvious questions that I needed to explore on my own. Mainly, the question of “who says Hashem gave me the Torah to follow?”. All other questions were irrelevant. I believed in G-d at that point and it was simply a matter of, does this apply to my life and how do I really know that THESE are THE instructions.
All year I had been itching to visit the place I fell in love with so dramatically. This time, the journey back to Israel was largely an intellectual one. I had to know one way or the other, where was I heading. I’m not the type of person to sit on the fence. In fact, that really bothers me. I’m accustomed to the saying, “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards”. I had learnt enough about Judaism to know that I was at a crossroads. I needed to know more in order to decide what direction forward would mean. In mid 2007, I would get a 2 month break from work to return to where I belonged and to ask as many questions as possible to as many people as possible in order to find some truth and insight into the questions that boiled inside me. At that point in time, I had made no commitment to becoming more observant. This was to be a purely intellectual exercise, or so I thought. Where thoughts do not turn into action there is a lacking of integrity, for when you know something is true you are obliged to live the truth. That is the true meaning of being at peace with yourself.
I often wonder how much impact people have in our lives. I think it’s really immeasurable. The unfortunate part of it is the people who affect us so greatly often never know their own impact. I have tried to find and thank the people who I know have influenced me in immeasurable ways, but often to no avail. I get a bit of peace from knowing that Hashem keeps track of these things, and these people will surely get rewarded for every mitzva and good deed I do on their behalf. The help or support they provided was not necessarily obvious or flamboyant. It was often little acts that I believe made the difference to the overall picture. My memories of going for Pesach and Succos to a family’s house when we first came to Australia for one. Nothing major, just some hospitality and a beautiful family environment. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Then there were the people that I sought out and that gave me the answers that I needed to hear – straight, to the point. I remember the answer that hit it home for me, from my tutor at Neve. She said: “You think Hashem has made this intricate world with all the details interacting so perfectly, and what, he can’t make a book, an instruction manual for us?”It was so obvious and yet no one else had the strength to say it straight like that. I think of my tutor often and thank her for seeing me and the answers I needed.
I owe a lot to the people who I came across in my journey so far. They are what have brought me here. Kind, honest, life-loving people that are passionate about what they know to be true. Such passion is infectious, and once you understand the logic and maths behind the passion, there is little to do but to live up to your integrity and be passionate. 4 years on, I hope to live up to their passion and their knowledge.