The comment was casual, just a passing remark. "Oh, I hear there's a rabbi up in Woodcliff Lake who's amazing," a friend mentioned. I nodded, a kind of "how nice" nod… so why did I find myself asking for the address? A few weeks later I skipped my usual Saturday morning routine (grocery store, bank, manicure), and followed mapquest to Valley Chabad.

I hadn't been in synagogue since Yom Kippur; it was now June. I'm not due for another three months, so why am I maneuvering this winding driveway and awkwardly approaching the door? I wondered.

Why couldn't I shake those seven days in Jerusalem?(Oops, men's side, but the rabbi greeted me warmly and showed me where to get a prayer book.)

The rabbi was much younger than I'd expected and more relaxed, the kind I could as easily picture in a Grateful Dead T-shirt as the black coat he wore.

But when he began giving his sermon, his depth, piercing intelligence, and astonishing combination of worldliness and other-worldliness made my heart quicken, and I realized, ah, I'd almost forgotten…

Years earlier, young and single and antsy to travel, I'd left my job as a newspaper reporter and traveled to Israel alone, ending up living on a kibbutz for six months. The thrill of picking oranges wore thin in time, but the sight of Jerusalem made me sigh, and I knew I'd return.

A year later, as I wandered the Old City,a rabbi stopped me and asked, "Are you looking for something?" It sounds clichéd now, but those were his words, and for the next few hours we talked about G‑d. I'd had a moment or two as a child when I'd felt the presence of… something. But "it" was never spoken about in the Reform temple where my family belonged, where my dad's eyes closed as soon as the rabbi started talking, where I once literally climbed out the bathroom window to escape the dreaded Sunday school.

Instead, like many in my generation, I went looking for truth in Buddhism, meditation, Tarot cards, and "mind-expanding" drugs. What I found left me adrift and afraid, anchored only in cynicism, an Italian boyfriend, and far too much wine.

But as I sat with the rabbi that day in Jerusalem, perched on a rooftop overlooking the Western Wall, for the very first time in my life I actually considered the possibility that G‑d truly existed,and that He actually cared how we lived. "What if the Torah really is the truth?" the rabbi asked me. I was in my mid 20s, and had never considered it before.

What followed was a week of study at a "Baal Teshuvah Yeshiva" (for women with little background in Judaism). I wish I could describe what those days were like, beyond my usual reference to psychedelic drugs, but how can I not sound crazy?

It was as if my mind, my eyes, my heart, and my spirit had opened up completely, and truth, like pure spring rain, poured in. Here "it" was at last, right in the same Torah that had bored me right out the window in Sunday school. There was just one problem… the pull of my life back in America, where I crash-landed, confused and wondering if any of it had been real.

A year later, I found myself at a larger newspaper in California, even more success dangling before my eyes. But why, I kept wondering, why couldn't I shake those seven days in Jerusalem at that dinky little women's school?

So on a hot June afternoon I took a leap of faith (more like a crazy skydive, some of my friends said) and moved to Jerusalem to study.

Fast forward a couple of years… I was now so outwardly observant that my parents were afraid they were losing me. "Naomi, this isn't for you," they both agreed on their visit. In time, I began to think they were right. All the rules and regulations started to pinch like too-tight shoes. Still, as my Israeli fiancé and I headed back to the States, we kept Shabbat and kosher; I even covered my hair.

I was now so outwardly observant that my parents were afraid they were losing meIt didn't happen all at once, our return to secular life. The scarf was gone as soon as we landed at JFK. And one Shabbat we walked down the nineteen flights of our Manhattan apartment, then strolled to the Village… where my husband got a haircut and I bought iced coffee. Back at our apartment, we got in the elevator and, still lying to ourselves just a little, asked the doorman to press "19."

As years passed and we'd visit Israel, first with one child, then two, my friends there, still religious, would ask… "Don't you miss it?" Eventually, the answer was no.

So why did I feel this pang each time I noticed religious families walking on Shabbat? Why did I return to the Wall each time we visited Jerusalem, long after my brother-in-law, an Israeli detective, warned me it was dangerous? Why did I send my children to a Jewish day school and teach them to say the "Shema" every night? Why did I talk to them about G‑d, desperate for them to adhere to a faith I didn't?

None of it made sense… and neither did the sting of tears I suddenly felt back at the Chabad House as I spoke with the rabbi for the first time that Shabbat morning.

The past year had been so painful… a separation from my husband, troubles with my children, the lingering grief over the loss of my mom. And for the first time in years nothing—not my friends, my work, not even my therapist—could help remove the darkness that had fallen over me like a shroud.

I can't recall what the rabbi said to me that day; I only remember that as I drove home I thought: There is something in that little Chabad house, something my soul is craving. So I kept returning—to the friendliness of the people, the warmth of the rabbi's wife, and the truth and hope I found in each week's sermon. This time it wasn't about rules (I still got a manicure after services), but gradually, so imperceptibly I hardly noticed at first, I was changing.

I prayed in the morning, plodding my way through the Hebrew little by little. I lit candles every Friday night (eventually, on time). I bought pretty below-the-knee skirts (okay, the shopping part was hardly a sacrifice), and I looked forward all week to Shabbat morning. I could speak to the rabbi and rebbetzin in a way I'd never imagined speaking to a rabbi and his wife—that is, honestly.

This time, it wasn't about rulesThis time I refused to bring just my Shabbat self, the one dressed up and smiling, acting like I'd never made some of the terrible choices I'd made, or suffered some of the losses.

My own experience had taught me that I would put on that face for just so long, and then I'd disappear again. This time I brought all of me—with my good intentions and foolish decisions, my spiritual heart and my petty plans, my self-centered needs and my even deeper need to make a difference in the world.

At Valley Chabad I finally felt… at home. Sometimes I'd follow along in the Torah translations, and mumble as many of the Hebrew prayers that I could manage. Sometimes I just closed my eyes and listened, or prayed in my own words, in my own way. It didn't matter. My soul felt at peace, just happy to be there. Plans with my friends, afternoons at the mall, everything just had to wait until after the service—and in time, until after the hour or so spent talking to the people I met, people whose hearts were as open as I hoped to be to all the wisdom and beauty of Judaism.

As I write this, I still don't know where I'm headed; I only know where I am—comfortable being a Jew, finally learning what that means, and unafraid to delve a little deeper. Sometimes I still feel terrified, like life will always scare and overwhelm me. But for some reason—maybe the same reason that first brought me to Jerusalem, and then brought me down the winding path to Valley Chabad—I am beginning to believe that I have a purpose here on earth, that we all do, and that I just may have found the roadmap home.