In the spring of 2007, I journeyed with seventeen terrific women from my home in a small Philadelphia suburb to Israel for a trip of learning and touring. My renewed connection to Judaism had largely been awakened and rekindled through my involvements with these women and the teachers we studied with in Philadelphia.

It had been more than half my lifetime since my first visit to Israel in 1978, and I was overcome with palpable excitement and curiosity. At forty-seven years old, spirituality and practicality had come to define more of my personality and connection to Judaism. Between visits, there had been twenty-nine years, lots of life, both joys and sorrows. Would I remember anything? How different would the country be? How would it change my life, my relationships, and my love for Judaism? It was all a magnetic mystery.

We were all on this journey together Each day we were on the go from sunrise until after midnight. After breakfast, we journeyed as a group, on foot or by bus, and landed each day in a different home, with the most warm and hospitable hosts and the teacher of the day. Our daily classes were taught by rabbis, historians, and authors.

Exploring principles about life, faith, belief and trust in G‑d, and what it means to take personal responsibility to bring meaning and purpose to our relationships, all makes for very thought provoking quiet time and bright, energetic conversations. We were all on this journey together with a shared goal: to renew and connect to our sense of purpose and direction. This commonality provided a kind of safety net as we went inward to digest the ideas and stories we heard, and came outward to explore our introspections and discoveries- and even to voice our emotional objections. Learning had never before felt so interconnected, meaningful, compelling- and fun. We still had several days left to our trip, and in the worst way I did not want it to end. Being with this group of women, in the Land of Israel, was as close to perfect as it could be.

The second to last morning of the journey was my forty-seventh birthday, and we had a longer drive than usual to the spot where we would have our class. We gathered to sit in the living room of a lovely airy apartment and the rabbi greeted us with a warm smile, a joyful spirit and gentle voice. I sensed an extraordinary person; exuding great calm and focus. He spoke about the idea of conscious living with great clarity. His humble nature and the easy-going pleasant way he spoke made me feel at home. I kept thinking: I would like to experience even a sample of the clarity he seems to be feeling. I would like to experience a snapshot of the way he thinks. But how could that possibly happen? My life and the rabbi's life were just so different that my wish seemed highly unlikely to come true.

I've learned with many different rabbis, and many other educators. I'm usually hesitant to approach the rabbi or instructor after class and usually do not. But after this class I wanted to thank the rabbi and let him know how his teaching had affected me. I felt tremendously empowered; an unusual clarity and calm in my thoughts, and an excitement to learn more. I think it was that what he was teaching struck me in a way that I believed would make a real and practical difference in every aspect of my life. I knew that I would be very upset with myself if I couldn't find the courage to walk up to him and thank him for the inspiration and pleasure of learning with him.

I felt tremendously empowered I told him that his class was the best birthday gift I have ever received, and that I was always particularly interested in conscious living, but was never quite able to figure out what it really meant, how to 'tap in' and pursue it. I also expressed how toward the end of the class, I was thinking that I wanted to learn with him once I got home but I couldn't imagine how that would work. He said, "It's easy!" and gave me his contact information and the following week we started one-on-one learning, on the telephone, all about living with expanded consciousness.

Slowly, but surely, life began to change in subtle but observably good ways. All of the therapists I had ever seen, and that's quite a few, were never able to reach me quite like this. Perhaps I was opening up to allowing things in, differently than ever before. My life was beginning to feel more in balance, steeped with greater awareness. I was noticing that I was equipped with an ability to react less. I was becoming better able to access the 'pause button', before my mouth would deliver an offensive or defensive comment, landing me in a spiral that would inevitably and quickly head down. I experienced more internal peace, less focus on worries. The knots were untying. I was talking less and listening more. I was even beginning to face certain lifelong issues in my marriage and in my relationships with my parents and children, with greater ease, honesty and acceptance. The proverbial wave of life was still there but the highs and lows were not quite as gaping. I was able to see the challenges of the moment. I was not only feeling more connected to what makes me tick, but I was also seeing that I can tick more effectively.

A year after beginning the telephone learning, I was informed that a group teleconference class would be starting that would delve deeper into the same areas I was already exploring with my rabbi in Israel- and I knew I had to be part of this new class. That was in May of 2008. Part of the curriculum involved studying with a learning partner, or "chevrutah", who would also be on the telephone for the class, and talking to her at least fifteen minutes every day except Shabbat. After I thoroughly answered a very detailed questionnaire, my rabbi and his assistant matched me with a woman. All I knew about her was her name and telephone number. I was on board for an adventure.

The first telephone conversation with my chevrutah was close to two hours. There was an unusual comfort, and an ease in listening. There was a particularly strange sensation that I could trust this person. How could that be, when it was the first time we ever spoke? We spoke about our respective marriages, parents, childhood memories, Jewish observance, general interests, job histories, what we like to eat, our challenges, and many, many other things. The mutual sense of trust and our ability to communicate was in no way typical of speaking to a person for the first time. The heavenly, high comfort level in sharing notably personal details, listening without judging, and an ability to engage with small jokes and laughter all defied the ordinary. I felt I was experiencing a miracle.

I was slightly intimidated by my perception of my chevrutah's level of religious observance, and concerned that my practices were possibly too disparate from hers to allow us to continue to connect on a deep level. I learned quickly, and trusted that this was the furthest thing from the truth. This disparity was a great source for learning more about her and her way of life and discovering new perspectives about mine. We struggle with many of the same personal challenges and some of our trials are different. We are both clearly very dedicated to learning how to live a more positive, empowered, meaningful, effective life. We want to connect to the beauty that is packed in every moment, the blessing of every breath and be grateful for every chance we are given to accomplish everything we can. Through the classes and our homework, we are learning how to look at what we can do and focus less on the word can't, how to turn our limitations into opportunities, one step at a time, one day at a time. We are discovering that if we take on too much at once, we set ourselves up for an unsuccessful experience. We are learning to acknowledge our successes without measuring their size.

We build each other up We follow the course curriculum together and we speak on the phone most mornings at 6:45 or 7:00 a.m. We usually speak for 30 – 45 minutes and the time passes way too quickly. We usually recite the morning blessings and then go on to talk about the issues that are living in our conscious minds, where we notice the need to find some resolve, or, we practice one of the class tools called "verbal introspection". We ask ourselves questions out loud, even if we already know the answers, as a way to keep fresh in our consciousness information that we need in order to keep our eye on the target: our life goals. Through our daily learning, we keep ourselves accountable for how we treat ourselves and where we are holding in many of our relationships. We are brutally honest to one another, and yet practice great respect, sensitivity and compassion in how we listen and speak. A conversation does not pass by where we do not teach each other something, and where we do not learn from one another something that enriches the way we look at and engage with people and circumstances. We build each other up. We are the closest of friends. Miraculously so, as we have only known each other for ten months.

I cannot imagine my life in this moment without my rabbi – who is my spiritual mentor, life coach, and teacher; and my chevrutah, my spiritual sister and forever-friend. This segment of my life has been a beautiful symphony of wake up calls. I have greater peace in my mind and calm in my body. I feel a spiritual strength and can account for what obstructs and what allows me to grow. I can handle my son's chronic illness with less angst, my parent's ailing health and aging with more acceptance and my husband's chronic health issues with less worry. The small things can stay small, so I have the energy and clarity to face the big stuff. My learning partner and I are certain that we have been through many lifetimes together because our connection is just too deep to have only traveled these few months of life together. As for my rabbi, I never even dreamed that I would have a real and authentic relationship with a rabbi, and I know I'm not dreaming.

As we approach the holiday of Shavuot and I reflect on my life, I feel like this story and period in my life has been like my own Matan Torah - like receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. In my relationship with my chevrutah, every day we feel as though the Torah was given today and we connect to the blessings and miracles of every moment. Our connection reminds us that there is a high point in our personal human experience that opens doors of perception wider than if we were traveling alone. With a sense of wholeness and goodness, we teach and guide ourselves through one another. We know we are never alone.