I fondly remember my first Google. The summer of 1999. It was a typically balmy Australian afternoon. Well, probably. I don't recall even glancing outside that day. Or for weeks afterwards, to be honest.
Our shiny new family computer had just been installed, and the world was at the fingertips of a inquisitive 16 year old. Of all the knowledge mankind had collected throughout our existence, there was practically nothing out of reach. What were my most innermost desires?
"C-H-E-A-T-S F-O-R N-I-N-T-E-N-D-O G-A-M-E-S"
And there they were, like magic. Nice one, Google.
We became the best of friends. He'd help me through school biology essays, no matter how late at night (or early in the morning!). Choosing the right university was simple -- he knew all about them! My adventures through South American jungles would have been a mess if it wasn't for his advice. And graduate opportunities? No problem. He even suggested the quickest ways to the interviews.
Life was running smoothly. For a typical 22 year old male, all the boxes were ticked. Career? Check. Car? Check. Fun in the sun? Check, check. But spirituality? Not even on the list.
Judaism was like our family's pro-team in a sport that I just didn't like.
No wonder. I had always viewed Judaism as our family's pro-team in a sport that I just didn't like. Sure, I was a season ticket holder, but it was rare that I'd attend any of their games. The spectacle was hardly that, and navigating my way through the match-program only confused me more. But even as my loyalty steadily wavered over the years, I always admired the cheering fans in the bleachers. But what they saw in it all, who knew.
Following another intolerable Rosh Hashana, it occurred to me; maybe Google had the answer. After all, he taught my father all the songs from Fiddler on the Roof. But I forgave my electronic buddy for that. Eventually.
Spilled across the screen were a multitude of sources for me to explore. One of the more credible looking options was "Aish.com -- Your Life, Your Judaism."
As the front page loaded, the article "Falling in Love with Judaism" by Rabbi Nachum Braverman caught my sceptical eye. I looked over my shoulder, making sure that no one was in the room.
Suspiciously intrigued after a rushed glance, I read through the article again. As I digested its words I felt my guard drop. After the third reading, which was a more methodical study, my cynicism melted away. I was ready to explore.
I had questions. Loads of them. But I wanted the fundamentals tackled immediately:
How do we know that there is a God?
Is there any evidence that the Torah was actually written by God?
They had answers. Loads of them. But I wasn't expecting them to be drenched with logic and critical analysis. Weren't all religions dependent on a leap of faith, empty of intellectual appeal? The articles I'd scrutinize at home, the daily/weekly emails I'd read at the office, and lectures I'd listen to while I drove to and from work suggested otherwise.
I decided that if there is a truth, I wanted to know it, intimately. And my ol' pal Google was going to be my navigator.
Over the coming months he led me to all ends of the Earth, from Tibet's mountains to Oxford's philosophy library. And I didn't even need to leave my study. But I kept coming back to Aish.com's virtual study hall in Jerusalem. After analysing another frighteningly rational insight into Torah, I'd find myself sitting quietly at my computer, staring at Kotel via the website's live feed.
I was terrified. I'd stumbled on the truth, and I didn't know where it was taking me. Why and how should all this obligate me? But as a matter of integrity, what I know must become part of who I am.
Plucking up the courage, I emailed my local Aish HaTorah branch. Before I could blink, I'm sitting at a rabbi's Shabbat table with 10 other guests. And I wasn't the only guest wearing a dusty kippah.
I started to attend stimulating weekly classes, where I immersed myself more in Torah thought and discovered that there were others like me who were falling in love with Judaism.
As I slowly become more exposed to the depth and beauty of Torah, I knew I needed to take some time off work to study full time. The inevitable moment eventually arrived:
"F-L-I-G-H-T-S T-O J-E-R-U-S-A-L-E-M"
My spiritual journey of a thousand miles began with a single click. Now I'm in the grandstand's front row, touching the Kotel's tear-stained stones, and I'm cheering my heart out.