I can’t write another post without first thanking the community that helped set me on the road that I am on. In June 2002, I had just graduated from college and was living in my own apartment, on my own, in St. Louis. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) had inspired me to start keeping kosher, and so I decided that this new start in my life would be the right time to make the move. Even though I made sure to find an apartment within walking distance of a synagogue I knew about, I still did not know anyone in the area.
I knew that a good guide to kashrut would help me along with the details, as I already had a working knowledge of the subject, so I found a nearby Jewish library. When I walked in, no one seemed to be around, so I poked around until I found the kosher section and stood there reading and thinking. I suppose it was at this point someone from the back heard me, came out and offered some help. We introduced ourselves to each other, and that is how I met Rabbi Max Weiman of Aish HaTorah St. Louis (and a contributor here!). A little surprised at myself, I explained how I was living on my own, about to start a new job, and thought I’d keep kosher since my boyfriend was doing it and liked it. After helping me choose a book, Rabbi Weiman asked me if I had plans for the upcoming Shabbat. I wasn’t sure if I heard him right. Had I just been invited somewhere?
I relented and he insisted that I come to his shul, Shaarei Chesed, that Shabbat and then his place for lunch. I didn’t even know I lived less than half a mile from the shul! When I came for Shabbat morning services, I had never felt so welcomed by a community in my entire life. Every single person at shul took the time to introduce themselves to me at that first Kiddush, and then the second and third Kiddush on subsequent weeks, just to make sure I remembered the names. During the entire time I lived there, I was never without an invitation for Shabbat dinner or lunch. The Aish rabbis and the entire shul community made me feel like I was part of a larger family – my problems were theirs, and so were my celebrations. A cake was baked in my honor when I got engaged; I fought back tears at the table when the cake was brought out. The rabbi of the shul, Rabbi Elazar Grunberger, officiated at my wedding, and his wife danced with me.
I miss that community immensely. I learned so much, and was inspired by the many people I shared a dinner table with – everyone had such interesting stories to tell. But it was the spirit of openness and the spirit of chesed that got me. I was deeply affected. It just goes to show you how a genuinely warm smile can change lives. To everyone involved with Shaarei Chesed, past and present, thank you very much. I hope we meet again.