KJ Hannah Greenberg


During the early part of 1998, my husband and I were blessed with our youngest child’s birth. He was the product of a crisis pregnancy than involved nearly half of a year of bedrest and 16 trips to the emergency room.

Throughout that pregnancy, Hashem revealed Himself to us. Meaning, our child’s beginning is not only a narrative but a miracle. His gestation and birth were also my family’s bridge to frumkeit. More exactly, before that son’s conception, there had been a lost pregnancy and an older sibling who had been hospitalized, when only days old, for suspected sepsis and meningitis.

Initially, that son was at risk for being born so prematurely as to not be able to survive. Later, he was at risk for being born so prematurely as to endure permanent disabilities. My husband and I were blessed that he was born alive. We were further blessed that he was healthy. What’s more, we were amazed, but not entirely surprised, that he was born weighing more than ten pounds and was, at the outset, measured as being twenty-three inches in length. Hashem had answered our prayers more fully than we could have imagined them being answered.

During that pregnancy’s highs and lows, an Orthodox (!) rabbi had given us encouragement. Thereafter, his Orthodox community had made our entire family feel welcomed. The Boss never let us fall even when we made mistakes in the process of learning to embrace Torah and mitzvot.

Two decades earlier, my husband and I met at a technical university. With more education and time, he became a software architect and I became a rhetoric professor. Then, Torah observance sat at the periphery of our shared radar. Our early attempts at being more religious included inviting friends to Pesach seders and reserving student lounges to eat honeycake with classmates during the week leading up to the Yomim Noraim.

Hubs and I had been raised in nonorthodox streams of Judaism. We were distracted from the derech eretz by secular studies, by the “freedoms” concommitant to universities of the 1970s, and by each other. We didn’t understand that worldly knowledge was a tool not a goal. On balance, our Rav encouraged us that, prior to knowing him, we had made “a beginning.”

Interestingly, we had been married by an orthodox rabbi, who, along with the shomer Shabbot stranger that he brought to our nuptials, signed our ketubah. Since our marriage was kosher, later, we didn’t have to remarry each other.

However, at the time, our lives, for the most part, were filled with the commonplaces of secular graduate students and then secular young professionals. Time passed before we began to buy only kosher meat and to limitedly observe other mitzvot.

The stars in our eyes during our earliest years were nothing relative to the subsequent galaxies manifested by our hopes and dreams. Until we became parents, we were a stereotypical American DINK (double income, no kids) couple so much so that we bought a sofa, purchased parts of professional wardrobes, and added days of personal vacations to our travels whenever we spoke at conferences. We didn’t know enough to be concerned that our “parve food” had been prepared in nonkosher vessels or that it was issur, prohibited, to present research on Shabbot.

Only slowly did we rethink our doings on Shabbot or buy challot for Shabbot meals. By the time that I had begun to light candles, we did not yet know the necessity of washing and blessing before eating.

Nonetheless, in 1991, we were blessed to join with the Aibishter in welcoming our oldest child to Olam HaZeh. Becoming parents raised my husband’s and my religious consciousness. Our bekora and her siblings were given Hebrew names.

The next child had a brit milah that was conducted per tradition. My husband and I were becoming increasingly fascinated by, and increasingly motivated to learn more about, our faith. Unfortunately, we were also captivated by the variety of onesies and booties offered at the local children’s emporium. Parental consumerism was as new to us as was Torah living.

Fortunately, we continued to take tiny steps. After our youngest was born, we merited to witness our rabbi and his son use a blowtorch to kasher our kitchen. Hubs learned a few niggim. I learned how to use only kosher schach. We remained unfamiliar, though, with the concept of “Baal Teshuva;” we had thought it natural to change in small increments.

By the time that we had moved to a frum community and had enrolled our children in a yeshivah and in a Bas Yaakov school, we knew that all doors (excepting bathrooms and closets) required mezuzot and that there is a limit to permissible Torah topics on Tisha B’Av.

These days, nearly three decades after our son’s awe-inspiring birth, we’re frummies, who, BH, live in Jerusalem. Just as none of the tests my husband and I have underwent were our doing, likewise, not a hint of the richness of blessings that we received originated with us.

Rather, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, in his infinite generosity, poured a shefa of kindness upon my family. We couldn’t know that our child’s pregnancy would reach completion or that he would be a healthy baby. We couldn’t know that we would become observant or that we would be graced to live in the holiest city.

Bless Hashem! He is kind even to the ignorant.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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