Who am I? What am I?

I am a Jew.

Two years ago I did not know this. I knew I was Jewish, but not that I was a Jew. How did this happen? How did I get here? I had made no conscious decision to be a Jew. I didn’t wake up one morning and think, “Today I will become a Jew.”

What happened is that my soul, which has always been Jewish, woke up. But when it awoke it was empty, filled only with a yearning it didn’t understand. What do I do now? Where do I turn? I am not that woman who covers her hair, who is always modest and making a home for her family. In fact, I wasn’t even in the same league. I was fifty years old. I had lost everything I had worked for my whole life: my home, my job, my partner, my self-respect. I found myself at fifty having to live in the basement of my eighty-year-old mother. There was no further level for me to sink to.

My soul woke upThen one day, out of nowhere, a little voice said to me, “You are a Jew.” All well and good, but that won’t pay the bills! But the emptiness inside kept growing.

I turned to the Internet. And there it was . . . Chabad.org. Without having a clue as to what to do, I just browsed. I came across the daily mitzvahs. I found the morning prayer said upon waking, “Modeh Ani.” And that little voice said, “Start here.”

So the next morning when I awoke, I recited Modeh Ani. Something didn’t feel right. I went to sleep each night praying that I would not wake up. So when I did, how could I thank G‑d for letting me? Where do you turn to ask a question about wishing you would die in your sleep?

First, I turned to my beloved sister. She is Lubavitch. Her life seems so full. Full of peace and joy and love. But even she wasn’t ready for that question. Now what? She told me to call her rabbi, that he would know.

So I did. I was expecting a lecture on how wrong my feelings were, especially within Judaism. What I got was kindness, understanding, and an answer I could cling to. “You see,” the rabbi explained, “when you say Modeh Ani as soon as you awake, you are saying it with your soul. Not with your mind.” My soul was thanking G‑d for giving me what He knew I needed, not what I thought I wanted.

I realized that I had not lost everything. I had gainedAs it turned out, my mother became ill and needed someone to care for her. I realized that I had not lost everything. I had gained. I am here, right where G‑d orchestrated me to be, at exactly the time I was supposed to be.

I am still struggling. G‑d doesn’t make it too easy, or everyone would be at the end of a journey. Every day I start a new one.

Now I say the morning prayer Modeh Ani with an open heart. I say the morning Shema and prayers before bed. I light Shabbat candles. I don’t know where I am going, but I know how to get there. Torah.

And that little voice inside of me now sings in joy. The empty space is not full; it will never be full. But it is no longer empty. It is my Jewish soul yearning to grow and learn, to walk with G‑d every step I take.