She finally fell asleep, my newborn, who is always sleeping and yet whom I’m always putting to sleep. I’m sure you’ve done it a thousand times yourself. You rock, you nurse, you carry and sway. Your baby falls into a heavenly sleep. She looks so peaceful and content. You put her in the carriage or in the crib, and a minute later she wakes up and lets out a cry. The cycle repeats itself again and again. She doesn’t want to be anywhere but in the comfort of your arms, hearing the beating of your heart, feeling the warmth of your skin.

I had an internship at an auction house in Geneva

When I was eighteen years old, I had an internship at an auction house in Geneva. I traveled across the globe, and for the first time lived on my own. It was exciting, and I befriended many interesting people, yet I still felt very much alone. I called home, and my mother advised me, “Go to shul [synagogue]; you’ll meet other Jews.” The idea didn’t sound bad, but I didn’t know where to find a shul. And anyways, so what if I went to a shul? How would that, and meeting other Jews, make me feel any less alone?

I walked on the streets one day, and saw a man sporting a black hat and dressed in a black suit. I immediately identified him as a religious Jew. I walked up to him with my heart pounding. I nervously asked him, “Where’s the nearest shul?” Much to my surprise, it wasn’t far from the hostel where I was staying, and I told myself I would go the following Saturday morning to see what it was like. I brought along a friend that I had made in the hostel, a non-Jewish German friend, who was also curious to see the shul.

We walked into the shul. We were instantly greeted by two lovely young women who handed us prayerbooks and motioned to where we could sit. I opened the prayerbook with its somewhat familiar Hebrew script, closed my eyes, perked up my ears, and realized they were praying in the same tunes that I was accustomed to hearing. I was thousands of miles away from my home, and yet I was near. After the service was over, the women invited us to a kiddush and then to a brit milah (circumcision) that was taking place a few blocks away. We went with the crowd of people to celebrate the brit milah of a family I didn’t even know. My friend was impressed by the hospitality and the warm greeting we received. “How lucky you are to have this, to be part of this,” she told me.

To be part of this, to have this. The sentence resonated in my ears. This, this shul, a home away from home.

How did my mother know that in a synagogue I wouldn’t feel alone? How did she know that in a foreign country, this would be the only place where I wouldn’t be a stranger—and why had this secret always been kept from me? It took a German woman to point it out to me, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.

Like a baby in her mother’s arms, it’s where I feel safe

The shul that she was referring to has nothing to do with a building. It’s the feeling of being amongst your own, even when you don’t know anybody. It’s experiencing and observing. It’s practicing and doing rituals that have been done by your family for thousands of years. It’s like tasting foods that you’ve never tasted, and recognizing it.

When my husband and I first moved to Israel, the security situation was extremely bad. We came on our own, leaving our family and friends behind. Everyone asked us, “How can you live in Israel, in Jerusalem? Aren’t you scared? You don’t know anyone; aren’t you lonely?” Lonely, scared? But we’re home.

Over the years, I’ve lived in many cities and have traveled to many countries. The first thing I do when I arrive at a new place is to seek out the synagogue. It’s like a magnet pulling me towards it. Like a baby in her mother’s arms, it’s where I feel safe and find comfort. The prayers and fellow Jews are the beatings of the mother’s heart. You’re not alone, the heart beats. You’re a part of something; you have something.