By Alice Jonsson
Attempting to describe my turn towards Hashem and Torah, while being brief, is a challenge. Hereâ€™s my attempt.
Imagine a 10-story-tall catapult. But instead of a boulder the size of a VW bug, its cargo is you. Because this catapult has been cranked back slowly, each tooth clicking into place, for thirty-six years, the energy behind the launch is tremendous. You find yourself being rocketed through space, old grudges, all of the axes you were grinding, mountains that you were carrying on your shoulders are one by one falling away, making you lighter and lighter, increasing your velocity. Convinced this bizarre dream will end with a violent splat — or a human shaped hole in the middle of a field of corn with you at the bottom — you find yourself not rocketing but gently coasting at great altitude, experiencing true joy and relaxation. When it comes time to land, instead of racing towards the earth, your landing is more like a leaf flitting back and forth in the breeze, making a lazy descent towards the grassy field.
The field is a good place to end up, because that’s where you will do some great work. Despite the fact that you feel like a lunatic, albeit a gleeful one, you take the advice of a very wonderful rabbi half way around the globe and go for walks talking to the old corn stalks, ravens landing on power lines, and the grasshoppers that land on your sweater with a chirp way too loud to come from such a tiny creature. This is your synagogue and they are the congregation. There you can talk to the perfect God for you, even though this still strikes you as being totally bonkers, and amazing things begin to happen.
Of course this is a totally irrational and unscientific thing to do. But it works. Quickly. Even though you aren’t Jewish, this rabbiâ€™s advice fits you like a custom made suit. You learn that you don’t need to be Jewish to believe in Judaism, and that there are seven laws just for you. Negative emotions that plagued you for decades dissolve, leaving you not your old self, but a person you never were. Lessons accumulated over millennia by Sages living near the Dead Sea, or deep in the woods of the Ukraine, guide you through grocery trips, dysfunctional family dinners, and help you to not lean on the horn in traffic jams.
Well, thatâ€™s how the journey began. Three years later, we live in the big city. The cornfields have been replaced with subways and burglar bars. Itâ€™s a good thing Hashem can be found anywhere because that all sounds a bit depressing, yet the tranquility found in those fields persists. We live near shuls and kollels, minyans and lunch and learns. And just like when we lived in the country, I read Jewish websites, listen to cds in my car and lectures on my MP3 player, anything to maintain the connection to God. Now that we’re in the city, Torah classes are part of my life as are a hodgepodge of fellow Torah believers: Western European Ashkenazi, Hassidim, Iranian Jews, Sephardim from Morocco, Sephardim from Mexico, Sephardim with lush Southern accents and plaid flannel kippas, soon-to-be Jews, thought-they-were-Jews, and even Gentiles-who-wish-they were Jews.
Where do Bnei Noach fit in? It’s clear that any newcomer to the world of Torah runs the risk of becoming overwhelmed by the labyrinth of traditions, commandments, communities, and politics, let alone a Gentile. But to my mind it doesn’t matter if you are a BT from a line of rabbis ten generations long or your dad’s a Methodist who married a beauty named Shoshanna. There are times you will feel in. And there are times you feel out. And when that ‘out’ feeling starts to wheedle its way in, I return to the cornfield, only this time it’s a broken sidewalk, and I’m pushing a red stroller ferrying a blonde two-year-old clutching a water bottle. Hashem is right there with me again to remind me that I am one member of an enormously complex congregation who know that the Torah is the blueprint. And that He is always there with me. And with you.
I recommend with great enthusiasm any of the cds by Rav Shalom Arush and Rabbi Lazer Brody available on Lazerbrody.typepad.com. And for a terrific, accessible approach to Torah techniques for coping with negative emotions, The Trail to Tranquility, by Rabbi Lazer Brody. Many of the techniques that have worked so well for me and for my family are described therein.
This piece was originally posted on Dixie Yid.