“A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up.” — King Solomon1

Judaism defines a righteous individual as one who perseveres and transforms his failures, despite his circumstances. This paradigm is not only empowering, but completely transformational. Despite any complicated past, there is always an opportunity to move forward and shine.

This concept is very personal to me. As an immigrant, I often struggle to find my identity. Just when I seem to find my place in the world, my sense of belonging is challenged yet again.

I recently watched a documentary about the life of a Soviet superstar, Alla Pugacheva. I was completely mesmerized by the two-hour footage of her life reminding me of my childhood in the former Soviet Union. There is always an opportunity to move forward and shineWhat completely caught me off-guard was my emotional reaction to her music. I left Russia in 1989 and thought that any memory of the star would be completely irrelevant to me today. Yet there was something so familiar about her music, her face, her big hair.

I was shocked. Why after 30 years of living in America did I feel so connected to this childhood icon? Who was I after all these years?

In the very beginning of our history, the newly released Jewish slaves were struggling to allow Egypt to leave them. Perhaps it is easier to remove yourself from the geographical Egypt, yet it is much harder to remove that mindset from your consciousness.

The truth is that I never truly left my Soviet childhood, for it never left me. Perhaps if that realization came earlier in my life, I would feel threatened by it, but today I choose to embrace this multifaceted identity.

Our unique experiences hold a key to our hidden potential and light.

All of us struggle to feel a sense of identity. Perhaps the answer lies in an interesting detail of Moses’ dialogue with the Almighty during his famous encounter at the burning bush. Moses was commanded, “Remove your shoes from your feet because the place upon which you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

“This place where you stand right now” is holy and special because this is where you are at this moment. It is from this place in time and space that you can move forward. Your reality is unique and wholesome regardless of the complexity of your past.

The first time I visited my rabbi, Rabbi YY Jacobson, he asked me about my Russian name. I told him that I go by Sofya now. He was apprehensive about my reluctance to connect to the name given to me at birth in the Soviet Union. My Russian name and my past, he explained is a vital part of the fabric of my soul. By denying our past, we cannot fully embrace our reality.

My story is not simple. To Russians, I am an American. To Americans, I am a Russian. To Jews who were observant from birth, I am a baal teshuva, a “returnee” to the faith. To my non-observant friends, I seem extremely religious and committed to Judaism.

Perhaps this is exactly the point. Yes, it is true that I am not a typical Russian despite calling my parents “mama” and “papa,” writing Jewish children’s books in Russian and staying up all night during the New Year’s celebrations.

I am also not a standard American, despite loving this country more than an average citizen, making it my home, learning the rules of football and eating turkey on Thanksgiving.

I am also not a typical Orthodox woman, despite dedicating hours each day to learning Torah, praying, attempting to bake challah, wearing skirts and covering my hair.

I am not one of these things; rather, I am all of them.

All of us are multidimensional, multifaceted creations unlike anyone else in the world.

Do not be apologetic for your complicated identity. Our Jewish journey is not one-dimensional; as such, most of our stories are exactly that—dynamic, vibrant and forever changing.

We live in multiple realities, and these shifts create our ability to grow and transform.

How wonderfully unique that old Russian songs touch me, and that in an attempt to embrace American humor, I perform comedy routines to challenge myself. Do not be apologetic for your complicated identityMost importantly, after embracing both my Russian and American counterparts, I am a Jewish woman who celebrates my connection to Torah and my people. Thus, at the end of the week, I run home early Friday night to light Shabbat candles and celebrate the day with my Russian-speaking family and friends in Philadelphia.

We are not lost in translation; rather, we are meant to be unique letters of the collective scroll of Jewish destiny. Don’t look at your past and ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead, the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us to ask, “Why is this happening FOR me?” Every challenge is an opportunity.

Your circumstances are specifically designed to light up the path you are walking on. Be proud of where you stand today, for it is exactly from this place that you can shine.