If you want to know Beth Rubin’s role models to becoming religious, it was the Amish.
Beth* grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia. Everyone that she knew was Jewish, and they all went to afternoon Hebrew school and had lavish Bar and Bar Mitzvah parties. In such a uniform community people took their Jewish identity for granted and felt no need for religious activities.
However even as a young girl something gnawed at Beth’s insides. She felt that she was missing something. Beth had a deep desire for purity, truth and a meaningful life. When her Nursery School teachers in the Conservative Synagogue sang about Shabbas and talked about Kosher food, Beth decided this was for her.
“I really wanted to live a life where there was more to it,” Beth said. “I wanted to keep Kosher to be close to G-d.”
Growing up in Philadelphia meant frequent school trips to the nearby Amish Country. Beth loved seeing the simple, basic lives lead by the Amish. Having never come into contact with religious Jews, she assumed that the Amish were the only people living a pure, clean lifestyle.
“I thought I belonged there,” Beth said. “I told my mother I was born in the wrong generation. I should have been born in the time of Little House on the Prairie. I wanted to move to the Amish Country.”
After college Beth went not to the Amish Country, but to Texas to attend medical school. Soon after arriving, she was invited to attend a Revival Meeting by a local Born Again Christian group. Beth accepted the invitation out of curiosity.
At the Revival Meeting were hundreds of people singing, clapping and standing on chairs. Energy filled the room, but Beth felt completely out of place.
“I thought to myself, ‘what is a nice Jewish girl doing here?’” Beth said with a laugh.
The event made Beth realize that she could no longer take her Jewish identity for granted. In Philadelphia she didn’t need to do anything to remember she was Jewish, but here in the Bible Belt under the threat of missionaries, she realized she needed to be proactive in practicing her religion.
Not sure where to turn, Beth called the Jewish Federation and asked them to send her materials on local Jewish life. One of the items they sent was a copy of the city’s Jewish newspaper. Flipping through it she saw an ad for a local Jewish outreach and education organization. She was drawn to the ad and called the number.
The organization operated out of nearby Orthodox Jewish community and offered classes and Shabbat hospitality. Beth was invited for Shabbat and loved it. She began attending events in the local Orthodox community and returned for more Shabbat meals. She was especially impressed with the attributes and morals of the people in the community
One day during the week Beth was at a local business. A man passed by who looked like he had just stepped out of Amish Country, complete with a black hat, black beard, suit and all.
“He looked Amish, but I knew he wasn’t. I thought he was the Jewish version of the Amish,” Beth said. “I ran over to him and said ‘I think I need to talk to you.’ I spoke to him, and he introduced me to his wife.”
The couple lived in the local Orthodox community and invited Beth to join them for Shabbat. In time they became close friends. Beth began meeting more people in the community and saw that they were the models of the purity and truth that she valued. By this point, Beth had decided that she no longer wanted to be Amish because she realized that her own religion held the answers for her.
“I just wanted truth and wanted to be around people living a life of truth,” Beth said. “I just wanted to be close to G-d.”
One other event at this time convinced her of the existence of G-d and the truth of Judaism. During the first semester of medical school Beth was in the anatomy lab and saw a cadaver for the first time. She stared at the cadaver’s face and had an epiphany.
“I looked at the face and nothing looked back at me. It was just flesh and muscles and fat and organs. I almost felt at that moment that Hashem is palpable. When I look at you and you look at me, who is looking at me? It’s not your eyeball in you, it’s the Hashem in you looking at the Hashem in me,” Beth said. “My ears started ringing. I said that’s it, it’s Hashem! That was a major realization for me.”
Following this experience, Beth began to see the hand of Hashem more and more in the human body and the entire world. Combined with her new knowledge of Judaism as the source of purity and truth, she began to realize that this was the path that she desired. She is now a fully observant woman living not in Amish Country, but in the Texas community that inspired her return.
Michael Gros writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To read more articles and sign up to receive them via email, visit http://www.michaelgros.com
* Name and some details have been changed.
Published in the Jewish Press in June 2011