I am a Chassidic woman. I am a mother and wife. Yes, I wear a wig. Yes, I immerse myself in a mikvah. Yes, I dress modestly, even in the summer.

When people look at me, they tend to project a specific identity onto me based on my religious lifestyle. My life is a balancing act suicide-prevention trainer, a mentor and educator. My life is a balancing act. I don’t see the two halves of myself as contradictory. I don’t prescribe to the belief that a Chassidic life is devoid of color. On the contrary: My Chassidic lifestyle is the canvas onto which I can develop an endless array of creativity.

I have always straddled two worlds. Raised in a traditional Jewish home in San Francisco, my Israeli parents did their best to imbue our home with a strong connection to Judaism. Ours was no ordinary Orthodox household: My mom began her journey back to religion when I was two-and-half; my dad, when I was 15.

Our home was one of Yosef Karduner and Shabbat observance, Fleetwood Mac and Sundays at the movies. But my parents instilled a love for Judaism in me and my siblings, long before we were observant. Through lived experience, they deepened our sense of emunah, faith in G‑d, and taught us to develop a strong connection to G‑d and Torah. Today, my entire family is observant, and each brings their unique flavor to their approach.

People are often surprised when I tell them that I had a strong Jewish upbringing in San Francisco. Our community was spearheaded by Rabbi Yosef Langer, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who showed us what it meant to live with the Torah. He and his family live their lives imbued with Chassidic ideals and taught us how to as well. Though my sister and I attended public school, our social life was at the Chabad House. We loved hanging out there on Shabbat with the 150 other guests who had made their way to the Langers’s table and walking to the beach on Shabbat afternoon with the Langer daughters. I admired how kind and welcoming they were to every person they met. Here, a Jew was a Jew. It didn’t matter if your hair was green or if you had never in your life said the Shema prayer. They taught me how to see past labels and connect with a person’s essence.

Jewish holidays were always a special occasion in San Francisco. The Langers’ events drew crowds in the hundreds, yet they always felt personal, like each guest had been handpicked to attend. During the High Holidays, our community relocated from the Langers’ modest Chabad House to the Fairmont Hotel to accommodate the large number of people in attendance. While the Langers’ Shabbat table averaged at 150 guests every week, the Rosh Hashanah meals were triple, sometimes more.

One of the community traditions on Rosh Hashanah was the “Shofar Walk,” when in the afternoons, a large crowd of people, with Rabbi Langer at the lead, took to the streets of downtown for public shofar-blowings. Rabbi Langer blew on street corners, outside of stores, in front of the Embarcadero and at parks, trying to reach as many Jews as possible. The “Shofar Walk” always attracted an audience. I was proud to be part of a community that extended its love and warmth to every Jew.

And every year at Chanukah time, the Langers’ hosted an epic publicIt was the one time of year I didn’t feel like a minority menorah-lighting in Union Square, right in the heart of San Francisco. If there was ever a time that I felt proud to be Jewish, this was it. The menorah-lightings were a grand San Francisco tradition that attracted Jews and non-Jews alike. On the Sunday of every Chanukah, Chabad took over Union Square, with live music, mivtzoim and sufganiyot (doughnuts) as far as the eye could see. It seemed like the entire Bay Area Jewish community participated in this event—it was the one time of the year that I didn’t feel like a minority!

Before the menorah-lighting would begin, a group of us would move through the crowd, distributing candles to thousands of onlookers. Rabbi Langer would follow with a torch and pass a flame around until the entire square was alive with light. It is the kind of scene that left you speechless. The menorah was so tall that Rabbi Langer had to ride a cherry picker to reach the wicks. After the blessings were said, the crowd, led by the rabbi, sang together: “Higher and Higher” and “Oseh Shalom.” And then came the dancing! The spirit and energy of Chanukah—and Judaism—was truly alive here.

The tools that my parents and the Langers gifted me were principles that the Rebbe instilled in all of his leaders. He was not just a leader of a generation; he taught us all to recognize our potential to be leaders in our own right. And though I didn’t know it at the time, these tools were going to change my life.

Straddling both worlds wasn’t always easy. (In fact, it’s still not easy!) I felt like an outsider a lot of the time. Academically, I struggled to keep up in my Orthodox high school’s Hebrew classes and used a dictionary when reading Rashi’s commentary until the 12th grade. I felt stifled, and even decided at one point that I wasn’t smart enough to learn this stuff, and that Chassidic teachings were “too lofty” for me. At the same time, I excelled in my English, history and psychology courses. Sometimes, it felt like I wasn’t meant to be both, like I had to pick just one.

I always believed that I could bridge the gap between the two worlds I loved, but I didn’t know how I would do it. Was there room for both Leigh, the Orthodox Jewish woman, and Leigh, the writer and psychologist? I was driven by a love for Judaism and also by a love of the works of Leo Tolstoy and Roberto Bolano.

When I began writing my first novel, I was met with excitement and a bit of disbelief as well. Finding the balance between my worlds meant writing books that were interesting enough for the secular community and appropriate for the Orthodox community. It was all about fusing both worlds together by including Jewish wisdom.

The same values and beliefs inform theI bring my knowledge as a Jewish woman to mental health role I play as a suicide-prevention trainer and mental-health educator. I bring my knowledge as a Jewish woman to mental health, using it to empower and bolster the people I work with. There is a misconception that Judaism and health must function separately from one another, or that to have one means you don’t need the other, but I disagree. If anything, the role I play as a Chassidic woman has helped me develop a deeper understanding of people’s spiritual needs and how that can play a role in helping them stay safe.

I have often grappled with my mission in this world. I have struggled and sometimes still do. But here is what I know to be true: Living a Chassidic life is one that calls on us to utilize our own talents to bring more light into this world. The Rebbe entrusted all of us to be emissaries in our own lives, leading, educating, expanding, adding light to every area of our world. That is what I do in my day-to-day life as a wife and mother, as a writer, as a woman.

It is a balancing act, and I feel blessed to be juggling it.