When I came to experience the yearning to find my way as a Jew, I stumbled a lot just looking for a place to be part of any group that would give me a jumping-off point. At first, I was just looking for other Jews to be with in an attempt to stem the growing feeling of disconnection from what my heart said I wanted and needed.

In those initial attempts to find aI stumbled a lot spiritual landing place, many of the services I attended were at struggling, nascent congregations, as ill-formed in their efforts to become full-fledged congregations as I was in my effort to find my Jewish soul.

One small congregation met in a church, where the rabbi covered any Christian symbols with cloths to hide them during the services. Somehow, though, I felt that they were still there—a confusing and discomfiting reminder of my own Christian upbringing, despite the fact that my birth parents were both Jews.

Another rabbi held services in a common room at a home for the aged, making the interactions with others interesting, to say the least.

When I moved to Alabama, I finally joined a synagogue. I paid my dues, but could not really participate as I would have liked because the synagogue was quite a distance from where I live, and neither my husband nor I see well enough to regularly drive long distances at night.

However, I really liked the rabbi. He was relatively young, smart and dedicated to serving his congregants, many of whom lived long distances from the synagogue. He made an effort to include all of us in Torah studies and lively discussions. He was a scholar who both wrote and contributed to books, and a progressive leader interested in growing the congregation and the youth program. Unfortunately, a political power struggle left him without a pulpit and with a congregation in tatters. The rift was ugly and irreparable, and left me spiritually “homeless” once again.

I needed a new path to follow so that my search for Yiddishkeit would not dead end. A dear friend suggested that I speak with the local Chabad rabbi, and even gave him my number and had him call me.

Soon he was sitting in my living room, and there began for me a new understanding of what being Jewish means. During our initial conversation, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to ask—how to express my need to this obviously Orthodox rabbi, so my initial question was: “Are there many Chabad Jews in the area?”

His answer put me immediately at ease. He let me know that he does not pigeonhole Jews. To him, each Jew, each person is sacred and important as part of our birthright, and worthy of respect without expectation or label. What a breath of fresh air! All of a sudden, I “belonged” just by virtue of being Jewish. It didn’t matter whether I paid dues to an institution or carried a designation such as Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.

What a revelation to discover that it is All of a sudden, I “belonged” my own striving to do good, to pray, to study and learn, to do mitzvahs, to open my heart to my Creator, and to create a life of hope for myself and those around me that makes me Jewish. It is what I was born to and my rightful place.

Thanks to a rabbi who is part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, I am welcomed as part of the family of Jews who love one another just as we are—and not because we are card-carrying performers of a prescribed faith. This freeing, liberating love emanates from the teachings of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Even 25 years after his passing, his vision of taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of every Jew worldwide is carried out by his emissaries worldwide.

And as a result, I and those like me who search for a place of Jewish spiritual rest find it. We need no designation to be more, learn more, give more to the effort of just being a Jew among Jews. Like the walls of Jericho, what once kept us from freedom to just be Jewish has come tumbling down.