Generational trauma was encoded in my genes. Anxiety, fearfulness and pain were woven into the fabric of my daily life and became a part of my psyche. I was born in the 1960s in the Soviet Union to a mother who was an orphan and the daughter of an orphan. My parents divorced when I was three, and although my father lived with my brother just a few blocks away, he was not allowed contact with me. I suffered in silence and grew up isolated without an advocate.

Without the benefit of parental scaffolding, in many ways I raised myself. I experienced prolonged maltreatment, seeing things that no child should ever see. Carrying the burden of concealing the abuse denied me healing: you cannot heal from something you pretend never happened. My own needs and feelings, whole aspects of myself, were restricted from expression. Learning to hide my needs and vulnerabilities, I never truly let anyone in. Even when I grew up and became a successful businesswoman, I felt incomplete.

When I was 24 years old, in 1989, I relocated to Canada. Around two years later, I reconnected with my father. He was in my life for a few years until he passed suddenly in his sleep from a heart issue. But during that short time it was clear he hadn’t abandoned me; he made up for all our time apart and gave me so much.

A decade into my life in Canada, I was the publisher of a Russian-language newspaper. A construction worker named Velvel, also from the Former Soviet Union, found an old edition and was impressed. He called our office to volunteer as a computer programmer. I was so impressed by his mannerisms that I hired him on the spot.

We hit it off and soon married.

We had a daughter together and things seemed to be going well—at least on the outside.

In 2008, Velvel had a terrible accident on his construction site. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and his prognosis was severe long-term physical and mental complications or death. Prior to that time I had absolutely no relationship with G‑d. Overwhelmed with fear, I understood that there was nothing more that the doctors could do for my husband in order for him to survive. I needed G‑d to do what only He could do and perform a miracle.

I immediately called the rabbi of the Russian Chabad community here in Toronto, Rabbi Zaltzman, and asked him to come and pray with me. He brought me a Book of Psalms and explained that this is what we pray in a catastrophic situation. I began to read it constantly. Right then and there, I also resolved to start keeping Shabbat on a basic level.

Rabbi Zaltzman asked me if I had mezuzahs on my doors. I admitted that I had only one. He told me that I needed to put one on every one of the 25 doors of my home. The cost would have been more than $800. I was very uncomfortable and suspected him of being a great businessman who wanted to profit from my circumstances.

My own mother put it into terms that I could easily understand and accept, asking if I would spend $800 on a medicine that could save my husband’s life. Obviously, I bought the mezuzahs and had them affixed to my doors.

Rabbi Zaltzman also encouraged me to write a letter to the Rebbe asking for a complete and speedy recovery and to buy a pair of tefillin for my husband to wear once he would recover, thus making a “vessel” for blessing. It didn’t make much sense to me to write a letter to someone who was not alive or to buy tefillin for a comatose Velvel but I did it all.

The first Friday afternoon, I lit candles and then I went to the hospital. To everyone’s amazement, my husband opened his eyes. It was the first of many miracles. Within three weeks my husband recovered fully. At one point during this ordeal, my husband was paralyzed on his left side. I prayed to G‑d and promised that if Velvel survived I would go to synagogue every Shabbat. That promise spiraled and led to a whole chain of other religious commitments. I began keeping kosher, enrolled my daughter into 3rd grade at the Chabad girls school, and more.

But it was not all smooth sailing.

About a month after my husband recovered, he complained to me. He said he did not want to live a religious life nor to have a religious woman for a wife.

I tried explaining to him that I had done it all for him, to save his life, and that I wanted to be a better wife and mother and bring more meaning and substance to our lives. I tried to find a way to bring my husband to religion even though he had not been involved in my decision.

In 2009 we decided to buy 40 acres in Haliburton, around three hours away from Toronto, for my husband to develop into a kosher resort which we named Mishpacha, “Family.” There were no such resorts in Ontario at the time, so it had the potential to be a very lucrative venture. I hoped it would also serve as a means to thank G‑d for his kindness and to bring my husband closer to Judaism.

While my husband was overseeing the construction of the resort, he only came home on the weekends. My marriage started to fall apart because we barely had any time together.

And even when he was home, I was spending the whole morning every Shabbat in the synagogue as I had promised. I went to Rabbi Dovid Schochet, a revered rabbinic authority in our community, to see if perhaps he could annul my promise. He spoke to me for a long time, the first of hundreds of conversations, but ultimately he said he couldn’t do it. He did say that my return to religion was due to the fact that I had a very old soul, and in addition to my own strengths it was my ancestors’ merits that led me on this journey. I therefore continued going to synagogue.

We’d embarked on creating Mishpacha Resort within a year of becoming religious. There were rabbis who were skeptical about its success. One such rabbi raised his eyebrows and told me that it was very ambitious on my part since I hadn’t been religious for long and people would reject the idea and not come. But Rabbi Schochet was very enthusiastic about the idea, both for myself and Velvel and the community. He supported and encouraged me every step of the way. He was proud of the success of the endeavor and said he derived tremendous nachas from it and from me.

Despite defying all the odds with his recovery, Velvel’s injury left him nervous and agitated. He was easily provoked and often screamed about his opposition to religion.

I suggested that he meet with Rabbi Schochet to discuss some of his issues with religion. He agreed.

A few hours into their meeting time, I started to worry since he had not returned.

When he did come home I could not believe the change in his demeanor. He was composed, serene, with an inner tranquility. I had not seen him so content and joyful in a very long time.

“How was your conversation with Rabbi Schochet?” I asked him. He said it was amazing and he had discussed his parents, his boss, his job, life in Odessa, his childhood, everything I could think of and more.

“Did you not go to discuss religion?” I questioned him. “Did you talk about religion at all?”

He said religion had not come up at all, but from that day forward Velvel forgot all his problems with religion and with everything else as well.

“I’m a simple Russian guy,” he said, “yet this grand sagely rabbi with all his responsibilities gave me his time, attention, and respect. He really listened to me, to my words, as if he had no other concerns. To be met with sensitivity and understanding feels really good. I felt seen—a feeling of deep connection on an emotional level, as if physical contact was happening in my soul. The validation and acceptance had a profound, reparative effect on me. It allowed me to reclaim my power, heal, calm down, and open up my heart.”

About a year later, when we were both fully religious, Rabbi Schochet convened a few rabbis and absolved me from my commitment to attend synagogue every week.

Rabbi and Mrs. Schochet continued to be fully present in my life and stood by me through every challenge, circumstance or decision.

This continued even as we relocated to the Holy Land. We now live in the mystical mountain city of Safed, near our daughter and son-in-law and their baby (my older daughter and son live in Toronto with their families).

And I no longer feel empty inside. Torah, purpose, giving, and serving G‑d have filled me in ways I never knew possible.