Contact Us

Returning Home

Returning Home

 Email

As Shavuot approaches, I realize I am in a far different place from where I was just one short year ago – not only physically, but also spiritually – and I cannot return to where I was, nor do I want to. At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people proclaimed, "We will do and we will listen" and that is just what I'm striving to do.

Traditionally, when a Jewish family moves into a new home, there is a celebration called a Chanukat Habayit. It is a dedication of your home which can include the hanging of your mezuzahs. There are sometimes words of Torah and brief speeches about the impact each individual home has. After recently becoming observant, and after only two months, with boxes still sitting unpacked in our future guest room, our small house was crowded as we gave brief tours for each new and seemingly constant arrival at our Chanukat Habayit – a momentous and important step in our lives.

I apparently did not understand what was happening inside meTruthfully, I am not really sure if I can pinpoint our entry point into becoming observant (which coincided with our moving into the community). People inquire all the time, and I try to determine the actual pinnacle of change, but there were so many people, so many events, nuances that I thought at the time had no meaning… but I apparently did not understand what was happening inside me with every seemingly "insignificant" event.

Our ever-evolving journey climaxed about a year ago as we became newcomers to a new synagogue. It arrived years after short attendances at a few different synagogues in the neighborhood, where we met wonderful people, but didn't feel it was right for us. So we were not attending shul anywhere. Very distraught, I exclaimed to my husband that I felt that my Judaism was slipping away. My husband asked me what would rectify my distress, and I said I want to start attending Shabbat services on Saturdays. I must have looked truly forlorn because my husband, Russ, reluctantly agreed to return to a shul once we found one, but clarified his feelings and said "I cannot promise I will go every Saturday." He also said that he could not see us keeping a kosher home in an apartment, and that it would have to wait until we lived in a house which he clearly knew I was never going to do. I had grown up in tall apartment buildings and was afraid of living in a house.

Hesitantly, we returned to a synagogue. A few months later, on Rosh Hashanah, our rabbi related the sad tale of one particular Jewish man who was trapped in one of the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11, and knew he was not getting out alive. Listening to this gripping story, most of us were brought to tears, and the rabbi explained that the trapped man, through his fear of facing the unknown and his fear of dying, came to realize that ultimately, G‑d is in control and therefore need not fear. This man grasped on to a quote from Pirkei Avot (the tractate Ethics of Our Fathers): From where do you come? Where are you going? Before whom are you accountable?

When I heard the rabbi repeat those three enlightening lines, it struck me hard. I knew I was afraid to live in a house, but my fear was blocking me from making the move into the Jewish community. At that moment, I was driven! I realized that I needed to face my fear and put my trust in G‑d and somehow, ultimately – it would all be good.

I turned to look at my husband and I immediately noticed that at that exact moment, he was staring right back at me! It was understood without a word spoken that we were thinking the same thing.

We were silent as we got into our car. After a few moments, I turned to my husband and said, "I am ready to look for a house and move into the Jewish community." My husband's stunned face said it all.

And so, our house search in the Jewish community began.

We were nervous because they were strangers and more observant than usOne day at a packed luncheon in our shul, we stood at the door barely knowing anyone in the crowded room. Feeling shy and not finding any place to sit, we started to leave, only to be tapped on the shoulder by a kind woman who invited us to sit down and join her. After brief introductions to the other families at the table, we mentioned that we were house-seeking because we wanted to be within walking distance to the shul and we were looking to become slightly more Shabbat observant. Our new friends suggested a few ideas on finding the right house. We obtained a realtor and looked at almost every house in this old, small community, but, discouragingly, none of the houses were right for us.

Now, since we had met a few families, the invitations for Shabbat luncheons commenced through the Jewish community "party line." All of a sudden, people were calling us at home to invite us to join them! We became a bit more motivated to try and keep the Shabbat rules in our apartment but were not sure what we were doing. One evening, my husband and I were discussing how we wish we had someone to show us how to conduct a Shabbat ceremony and in the middle of our discussion, our telephone rang. It was one of the families we had met that day at the luncheon. They invited us to come and spend the whole Shabbat with them! We were nervous because they were strangers and more observant than we were, but we anxiously accepted. Spending the Shabbat at their home was a warm experience and they went out of their way to make us feel welcome. That Shabbat brought back good memories of holiday family gatherings.

After that Shabbat, this kind family very generously invited us to spend every Shabbat with them until we found our house! Little did we know this home search would take us one year and that is a lot of Shabbat's to extend an invitation to guests. In fact, the house we ended up buying was the house next door to theirs! After one year from when our journey began, the house next-door was ready for us to move in.

Since all Jewish souls were at Mount Sinai receiving the commandments, I am just carrying on what started so long ago. I do it for my ancestors, my family that perished in the Holocaust, and I strive to continue where they left off. I feel I owe it to them; I feel I owe it to my father who survived and overcame tremendous hardship. There is also the incredible inner peace and joy you get in living amongst a Jewish community.

It has only been a few months since we moved in, but we are observing the laws of the Shabbat; we take the peaceful, relaxing walk to shul and we keep a kosher home. We know we have much to learn but we are slowly taking it one step at a time. We are part of a Jewish community and observing the Shabbat has become the highlight of our week. On Shabbat, everything stops, and we experience a peace like we never knew before. After a crazy week of work, there are no computers, no television, no radio, no telephones, just friends and families gathering together and enjoying some much needed rest. Who knew such peace existed?! If you had told me this more than a year ago, I would have said you were fabricating an amazing tale.

I will continue to do and I will continue to listenI will continue to do and I will continue to listen, and when I do not understand why we observe a particular mitzvah, I will ask. There is no harm in learning and there is much growth when you begin to ask these vital questions.

My prayer for this small, wonderful Jewish community is that more Jewish people who are searching will find us. Perhaps you are looking for something to believe in – perhaps something you believed in long ago but it has gotten temporarily dusted over with the challenges of everyday life.

When you come, I will be happy to tell my humble common story and know that you will be welcomed and greeted warmly.

Happy Shavuot to all!!

Henia Stein lives in Virginia with her husband, Russ. She holds a BA in Sociology and is presently writing a book about her father’s life. The Steins have started living a more Jewishly observant lifestyle and are continuing their Jewish learning which began almost eight years ago.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1 Comment
1000 characters remaining
ben karan glendale, wi June 10, 2008

spiritual searching ups and downs you are an inspiration, you and your husband, in my own search and struggles Reply

Related Topics