Have you ever looked at your life and asked — “How on earth did I get here?” Just seven, small words filled with so much power that can ignite thousands of thoughts. Thoughts filled with nostalgia, happiness, and sometimes a little confusion. As someone who asks myself that question on a daily basis I can only help but respond to that question with another question (the classically Jewish approach). “Who helped me get here?”
Last year I published an article titled “Hi, I am a Baal Teshuva”, speaking about my journey as someone who grew up non-religious and became observant later on in life. Since then, I’ve written articles, spoken to students in schools around Brooklyn, and have had plenty of DMC’s (deep meaningful conversations) with my friends about the journey. And there are plenty of other people out there just like me doing the same thing. But, recently, it hit me: Who hears the story of the parents of a baal teshuva? Really, no one.
Let’s step into their shoes. Imagine raising two kids. Social, active, intelligent, healthy kids. You raise them with the same principles. Engraving in them to treat everyone with the same kindness, that a smile can go a long way, or that love is unconditional. Always say please and thank you. Hold the door open for the person behind you. You don’t get anything for free. Work hard. And if you don’t get it, work harder next time. Be truthful. And always remember when it get’s too grueling, we’re here for you.
You send them both to the same hebrew school. They become bar/bat mitzvahed standing in the same synagogue alongside the same rabbi. They’re schooled by similar teachers, involved in all the extracurriculars with their amazing friend groups.
Now all of a sudden, one child can’t eat off your plates and silverware. She can’t attend your family events that are on Saturday and too far to walk. She starts learning different Torah studies you had no idea existed. She joins a whole new community that you know absolutely nothing about. And she does it all as a senior in high school. This is the journey of the two most selfless, loving, and giving people — my parents and their untold journey.
I wish it wasn’t true, but sometimes I would wish I was born religious. A situation arises and I can’t help but think “Wow, it would have just been so much easier if….” I freeze. My mind drifts to the times my mother spent sifting through chabad.org for how to kasher a microwave. Or how many trips she made to stores to get me my own pots, pans, plates, and just about anything else I could need. I recall the numerous hours accumulated of my father spending an extra thirty minutes cooking dinner because he’s so meticulous as to making sure he doesn’t make anything “not kosher”.
How did they put up with everything? How were they able to let me go and trust blindly that what came next would be good? I don’t know. How did they know that the values and morals they spent eighteen years investing in me wouldn’t disappear once I became this new person?
I’m not here to tell you the story my parents went through. Because I honestly have no idea what they had to deal with. The point here, is to show you how behind everyone, there’s a driving force. Behind everyone’s choices is a voice in their head, often times affected by the most influential people in their lives — a mother and father.
It’s only because of my parents love, support, dedication, and principles embedded in me from day one that I was able to make this change.
It’s only because of the determination I learned from them that I continue on through all the hurdles that come at me.
And it’s only because of their willingness and unconditional love that we can be on this journey together.
Take a walk into my house. You’ll see my mother scrubbing the oven so it can be correctly kashered – letting me eat out of it. To the right are two break-apart shelves holding pots, pans, plates, cutlery, and more for meat and dairy. You’ll hear the questions being asked, the sparking discussions, and my dad’s infamous wit infused in it all.
Best of all, you’ll see for yourself the details of my parents unspoken journey into our new life.