“This is bologna in my salad, right?” I asked my friend Jody.

Lunch in a public school is rather predictable. The menu doesn’t change much year to year, and I had spent my years in high school eating the same salad almost every day. But now that I was dating my Orthodox boyfriend, Mel, I had developed a heightened awareness of the foods that I ate.

“No, it’s ham,” she stated.

“Jody, it must be bologna!” I exclaimed. “It has to be bologna!”“This is bologna in my salad, right?”

“Judy, it is ham,” she replied, confused by my outburst.

“But I don’t eat ham. The only thing we don’t eat in our house is deli ham!” I cried, running off to the restroom.

With shock and horror, I realized that I had unknowingly eaten the one food that I felt was off limits. Not once, not twice, but I had done so for years! I remained in the bathroom for the rest of the lunch period, washed my face and mouth repeatedly, and then slowly went to my next class, still sick to my stomach.

That was the first significant moment on my way to observance.

I was born, adopted and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. My parents clearly identified as Jews. They sent my brother and me to Hebrew school—or rather, they tried to send my brother, and successfully sent me, to Hebrew school. I was bat-mitzvahed. We celebrated Chanukah with a menorah and Passover with matzah, and we attended synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My grandmother, mother and I attended synagogue fairly regularly throughout the year. My family was proud to be fourth-generation members of our Conservative synagogue. So, I had a basic working knowledge of the holidays and Hebrew language, and even a minimal understanding of kashrut from my grandmother’s sister and her husband. But it was not until I started dating Mel that I really got a glimpse of observant Judaism.

Three months after the incident with the ham, I had a seemingly aimless conversation with Yankie, one of Mel’s friends.

“I just don’t understand you,” he said. “I don’t understand how you live without Shabbat.”

“I don’t know what you mean. I came for dinner last night (Friday night), and I am here now.”

“Yes. But you run around on the Sabbath. You work and shop, and you miss out.”

“What do I miss out on?”

“Everything! I could never live like you do.”

It was this conversation, a conversation that took place over 30 years ago, that stands out as the second most significant moment on my way to observance.

I think that my Jewish neshamah (soul) was awakening. Although my boyfriend never urged me directly to move toward a more traditional lifestyle, as I finished high school and prepared for college, I began to change. I thought over Yankie’s issue with my lifestyle, and decided to give Shabbat a go. The very next Shabbat I did not drive, I attended synagogue, and I enjoyed two Shabbat meals with Mel and his family. Something stirred within me. Amazingly, over 30 years have passed, and I have observed every Shabbat since.

As far as kashrut, I took a more gradual approach. After the fateful day when I learned that I had eaten the only item I thought of as treif, off-limits, I refrained from eating non-kosher meat. Slowly, slowly, I gave up eating other non-kosher items throughout my college years. By the time Mel and I married, three years after my conversation with Yankie, I was observing kashrut both in and out of the home. Of course, I made some mistakes early on, but learning to cook and keep a kosher kitchen was not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated.

As I moved steadily along my path to a more observant lifestyle, my mother was considerably less than supportive. “What can’t you eat this week?”She would often ask, “What can’t you eat this week?” Another favorite was “What restaurant can’t you go to now?” Her negative attitude was difficult for me. I could not understand why my exploration upset her so much. Although I knew that this life was not what she had envisioned for me, I didn’t feel that my choices were anything she could truly fault. I certainly could have made far worse choices: drugs, alcohol, promiscuity.

Much later, as a mother with growing children of my own, I came to a realization. I believe that my mother felt that I had rejected her life choices by opting for a more observant and spiritual life, one to which she could not relate. My mother passed away in 1996. Unfortunately, she never understood or embraced the choices that caused me such fulfillment, and I believe she never reconciled her feelings of rejection with my need to travel a different life path. The pain that her attitude caused taught me a great lesson. As my children chose their own paths, I stayed open-minded and accepting. This served me well.

My path to observance has been a berachah, a true blessing. As I look back at the two most significant moments in my life, I realize that those moments could have passed with little fanfare. Instead, they were pivotal moments, life-altering moments. I thank G‑d for heightening my awareness, sparking my neshamah and guiding me to a more meaningful and fulfilling life that I cherish.