In Europe, it’s a few days before the Yemei Hadin as well as Hitler Y”M’s invasion of Poland. My grandmother, a young child, tells her parents of her plans to leave Poland for America. She does so, and they say goodbye, unbeknownst to all of them that it will be for the last time. The entire family is killed in Auschwitz, only my Grandmother and a brother make it out alive. Their shteitel is destroyed along with much of Yiddishkeit in Europe. My grandmother moves to America, and my parents are born in Brooklyn.
I would never had come this far were it not for the zechus of my ancestors who came before me. I started out like many Secular Jewish kids attending a local public school in an affluent and sheltered town in Westchester county. Like many children in that area, I attended Hebrew school twice a week and frequented the local Reform Temple together with my family on the Yomim Noriem, as well as when classmates turned Bar Mitzvah. When winter came, we would take out our menorahs and celebrate Chanukah, but Sukkos, Simchas Torah And Shavous were foreign concepts. Like many children without a Frum chinuch, we assumed Moshiach and Olam Haba were non-Jewish concepts, as were schar v’onesh.
Then one summer, with Hashem’s guiding support, I decided I wanted a more traditional Jewish education. I vividly remember asking my parents to please switch from the Reform Temple which has presiding over it a Reform “Rabbi” who didn’t even wear a Yarmulke when davening, to a Conservative Temple. They obliged, and I started attending Hebrew school twice a week at the local Conservative Temple. It was there that my life would change in a profound way.
My first day of Hebrew school I met my teacher, a Frum Jew who had like me grown up Secular. This teacher’s way of living piked my interest. I had never before seen authentic Yiddishkeit, and I wanted to learn more. I would ask this teacher all about Authentic Yiddishkeit and Hashkafos HaTorah. I was inspired to find out Yiddishkeit had an answer to the suffering of this world called Olam Haba and that Moshiach is a very Jewish belief. Before long, I was invited to the Frum community of Monsey, New York for Shabbos. There, I saw Yiddishkeit as it was meant to be lived – it was amazing and something very different from the shallowness of the secular world.
I took in the davening and the Shabbos and was uplifted by the tefillos. I didn’t understand much of the Rabbi’s Dvar Torah, but took in and absorbed what he said nonetheless. The people were genuine and kind in shul, and this family was very welcoming. Needless to say, by the time Shabbos came to an end, I wanted more and knew I would return again.
I was so moved by the Shabbos experience I decided to learn more. I bought books on Yiddishkeit and purchased a Pirkei Avos to learn The Torah perspective on morality and therefore what true mentchlikeit is.
Meanwhile, I decided to start keeping Shabbos and davened from an Orthodox siddur. I was now approaching my Bar Mitzvah, and wanted to lead davening from an Artscroll siddur. My parents were needless to say not thrilled with my choices and tried to talk me out of keeping Shabbos, but to no avail. They tried to keep me from returning to my Hebrew school teachers house, perhaps thinking I would drift away from them if I started keeping Shabbos. In fact, the opposite happened, and I eventually returned to my teacher’s house for another Shabbos.
By this point after my Bar Mitzvah, I was now keeping Shabbos. One of my early Shabbosim I spent reading the Artscroll biography of Hagoan HaRav Moshe Feinstein ztzl. From this biography I gained a true appreciation of what middos tovos are and what true Gadlus is. That Shabbos was spent alone with my family, as there were no Shuls in walking distance.
Eventually I met a Kiruv Rabbi in Westchester and started staying by his family for Shabbos and Yuntif. By this point, I started getting involved in NCSY and attending their Shabbatonim which offered a refreshing breath of fresh air after each week in a public middle school. It was in these years I learned the Shabbos zmiros and The Torah approach to life.
Finally, when it was time for high school, I begged my parents to let me attend a Jewish school. They refused at first, since they reasoned the local public schools were of a fine caliber. Needless to say that was not the case, and eventually after many long weeks they relented and let me attend a Jewish day school – at first a Conservative one, and then seeing my insistence on attending an Orthodox school, they acquiesced.
I finally began to attend an Orthodox day school, where I learned Halacha and some Gemara. I would commute a relatively long distance each day, but it was well worth it. In the meantime, I would start to listen to Daf Yomi and Halacha shuirim on the computer at home, and begin to attend Frum summer camps.
And so, the transformation was taking place from public school kid to Ben Torah, a work that is still in progress.
I went on to attend college, and then a Mainstream Yeshiva, and am now B”H a Frum Jew who strives to grow – thanks to siyata D’shmaya and wonderful Rebbeim and a welcoming community of Benei Torah.
In these Yemei Teshuva, May Hashem inscribe and seal us all for a good year and be mekabel our teshuva.