At some point during this last summer it became quite apparent how important my religion was to me. The question was, since I felt so strongly about it, why wasn’t I doing anything about it?
Step One: Realizing something had to be done
I had been in a relationship and it ended shortly after a birthday party I had during which time the person I was with referred to the idea of observing Shabbos as being “stupid.” While the person was quite wonderful in many aspects, this statement made me realize that we were fundamentally incompatible. I could not spend the rest of my life with someone who considered something considered sacred to my people as “stupid.” Nor could I imagine having children with a person like that. When I marry, I thought, it should be with someone of the same faith.
How faithful was I, anyhow? Not very. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been in shul on Shabbos. I practically couldn’t even remember the last time I was in shul at all when it wasn’t a High Holiday. In what way, I asked myself, was I Jewish other than the fact that my mother was Jewish? Not that I personally remember it too well, but there definitely was a visit from the mohel eight days after I was born. When I was thirteen, and this I can remember a little better as it was only eleven years ago, I had a bar-mitzvah. I was quite nervous up at the bimah, especially since one of my closest friends was sitting across the room making funny faces at me. Since then, I hadn’t really done anything at all that would suggest that I was even remotely observant. I didn’t even keep kosher, short of the fact that I didn’t mix meat and milk ever, due to the fact that I was (and still am) a vegetarian. The silverware I used, and the plates I ate off of, were not stored separately.
Step Two: Shomer Shabbos
The first step in being more observant was to at least be shomer shabbos. I was on my way to being shomer shabbos by not washing clothes or other such things, but I was nowhere near where I felt I should have been. I drove, I turned lights on and off, used the computer, and many other such things. I even did my homework sometimes. Chaim, a friend of mine, invited me to stay over at his house for shabbos right around the same time I was thinking of asking him if I could do so. It was important that I have somewhere to stay over shabbos, for if I was doing everything else but still driving home when I shouldn’t have been driving, that would have not been good.
I was quite nervous the first time I stayed over at Chaim’s house. For one, his housemates really didn’t seem all that thrilled that some stranger was going to be staying in their home. Secondly, I was worried about the services, as I had never attended services in an orthodox shul (short of my cousin’s bar-mitzvah, but I wasn’t really paying attention at the time) so I wasn’t sure what to expect, what would happen, how I really should be dressing, how exactly they would daven, and other such things. I always tend to worry about how well I will be received when I go to places I have never been or try things I have never done. In this case I was doing both, which made the experience even more nerve-wracking, as it were.
As it turns out, it was quite a wonderful experience. Davening wasn’t all that different from what I was expecting it to be, and there was even an indicator as to what page we were on at any given time. There were some very familiar prayers, many of which were the same as the way I had done it at home, some of which just had different melodies, as it were. After davening, there was dinner which was not entirely a new experience for me – I had attended a shabbos dinner at my friend Matt’s house. This wasn’t quite the same. For one, there was the washing. I wasn’t expecting the washing. When one is to eat a meal involving bread, one must wash ones hands in the proper manner and recite a bracha (blessing) and then (this I neglected but was promptly instructed about the very first time I accidentally talked) not say anything prior to eating said bread. Eating the bread involves saying a bracha, or saying "amen" to someone else saying said bracha. In the case of this particular evening (and as it turns out every Friday) it was the latter, with the Rabbi being the person saying the bracha and a big hall full of people saying "amen." At some point during the meal the Rabbi made an announcement that he wanted everyone to give a warm welcome to a few newcomers, which included me. Rumor has it that I turned a deep shade of red when this took place. I suppose you could say that I get embarrassed somewhat easily.
The following morning, I woke up quite early and at around nine-thirty went over to the shul. The rabbi was there and we talked about the torah portion for the week. When there were ten or so men there, we all went and did the morning prayer, which included some reading from the torah. I even participated in the services by opening and shutting the ark, which I thought was pretty nice considering that it was my first time attending Saturday morning services in a long time. Later on there was lunch and it was another delicious meal. Despite being a vegetarian and there being much meat served, I was able to find enough to eat. The eggplant spreads seemed to be the kind that one would find in Brooklyn.. After lunch there were services, which were brief yet thorough.
I spent much of the day playing board games, walking around to a couple of people’s houses and once, accidentally, turning of the lights in somebody’s bathroom. The latter was done chiefly because I had taken some medication involving anti-histamines, and in my slightly drowsy state I thought, perhaps, I had turned on the lights (which would have been bad) and so I turned them off (which, as it turns out, was also pretty bad). Mostly bad because I had not turned on the lights in the first place – they had been on since the previous day. The only bad thing done was turning them off.
In the late afternoon, I went back to the shul for concluding services, which again were brief (relative to those of the previous evening, or the morning). Later yet, I collected my various belongings from Chaim’s house and went home.
Step Three : Different (Better?) living arrangements
Going to shul for shabbos continued for a few weeks. On or quite near Simchas Torah, I decided to take a plunge into a world of being that seemingly few people where I am want to be: I decided to be shomer negia. This essentially means that a person does not touch a person of the opposite sex, that is to say any physical contact, unless they are married. There are some exceptions, of course, being immediate family for the most part. Even a couple of my frum friends said that I was nuts when I made this decision. It really just seemed like it was the right thing to be doing.
A situation then arose wherein it seemed that the insurance for my car was to expire and the insurance company was unwilling to renew due to a traffic violation that had taken place nearly three years prior. Why they hadn’t cared about this infraction in the last year that I was on the policy, I don’t know, but it seemed fortuitous. It was considerably cheaper to find an apartment on the school campus than to go with a different insurance company, which would charge out the ear for my car to be insured. A friend of mine offered to share his room with me – he would stay in the walk-in closet across the hall, and I would stay in the room. I would pay the majority of the monthly rent, and he would pay the rest.
Since having moved in with Ben I’ve
continued to try and be more frum, as it (contrary to what one might think) feels natural, and the right thing to do. I’m rarely without kippah, and I recently got tzitzit to wear. I’d like to finish by adding that if you are considering being more devout in whatever religion you are a part of, you absolutely should go ahead and do it if it feels like it is the right thing to do. If you are hesitant to do so because you are worried about how people might react or what your friends will think, stop and ask yourself how good your friends really are if they would think lesser of you for such a thing. Indubitably, someone might ask you what brought about the change, and you can tell them whatever it was. In short, if being more devout feels right, you should do it.