I am what they call a Sephardic Jew. My father was born and raised in Morocco, and my mother’s family moved from Tunisia to France when she was six years old. Until he turned sixteen, my dad was partly raised by his grandfather, a well-respected and learned rabbi.

My parents met while studying medicine in Paris. At the time, neither of them was particularly religious. My dad, living on his own in Paris, had somehow lost most of the observance and tradition he had been raised with. My mom’s family was driven to weed out much of their Jewish tradition, so that they could fit in.

For most of my childhood and adolescence I was raised by my Tunisian grandparentsFor most of my childhood and adolescence I was raised by my Tunisian grandparents, while my parents, both physicians, were busy saving lives. My grandparents were so-called “traditionalists.” They kept whatever Jewish tradition fit easily into their lives, and discarded any practices that did not match the image of a suburban Parisian family.

Kosher food, for example, was flexible and rather blurry, along with many other observances. After all, their children were doctors and intellectuals; why did they need some crazy rabbi telling them what to do and when to do it? I also recall celebrating Passover and other Jewish holidays on Sunday evening rather than the correct date, because that was the most convenient time for the family to gather.

There was, though, one mitzvah that my grandpa cherished and upheld as far back as I can remember, and up until he became unable to stand: kiddush. The blessing sanctifying the Shabbat, recited over a cup of wine every Friday night.

There is a Tunisian alcoholic beverage made from figs, called bucha. My grandpa (who didn’t have the opportunity to get a proper Torah education) used to recite the traditional wine blessing, Borei p’ri hagefen (“. . . Who creates the fruit of the vine”), on bucha, which certainly seems funny when one understands the meaning of the blessing, said over grape juice and wine . . .

But to the youngster that I was, it made all the sense in the world.

It meant Friday night. It meant “couscous boulettes” for dinner. It meant the comfort and protection of family togetherness, loving care and tenderness. When I recall those Shabbat dinners, I am filled with warm and wonderful memories.

Grandpa used to sing kiddush with the melodic, beautiful tones of Tunisian liturgy, a surprising mixture of Arabic and Jewish sounds, recalling with both joy and envy the sixth day when creation ended and G‑d finally rested.

Each cousin added his or her personal touch to our Friday night gatherings. One cousin sewed a kippah (traditional headcovering for men) with antennas for Grandpa, which he wore religiously. Sometimes we danced, sometimes we sang along with Grandpa, and sometimes we answered the traditional response, “Amen.”

At that very moment, I felt connectedThen we grew up, and all the cousins carved out their own paths. I went to university to study physics. Somewhere along the road, I started recreating the link with my Jewish self.

At twenty-six I decided it was time for me to find a nice Jewish girl to marry. My grandma’s sister said to me, “If you’re not willing to be even a little religious, you’ll never find a nice Jewish girl to marry.” Her words penetrated my solid heart, and little by little I started avoiding certain foods; I started reading about the weekly Torah portion; and that was just the beginning.

While working on my thesis, I was invited to spend a couple of weeks in Prague, working with a team of researchers whose subject of study was closely related to mine. I enjoyed having a lively bunch of fellow students to spend my free time with, but quite strangely, no one was available on Friday night.

I decided to eat in a restaurant near my hotel, and right in the middle of this lonely meal, far from my family, I suddenly recalled that it was Friday night and that I was missing kiddush! I asked the waiter to bring me a glass of vodka (the closest thing to the traditional bucha my grandpa was using). Holding the glass of vodka in my right hand, I mumbled what I could remember of kiddush (and it was a pretty lousy amount), with the song-like tones that Grandpa used (these I remembered well).

At that very moment, I felt connected.

There, in a lonely restaurant in Prague, I felt the joy of Shabbat shine inside of me. I didn’t know it then, but I was changing. And kiddush had called me back. Kiddush reminded me that I was Jewish, that I had something special to do on this Friday evening, and that it was closely related to family, joy, singing, dancing and bucha.

That experience became the turning point for me. I started becoming more observant. I went to the synagogue for Shabbat services, I bought tefillin, I ate kosher food. And when I recited kiddush on my own, I used the same beautiful tones that I had learned from Grandpa.

How do I understand this story, now that I am fully observant?

From where I stand now, I see that a broken kiddush, said wrongly, with little comprehension of the text and its meaning, kept the thread of Judaism alive in a boy who knew only that he was Jewish.

This broken kiddush awoke the dormant sentiment of Judaism inside me, in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time.

I call it the power of kiddush, but in more general terms, it is the power of a mitzvah. The power of kiddush taught me that no matter how religious one’s family, no matter how far one may be from Judaism, it is never too late to do a mitzvah. And who knows where that may lead?