Our souls were friends first. I know this sounds a bit outrageous, but it is the only way I can explain the relationship that I have with Gittel. I truly believe that in between performing small miracles and creating the great scholars of our time, G‑d took about two seconds out of his busy schedule to ensure that Gittel and I would meet during this crazy time that we call life. Kids, jobs, miles, beliefs, and the years between us aside, we did enter each other's lives. Here is our fantastic story.

Our souls were friends firstBefore I go on, I'm pretty sure that you're asking yourself why is she even writing this? There are tons of stories out there about people meeting up, and friendships happen about every ten milliseconds, or so it seems. But what really is true friendship? Are the other Moms you meet at play dates your friends? What about the folks who live next door to you, or the couples, families, and children you see every week at synagogue? How do we as a society define a friend? I think the answer is different for all of us, yet we all know that no matter who we may call a friend, true friendship is reserved for those select few who impact every aspect of our lives - yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

I met Gittel over two years ago. After a chain of unlikely events, I ended up at her house one night searching for answers about Judaism and about myself. Our relationship started out with her as the teacher and me as the student. I can never forget our first encounter. When I stepped into her apartment, I was greeted by her husband along with his long beard and black hat. I knew I was going to study with a religious woman that night, but I had no idea people that religious lived in my little nook of Pennsylvania. Right away, my first thought was "What am I doing here in my jeans and t-shirt?" I felt like I was walking into another world ran by people who surely did not understand me or my situation. However, I'm the type of person who will try anything once, so I turned off my defenses and put my seatbelt on, for I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride. I'm still on that ride today and have no intention of looking back.

After that first class, Gittel and I easily became friends. We were both in our 20s at the time, but I felt as if we knew each other for years. We talked to each other on the phone incessantly, learning about each other's lives and how we wanted our futures to unfold. I learned that she did not come from a religious family and that she became observant on her own accord. Strangely enough, even though someone looking in would think that our lives were so extremely different, I found out that we shared many of the same beliefs and were going through the same experiences.

In those first few months, we talked about everything. We both like to talk, but our conversations just flowed and they seemed to go on forever about anything and everything. Whether it was recipes and child rearing or mitzvahs and torah, I really loved every minute we were able to spend with each other, on the phone and in person. I felt that when I talked to Gittel, I also got to know more about myself. And the best part about it was that she cared. She cared about me and my growth as a person. Her warmth and honesty were a refreshing change from most things experienced in this world and I was happy that we quickly got to the point where our friendship knew no bounds.

A part of me was leaving with herOn the flipside, I was also able to find a little humor in our friendship. When walking down the sidewalk together, we looked like we were from opposite sides of the planet. Me in my tank, shorts, and sandals, and Gittel in a long skirt, long sleeves, and sheitl. I often wondered if people thought that I was the hired help. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of our appearances and our everyday lives made our relationship all the more interesting.

And then, just when I was beginning to delve deeper into Judaism with the perfect friend at my side, things changed in an instant – she was moving. Not around the corner, but over 700 miles away! Her husband was being transferred by his job and she was looking forward to moving because it would mean that she would be finally living in a large Jewish community. I was definitely happy for her and her family, but I also couldn't help but feel like a part of me was leaving with her. Yes, I was going to miss her company, guidance, and the holiday and Shabbat meals that we spent together. But even more frightening was that I was losing the one person who was able to help me let Judaism into my life. I thought to myself, with Gittel gone, who was going to inspire me and keep me moving in the right direction? Would I be the same Jew after she left? I thought for sure that once she was gone I'd have no one to share my hopes and fears with and that I would give up. Thankfully, I was wrong.

It's now been over a year since that cold morning where we stood outside her apartment not able to let go of each other for that last time before she left. My family and I made a visit last spring and it was like nothing had ever changed between us. I consider her like a sister. And although I already have a few sisters, all younger, she is the little sister I never had. Because unlike the others, she is full of insight and knowledge and compassion. She is a living example of "ahavat yisrael" or love for every Jew, and I know that no matter where we are, where we've been, or where we're going, we'll always have a special connection. A connection that I am certain can only be created by G‑d Himself.