When my family first moved into the Orthodox Jewish community of Baltimore, I had a serious case of culture shock. Who were these people who had no compunctions about asking a complete stranger where she was from, who she was related to, where her children went to school—or about sizing her up without the slightest attempt at hiding it? I was more than a little put off by what I interpreted as nosiness.

Then my mother’s mother and my father’s mother passed away on the same day—both in the same hospital, both unexpectedly. Since my family was newly observant, none of us had any idea what to do.

Our community, which didn’t really know any of us, and which we clearly had never truly perceived, sprang into action. My parents observed the traditional Jewish seven-day period of mourning, called shivah in Hebrew, together at my home. All of my friends, and even people I didn’t know, came into the house, helped us arrange things appropriately, and began cooking, calling and . . . well, you name it. They arranged three minyans (prayer services) a day for my father, and even arranged for a Torah reading on Monday and Thursday. All of our needs were catered to, even the ones we didn’t know we had. It was an incredible introduction to the Jewish community.And then it began . . . the outpouring of love and help from every angle

Recently, I was reminded again how deeply connected the global Jewish community is. This past fall, I was on a speaking tour in the U.S. (I now live in Israel.) While at Aish HaTorah’s Conference in Connecticut, the unimaginable happened—my father, who lived with us in our home, suddenly passed away.

After giving a talk on motzaei Shabbat (Saturday night), I went up to my room and checked my messages. There was a message from my mom. “Penina, it’s Mom. When you get this, please give us a call.” I looked at the time. She had called me at 1:30 AM in Israel. That couldn’t be good.

So I called my husband. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but this morning your father passed away.” “What?!” I exclaimed. It just couldn’t be! It turned out that my father had had a heart attack on Shabbat morning.

And then it began . . . the outpouring of love and help from every angle. The conference organizers consoling me and dedicating the morning session to my father; the sage advice guiding me through the complicated customs of being a mourner in the first couple of days of mourning. But what really floored me was the community getting together to assist me in acquiring an airline ticket back to Israel, so that I could mourn with my mother in our home! No one would have batted an eyelash had I canceled the rest of my speaking tour. That is the real Jewish community—the Jewish community I know, the one full of compassion and understanding and giving.

As it turns out, I decided to continue the tour after shivah. I made this decision because I knew how important the work I do was to my father, of blessed memory. He was proud of my efforts to inspire Jewish people to learn about their Judaism, to cultivate intimacy with G‑d and, above all, to stay Jewish.

So, I sat shivah part of the time in Israel and part of the time in America, where complete strangers came to visit and offer support and comfort.Judaism is about something much bigger than you and I

Reading this account, one might believe that these experiences taught me that the Jewish community is supportive and compassionate. And while that is true, it is not the lesson I learned. What I learned is so much greater and more transcendent than that.

I learned that the reason the Jewish community is so supportive and compassionate and giving is the same reason that the Jewish community at times may seem nosy and intrusive. It’s because Judaism is about something much bigger than you and I—it’s about “us.” Judaism teaches that we are here on earth for a much greater purpose than to just suffer through 120 years and then cease to exist. The Torah teaches us that we are part of a unit, an eternally existing spiritual entity that has a mission to fulfill on earth and an eternal destiny. We are all linked together on a level that cannot be entirely understood by the human intellect, but seems to be innately understood by the soul. We are family, and we are one—this is what it means to be a Jew.