I was a typical non-religious, 13-year-old Jewish girl in public school, or so I thought.
All my friends were switching schools in the coming year to a Jewish day school in Toronto, and like any kid, I wanted to be with my friends. I begged my mother to let me go, but it turned out to be quite the battle. There was no way my mother was going to pay such a high tuition at a school she didn’t feel I had a "place" in. I was crushed. Then my mother told me the real shocking news.
"I’m not sending you to a school where the tuition is so high when you’re not even Jewish!"
Did I hear that right?
"Yes, Jane, that’s correct. According to Jewish law, if your mother is not Jewish, you are not Jewish. So, since I’m not Jewish that makes you, well, not Jewish!"
This was a lot for a 13-year-old to handle. Not only could I not go to school with all my friends, I suddenly discovered I wasn't even Jewish. At the time, I didn’t know what Judaism really meant, and truthfully, I was probably more distraught at the thought of not being able to hang out with my friends.
I went to a few different schools and managed to hold onto my "half Jewish" title. Many people were in the same "half" boat as me so it didn’t affect me very much growing up.
The Cancer Joke
Fast-forward a few years to high school. Eager to get out of writing an exam, I thought up a plan to get a doctor’s note excusing me from class. Unlike previous attempts at ditching school assignments, this time it would have to be a well-crafted plan.
"Hi, what brings you to the doctor’s office today?" asked the nurse in the waiting room.
"I found a lump!" I lied in desperation.
Suddenly I found myself completely flustered. I was so excited about the prospect of getting out of my exam that I had forgotten to think up a convincing story why I was seeing the doctor. I quickly wracked my brain for ideas and drew a blank. Just then, I remembered the women's health pamphlet I read the other night. It was about breast cancer and how to properly check yourself.
"I found a lump!" I lied in desperation.
The look on the nurse’s face turned to panic.
"You must go in to see the doctor right now," she said, pushing me through the line of people in the waiting room.
This is brilliant, I thought to myself. I'll tell the doctor I thought I found a lump and couldn’t study for my exam because of the anxiety. Then in the morning I checked again and it was gone. It was all a false alarm, but traumatic enough to have lost a whole night of studying.
"Where did you find the lump?" asked the doctor in a stern voice.
I began to feel tense. "No, doctor, you don’t understand, it was just a false alarm. It’s gone now. Can I just have the note for my teacher?"
"Jane, I must check you to be sure."
"Okay, here," I said pointing to a random place on my body…
"Jane, you must go to the clinic to have this removed right away, it is very large."
Was he joking?
In complete shock, I yelled and pleaded with the doctor to understand that I was just pulling his leg to get a note and avoid taking an exam. But the doctor was adamant that I had to get it removed immediately.
For a moment I thought the doctor was in on my lie and was just getting back at me. I couldn’t tell if he was being serious. I kept insisting that it was all a joke and that we should just forget the whole thing had ever happened. But there was not a hint of humor in his voice. He was dead serious and I was speechless.
What were the chances that the exact place I lied about would be the very place the doctor would find a lump?
I was petrified. How had this happened? None of this made sense; it was the most bizarre one-in-a-billion coincidence! What were the chances that the exact place I lied about would be the very place the doctor would find a lump? I was in disbelief but I couldn’t spend time analyzing the situation; things had to get done.
I was immediately sent to a nearby clinic that specialized in this type of cancer. We found out that the cancer had not yet reached the point of infecting my blood system and didn't spread to the rest of my body. I found it just in time! That same day I had the lump removed and came out of the entire ordeal, thank God, completely cancer-free. Because I found it so early on, I didn’t even have to go through any chemotherapy or treatments.
Life as We Know It
Months passed and life resumed as it was before, which is sometimes the unfortunate result of these fantastic stories of Divine intervention. In reality, they are meant to help us grow and gain clarity in our lives, but so often we just get through them and move on.
Although I wasn’t sure what it all meant, I knew it was spectacular and I couldn’t let myself forget the realization that there had to be something much greater than me, something that was perhaps orchestrating my entire life’s events in a perfect way, something I had to attune myself to.
At the time, there was no one around me who could make sense of it all. Then I went on a Birthright trip to Israel. My counselor happened to be observant. I didn't have much interaction with religious Jews and knew nothing about their lifestyle. I had many interesting conversations with my counselor and when I came home I was very interested in looking further into Judaism.
As we sit in our sukkah underneath the stars above, feel God's loving protection.
A Jewish friend of mine put me in touch with Aish HaTorah in Thornhill and I started to learn. I was so inspired by how much Judaism encouraged my questions. I was finally able to put my story of Divine intervention into a meaningful context. I was more firm in my belief in God and felt more confident than ever that He was orchestrating events in my life.
I also confronted my "half Jewish" identity and began what would eventually be my conversion process. I took things one step at a time, and a couple of years later I converted to Judaism with the full support of my family and friends. I became an active partner with Aish HaTorah and eventually met my husband on a trip to Israel.
Life can look like one big coincidence at times, but when you look back, you can see that there is something much bigger than us behind the scenes, watching over us. That is one of the main ideas to integrate as we sit in our sukkah underneath the stars above, enveloped and protected by God's guiding Hand. It's an opportune time to increase our sensitivity to hearing His messages. After all, nothing is coincidental.