Growing up, I was used to sitting at home on Dec. 25, watching movies and feeling lonely because everyone I knew was celebrating with their family. I was used to Easter, hearing my friends talk about their new dresses and the Easter-egg hunts. Now, I knew that Chanukah and Passover fell out around those times, but these holidays were nothing more than a blip on myOur definition of being Jewish just meant that we weren’t anything else radar. Our definition of being Jewish just meant that we weren’t anything else.

In my neighborhood, there weren’t very many Jews around; I think there were two others in my high school class of 250. My family raised us to be “just like everyone else”: to do well in school, get into a good college, get a job, get married and have kids. Now, I think those are pretty reasonable goals, and they can lead to a satisfying and fulfilling life. But we were missing something. When Sunday mornings or the holidays rolled around, our lack of plans made it pretty clear that we weren’t like everyone else.

When I think of my life at that time, I imagine trying to fit into an outfit that, well, just didn’t quite fit. The style is nice, even attractive. But either there is an annoying tag or the waistband is just a (wee) bit too tight (ahem). I could squeeze into the outfit, but I could never really get comfortable.

We didn’t have a tree, nor did we hunt for eggs. But we didn’t do much of the “Jewish stuff” either. We went to temple on Rosh Hashanah until I had my bat mitzvah (then my parents stopped our temple membership—it just wasn’t relevant anymore). We lit a menorah on Chanukah (a ritual that also petered out during my teenage years). We did have a seder—at a friend of my mother’s—until sports practice and after-school clubs made going to a several-hours-long meal unfeasible.

So our Judaism wasn’t defined by the beauty of being Jewish, but rather by what we weren’t supposed to do. That left me with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction. I tried the idea of just “believing in G‑d,” and that was my spirituality. For a time.

When it came time to go to college, I chose a school thatI still struggle sometimes had a large Jewish population and a Jewish feel. I was entranced with the idea of going to a place where I wouldn’t be “the other.” There, I met people who really had a relationship with G‑d. Felt His presence in their existence. Suddenly, Shabbat, kashrut and halachah (Jewish law) were no longer ancient relics from the days of my great-grandparents, but rather the basis for a real, living and breathing existence that I could have.

If I wanted.

There were actually people who defined themselves as Jews, who defined themselves as who they were, rather than who they weren’t. After soul-searching, questioning and observing, I realized that not only was G‑d real, He was a force in my life. He cared about me, and my becoming religious was not just about serving Him, but improving myself.

So slowly, oh so slowly, I began to change. Saturday became Shabbat, food became kosher. And I realized that there was meaning in the mundane. There was a connection to Someone who had high standards, and cared about us meeting them.

So I still do not hunt for eggs or buy a tree for my house. But rather, I prepare for Shabbat, make challah, keep kashrut and light my Shabbat candles on time (hopefully). I try to learn halachah, try to listen to Torah classes. Come the Hebrew month of Nissan, when I open my windows, I hear the sounds of vacuums whirring, water splashing and music blasting as my neighbors get busy with Passover cleaning. And I know that this is what I was meant to do.

Before, when I thought about being Jewish, it was merely a description, like my long eyelashes or brown hair. But as I learn and live my life as an observant Jewish woman, I see that it is so much more. It is who I am.

While it isn’t always easy, I try to keep G‑d in the forefront of my mind. When the good and the not-so-good happen, I remember that there is One who is in control.

Yes, I still struggle sometimes. Yes, there are times when I think that things would “certainly be easier if . . . ” But then I think of the billions of people in the world, and all the different pathsSaturday became Shabbat, food became kosher travelled by them. And that is when I feel truly blessed to have been chosen to be a Jew.

So yes, I still strive to be just like everyone else around me. But now, I surround myself with people like me. As the years have gone by, my waistband may have become elastic (cough) and my skirts longer, but now I am comfortable. The clothes fit.