Part of Who I Am
The past few days has been full of experiences that have really been giving me a lot to think about regarding the religious journey I have been through in the past several years. I was on the bus on Friday, sitting with a friend. We were chatting and she was telling me how a frum man came into her office and her co-workers wanted her to go to meet him, because they decifered from his bare left ring finger that he must be single. A woman in front of us turned around and started ranting and raving about Orthodox men not wearing wedding rings, being polygamists and how HER husband would definitely wear a ring. She then got on the phone and began making comments about how she had landed amid the Bais Yaakov convention (in reference to myself and my friend). I have never been referred to as a Bais Yaakov anything, so I found her comment highly amusing. I was at shul yesterday and saw a woman I have known for a really long time. She was my madricha on my first trip to Israel, over eight years ago. When we first met, I was not frum at all; the only Orthodox Jews I had ever known in my life were those who worked for Aish Hatorah and were organizing my trip. As I was standing in shul yesterday, reading in Hebrew (which I had mostly forgotten from my Hebrew school days by the time this woman met me), I was confronted with images of the years gone by since I first met her. Yesterday I made Shabbos lunch for myself, my roommate and my friend who came for Shabbos. Towards the end of the meal, someone asked to see pictures. I ended up pulling out my high school yearbooks. To my lunch companions, both frum from birth and life-long Orthodox school students, the pictures of cheerleaders, football players, myself as a band member, singer in the choir and member of the German club (all in a school in Alabama to boot), was quite a site. One of my friends made a comment about how she always envisioned public high school being like that, but she never could really imagine it. She was amused by the names and faces of those I went to school with - so diverse and different from her own classmates. All these experiences served to remind me how much my life has changed over the years, but also how much those years before I was frum formed me also. I think a lot of the foundation was set for me to become frum before I actually did. My parents did instill in me a lot of being Jewish. Despite the fact that I had few Jewish friends and went to church with my non-Jewish ones at times, it was always ingrained in me that I was Jewish, and it was something to be proud of. I was always a spokesperson for my religion, welcoming questions and inviting my friends to learn about Judaism by inviting them to our seder table or Temple services. Yes, there are many differences in my life from that of the one I grew up in. In many ways, I don't recognize that life that was once mine. But in so many ways, that is the life that enabled me to be where I am now. Because of the experiences I went through before becoming frum, I was ready to be open to what I was introduced to in Israel. I had seen the "fun" life and realized that it wasn't that much fun; I was ready for something more meaningful. My current life is in great contrast to how I grew up, but there is still a kernel of it there, deep inside, that will never go away, nor would I want it to. It's me, just as much as the me that is religious, it just doesn't show as much these days (since apparently I now can pass as a Bais Yaakov girl). But all these experiences are woven together as part of my past and will influence my future. And I hope I never forget that.