I didn’t grow up going to Jewish summer camp as so many Jewish kids do. I didn’t celebrate my bat mitzvah or spend a year in Israel after high school. There are so many Jewish rites of passage that children experience as they get older. My family didn’t have our Jewish heritage passed down because my maternal grandmother was adopted by a non-Jewish family as a baby. My knowledge of Judaism was very limited until the age of about 21, when I came across Chabad while attending college in Idaho. Even though I ultimately chose to follow the Chabad path, I never made it to the Ohel in Queens, N.Y., which is a modern Chabad rite of passage.

It wasn’tI wasn’t afraid or shy intentional. I wasn’t afraid or shy. I lived in Seattle and seldom made it to New York. After I got married, I moved to Chicago, which is certainly closer, but I soon had children and was easily occupied by the many responsibilities on my plate. My synagogue makes a women’s trip to the Ohel every year, but somehow, the timing was never right. Eventually, it had been seven years since I first connected with the teachings of the Rebbe and still no visit to the Ohel.

I thought about it from time to time, and finally resolved to go soon. Then COVID-19 hit. Now I really wasn’t going. After the initial lockdown finished and the deadly first wave receded, I promised myself I would go once I was vaccinated. And this time, I booked a ticket.

I have a good friend who had recently moved to New York, and she was thrilled to accompany me for my first time. When I told her the dates, however, she replied that sadly she would not be in town. I contacted another friend who lives in Brooklyn, and she, too, was out of town and not sure she would return by then. I could feel my excitement waning. After all this time, my first trip to the Ohel seemed like a really big deal. I wanted to make sure I did it right.

My husband, however, pointed out that it was perfect for me to do my first visit solo because it was my yechidus with the Rebbe. Back when the Rebbe was alive—and indeed, for generations before—people would make an appointment to speak one-on-one with the Rebbe, face to face. Visiting the Ohel is our generation’s version of that personal (and often, transformative) meeting.

So I tried to let go of my expectations. I would allow this visit to be whatever it was meant to be. In the past, I had embarked on spiritual endeavors that I expected to be life-altering and came away feeling disappointed. This time, I would try to leave my preconceived notions behind. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on the experience.

I boarded an early-morning flight from Chicago and upon landing in New York, ordered an Uber straight to the Ohel. Once there, I entered the front room which serves as the visitor center, where videos of the Rebbe speaking play continuously. It was smaller than I would have thought, but I was supposed to be reserving judgment, opening myself up to the breadth of potential experience.

As I made my way to a table where I could write out my requests, thoughts, worries, etc., I felt at home. It felt comfortable. People from all walks of life and all parts of the world were there. I knew the order of events from my many friends who had given me the rundown prior to my trip. I concluded my letter and took a few moments to people-watch before proceeding to the gravesite.

Once inside, I readInside the Ohel, time seemed to stop the collection of Torah passages and Psalms, and, of course, my personal letter to the Rebbe, which I began by saying, “I’m sorry it took me so long.” Despite all those years I had waited to arrive, inside the Ohel, time seemed to stop. I figured I would stay for 20, maybe 30 minutes, but when I left, I was shocked to see it had been nearly an hour. My surprise didn’t end there. Of all the emotions and sensations I’d expected in advance, I walked out feeling something that had never crossed my mind. Lighter. I felt lighter. Like I finally had the opportunity to lay my burdens on the broad shoulders of the Rebbe.

Shortly after returning home, I had a dream in which I saw the Rebbe. Now I am far from a dream interpreter, but I took that as a sign that a barrier had been removed. My birthday had passed not long before my trip, and there is a Chabad custom to take an additional good deed upon yourself on that special day. After struggling to determine what I felt would be meaningful and not too difficult for me to keep up, I decided I would write a letter to the Rebbe online each week to be placed at the Ohel. In that way, I could relive my holy encounter weekly, at least in my mind.

Many Jewish rites of passage are something we experience only once, but visiting the Ohel can be done as many times as we like! The Rebbe had a deep love for every Jew on the planet, as well as guidance and respect for each and every human. Judaism teaches that a tzaddik (righteous person) does not lose their ability to connect with this world when they pass away. If you’ve thought about going to the Ohel but haven’t yet made it happen, I encourage you to do so.

I, G‑d willing, will not wait another eight years.