“But I don’t get it, Mom! Didn’t you raise me to love all people? So, why does it matter if John isn’t Jewish?”

“I want to live my life—not someone else’s limited view of how I should be. I want to be free to be me.”

“The Bible stories just seem like a bunch of fairy tales.”

These are thoughts and feelings I express as I travel through young adulthood. My first boyfriend in college is a WASP, then I date a Catholic Jesuit, then a “The Bible stories just seem like a bunch of fairy tales.”Southern Baptist. I see this as another achievement—breaking through unnecessary limitations. Jewish guys seem too nice and boring—and the world is such an exciting place to explore!

There is something else going on though, too—a yearning I can’t explain. I try many different types of spiritual experiences, and study different branches of Buddhism and Christianity, and I find important pieces of truth. Still, a deep part of me continues to feel like something essential is missing.

At the beach with one of my non-Jewish boyfriends, I read a book of Hasidic tales, and he reads an introductory book about Judaism. He seems even more interested in learning about Judaism than I am. I learn a lot of interesting things from his book, too.

My mom suggests that I go to Israel during my summer break from med school to volunteer at Hadassah Hospital.

I volunteer in the oncology department, visiting patients who are dying. I also come face to face with the fact that I don’t know why life is worth living. Although my life appears to be headed in a great direction, I feel more and more like I am getting lost.

An old friend takes me to a school in Jerusalem where young adults are first learning about the depth of the Torah. I am skeptical—and I love it too. It feels like the core of my being is celebrating. Even though I don’t understand some of the Hebrew words that the teachers and students are using, the atmosphere of humility and growth and caring reaches a very deep place within me. I don’t understand what is going on inside of me, but I feel like I have wanted this forever.

While I listen to the classes, I am surprised to see that I am doodling pictures of creatures jumping up and down in a beautiful world, shouting, “Yay!” I also realize with astonishment that a lot of the research studies I have worked on in the psychology department at Harvard aren’t needed—I find the answers I was seeking here, in these ancient texts. Who knew?

I go for a I find the answers I was seeking here, in these ancient texts. Who knew?walk with a teacher, and I ask my constantly itching question, because I feel I can ask anything here: “So, what is the meaning to life?” And something wonderful happens. The teacher asks me what I think the answer is! I am baffled, and I can’t think of one intelligent thing to say. Finally I just say, “To be good?” And the wise teacher says, “Well, one thing I can tell you is that Judaism gives more details about how to be good than other religions.”

What a boring answer! And yet it has an effect on me, because I have studied a number of other religions and I know that this makes plain, simple and non-bombastic sense. Just from the few days I’ve been studying Judaism in depth, there certainly do seem to be more details in Judaism than in other religions about “how to be good.” But I’m a big-picture kind of person—and I don’t even like details! So, why does this very non-dramatic statement intrigue me and strengthen my interest in wanting to study more?

I linger and learn.

I begin to wonder if I can dismiss all these Bible stories as fairy tales once I start finding out about their many, many layers of underlying meaning. I discover that even each letter in the Torah has amazing wisdom to teach. The Hebrew letters and words all turn out to be interrelated: if I change one letter of an object’s name, I find a word with a close but slightly different meaning, and that slight difference has an important message about the essence of that exact entity. I can learn about life just from studying the Hebrew alphabet—and for sure from studying its words!

I don’t like restrictions, but I find them somewhat welcome now, since my morals dwindled before I got here. I am honestly craving some absolute truth, as just about everything has become relative to me by this point, and I am not I don’t like restrictions, but I find them somewhat welcome nowsure if there is much else I can believe in anymore.

I try on a few of the restrictive guidelines each day, kind of like an experiment. After a while, my favorite is Shabbat. I have liked the idea for years, but who could follow through with such a thing if not in a supportive community setting? The Shabbat restrictions free me to be spiritual, like with ballet, as I get each awkward step down better and the dance begins to flow. I start appreciating the funny modest dress code, too. It frees me to be seen by others—and myself—as a spiritual being.

While I was dating non-Jews, sometimes people would bring up the importance of Jewish continuity. That didn’t mean much to me, because I genuinely didn’t understand why Judaism was valuable and worth continuing. I did think there was something unique about the tiny Jewish nation that made us continue to persist—and make a disproportionate positive impact on the world—despite the fact that we have been invariably sought out for annihilation throughout the ages. But it is not until I get this chance to study earnestly with sincere, observant Jews that I begin to glimpse why our continuity matters.

My soul feels like it’s rejoicing, as the pure form of Judaism I am studying fits within me like a long-lost puzzle piece. The other religions I explored have helped me to appreciate my own more fully. In Judaism, both the mystical and practical ways work together to unearth a Jewish soul. I see how I need the mitzvot to both tie me to earth and let me fly.

I’m remembering who I am. And I’m in a constant state of becoming, with more and more wondrous levels to be revealed.