I was raised in a Modern Orthodox environment, which meant I received a relatively good Torah education and observed Jewish law. But I was more culturally Jewish and my observance was superficial — I did things like attend prayer service, observe Shabbat, eat kosher, etc, because that’s what my parents and teachers told me to do and that’s the environment I was in. I enjoyed aspects of religious worship, like good meals, but I didn’t feel a strong connection to many of these laws. So, when I left home and went to college much of it fell away and I stopped observing the laws. I always maintained belief in a higher power, but it was more on the back burner. I felt good about being a good person and ignored the more ritual, man-to-G-D aspects of Judaism.
Then a few turning points. In my junior year of college I did a semester abroad and I recall a Thanksgiving meal I shared with a large group of friends. We went around the room saying what we were grateful for and during my turn I pointed out how lucky we were to be traveling the world, that we were basically the ‘1%’ (this is a couple years after Occupy Wall Street) and we had a lot to be grateful for. Gratitude never gets old.
Then senior year of college was loads of fun…details when you get older ;)
Then a couple years later I had just started my job post-college as a traveling consultant. First we had training, which consisted of a couple weeks in a hotel in Atlanta and then 5 weeks in India, during which time I was paid a full salary. More gratitude. Then, after training, I was the only one of my cohort to be placed on a project right away — more gratitude — and then one night when I went to check in to my hotel they told me it was booked so I went next door. I asked for a standard room but they were booked up so they put me in a suite at no extra cost. I walked into the room and immediately noticed a big hot tub jacuzzi sitting in the room. I was blown away, had never seen such luxury — not that the hotel or the room themselves were so fancy, but seeing that jacuzzi just threw me for a spin. More gratitude.
At that point I realised I needed to be expressing my gratitude to the higher power that had allowed me to experience all those joys of the previous few years. I realized that, while I maintained good relationship with people, I neglected my relationship with G-D. So I resolved to resume those more ritualistic laws, starting with prayer — specifically, I put on my tefillin in the morning and recited the Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. Just 10 to 15 minutes or so each morning.
Around the same time, in late 2012, three world events shook me — a negative turning point in the tensions between Hamas/Gaza and Israel, Hurricane Sandy slamming the US east coast, and the Sandy New Hook Elementary massacre of 27 schoolchildren. Israel and the gun shooting especially hit me hard. I remember crying at work, much to the shock and discomfort of my colleagues. I donated to causes, I blogged, I shouted on Twitter — but I didn’t feel like I was making any impact.
Then it dawned on me, a Jewish teaching I had heard earlier in my life: ‘Every Mitzvah affects the whole world.’ The realization, the conviction, that each mitzvah is world-changing, combined with the recognition of my obligation to show gratitude to HASHEM, inspired me to return to Him more fully. So I added consistent Torah study to my newfound daily prayers, and built on my observance step by step. Thankfully, I continued in a steady upward trajectory, and over time steadily added Shabbat observance, eating kosher, and attending the morning prayer service.
A few years later, when I was ready to start dating for marriage, I asked girls on the first date whether they wanted to move to Israel. I realized I needed to go. How could I not? Israel is central to our religion — to the Torah, to our prayers and blessings, to our history.
So here I am, living in Israel. And Jerusalem to boot!