I sometimes feel so alone. Baruch Hashem, thank G-d, I chose to take on a Torah life 11 years ago, after I was was already married for seven years and had my first two children.
My husband was not in agreement in the beginning. While I had fallen in love with Judaism from an emotional place — the Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins I met, the way they made me feel that being a Jew was so special and holy — he was coming from a more intellectual, analytical place. Perhaps an overarching difference between men and women — he just wasn’t hooked the way I was.
I had for years before been seeking fulfillment in a life that lacked a spiritual framework, historical connection and community support — things I didn’t necessarily realize were missing, let alone existed within Judaism. I finally experienced glimpses of these things in the lives of my new friends and mentors who were part of a world I admired longingly from the outside, yet worked tirelessly to access.
While my husband was silently resistant at best to the drastically different lifestyle I discovered and tried to embrace, my parents were openly opposed. They sent me emails about cults, met my zealous and passionate pleas with coldness or hostility. It was painful.
With two toddlers in tow, we marched onward — learning more, doing more, wanting more out of our Jewish life. Somehow, over the next decade, we integrated the halacha, the rules of Torah Judaism into our modern American lifestyle so seamlessly that most within this world don’t realize from where we have come. It’s a beautiful thing, except when it’s not.
On our search for spiritual perfection, we have journeyed to several Jewish communities, immersing our children in Orthodox schools during the day while trying to support their learning and growth at home. It has been a journey of peaks and valleys, holiness and hostility. I have somtimes felt isolated, unsupported and shameful in this new world.
But as it turns out, this journey, for the most part, really begins within myself — my connection with G-d, my developing relationship with Him, and my own self growth.
The Torah laws are a framework for our daily lives, a way to access the Eternal — but ironically, and by design, that means looking deeply within.
By nature, or nurture, I have always run from pain, from difficulty. I have judged others, and myself, harshly. I have put up walls in order to protect myself from even those closest to me. I have been passionate and impulsive.
Along the path of learning the laws of keeping kosher, Shabbat, modesty, family purity and more, I have also learned about myself and the things I want to improve. To be more consistent and calculated, to face pain head on and use it as a springboard for growth, to love others as they are, and to open myself up to friendships and connection by reaching out more to others. To understand fully that, “It’s all good,” even when it doesn’t feel that way.
I have discovered that there is an intellectual way to observe Torah, and there is a spiritual, emotional way. Sort of like the body and soul. And depending on the type of person you are, one way may come easier than the other. The goal, I think, is to push ourselves lovingly in whichever areas are more challenging, but not to push others.
My husband is with me on this journey, and although we are different, we are now working together, as unique individuals with common goals. And I have learned to better appreciate my parents for all the beautiful kindnesses they have shown us over the years.
Fast forward a decade, and I am here alone at my kitchen table. Soon I will awake my four children to get ready for their school day. But the most important education they will receive is from me — how I interact with them and others. The way I handle challenges. How I retain emunah, faith, even in difficult situations. The way I strive to balance my passion and creativity with intellect and consistency, all within a framework of Torah. I sometimes feel like I’m failing, but overall, I know with G-d’s help we are headed in the right direction.
Often it seems there is no one to cheer me on. And so, at those times, I am training myself to watch or read something inspiring, to call a friend, to pray for the strength to take the next step forward in a positive way. Sometimes I succeed, other times I grab a sugary snack, take a nap or snap at others. But deep down I know the goal, even when I may forget.
Serving G-d with all my limitations and gifts, at times, can be a very lonely endeavor, but it’s worth it. While the overall journey can seem daunting, the key is taking the dark, challenging moments — just the moment at hand — and letting the light in, taking a deep breath, and asking for help. G-d, I feel so unsure, please be with me and guide me. And suddenly, I no longer feel so alone.
Mindy Rubenstein is a freelance journalist living in Virginia with her husband and children. She has written for 18 years for Jewish and secular publications, conducts writing workshops for women and girls, and creates Jewish-themed art.