Most baalei teshuvah, returnees to Jewish observance, transform slowly and methodically, “trying on” each mitzvah to make sure it “fits” before adding another. My husband, Zev, and I decided to become completely observant after one (needless to say, very powerful) Shabbat experience. There was no changing our minds on this, although people certainly tried; they assured us we were making a huge mistake by “becoming Orthodox.” Surprisingly, however, once we “transitioned,” very few people wanted to hear anything about how we were adjusting to our new lifestyle. (The only exceptions were my mother’s friends, who apparently questioned her endlessly about our decision, so much so that I eventually hosted these women for a Q & A luncheon.)

Why was everyone else so quiet? Many of these people had been good friends, so I don’t think they feared offending us by asking if we missed cheeseburgers. I think they didn’t want to hear about our lives because they didn’t want to change their opinions about Jewish observance and observant Jews.

I know about these perceptions as well as anyone. I had plenty of issues with religion and religious people. In fact, it still surprises me that I was able to change my perceptions.

Here are three of my biggest misconceptions, and what I did to change them:

1. Religion Is a Crutch

I grew up with a prejudice against religious people. They were not too intelligent, and needed a spiritual crutch to get through life. Smart and strong and enlightened people didn’t need religion, so why would I want to “be religious”? It didn’t even sound like a Jewish concept, which may be why it was so off-putting. Still, I wanted to become observant; I just had to change my perception of religion.

Whenever I questioned if I had to be dumb to be religious, I would visualize the enormous books I saw on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the homes of every observant Jew I ever met. Many of those books were volumes of the Talmud, books I could barely lift, much less read. The giant pages looked like unintelligible mazes to me. But I loved the fact that these volumes were beyond me—it meant I couldn’t dismiss them either. There were too many commentators over too many years to be fooling all of the people all of the time. These scholars, with names like Rashi, Tosafot and Maharsha, were smart and strong and enlightened all right, but in a realm of life that had eluded me completely.

2. Jewish Women Are Second-Class

A Jewish and female administrator from my graduate program didn’t mince words when she saw me several years after I decided to become observant: “I’m surprised you would do this. You were so intelligent.”

The prevailing opinion among onlookers is that “Orthodox” women are considered less important, so why would a modern, educated woman choose such a status? Why would someone willingly subordinate her identity, aspirations, independence—the qualities that characterize an autonomous woman—in order to follow Torah Judaism?

Two factors helped me get past this misconception early on. The first was seeing observant women in action. I remember one woman in particular. She was disarmingly funny, alive and intelligent. When I heard how many children she had, every fiber of my being understood, This is a superwoman.

The second factor was understanding that the Jewish woman’s gifts are spiritual, and can’t be measured in physical terms. From this perspective, G‑d’s regard for every Jewish woman is undeniable: He entrusts only her with the potential to combine heaven and earth by creating a child with a Jewish soul. The physical circumstances of her life determine if and how she utilizes this potential, but the gift is within her no matter what.

3. Observant Jews Can’t Do What They Want

Well, this one is actually true, at least sometimes. But like in a marriage, I am committed to doing what G‑d wants even if I don’t want to do it. On our “wedding day,” at Mt. Sinai, G‑d told us what He wants—it’s all in those big books and in books about those big books. When I do a mitzvah, my connection to Him strengthens, making it easier to do the next mitzvah, and so on. Ideally, I can become someone who truly wants to do what G‑d wants. After 30 years of trying, I’m happy to report that this does happen fairly frequently.

The good news is that, please G‑d, very soon, everyone is going to want to do what G‑d wants—all the time—with the coming of Moshiach. The Torah assures us of this. And, according to all those big books, G‑d also wants us to demand that He send Moshiach now.