Like any other good Jewish story, this one begins with food. Hamantaschen to be exact.
Fourteen years ago, I was working in Washington D.C. and aside from reading Torah on the Metro every day, I wasn't terribly religious. One spring day though, that was all about to change. On a balmy spring morning in March, a co-worker came in to the office and dropped off a box of cookies in the common area. Intrigued by the thought of a mid-morning snack, I ventured out of my office to see what kind of cookies he had brought. They were triangle shaped with what looked like a fruit center.
“What are these?” I asked him.
“Oh, just some hamantaschen,” he replied walking off.
I repeated the word a few times as I picked one up and took it back to my desk. It was good, but what was “hamantaschen”? I wondered. So, I got on my computer and asked Google. The first site to pop up was Aish.com's Purim site. I read the article on Purim foods, then I started going through the rest of the Purim page. By the time I finished, it was well past lunchtime – it was almost mid-afternoon!
I went home that night and told my husband about the strange cookies my co-worker brought and this neat website I had discovered with all this information on Judaism. Luckily my husband is pretty indulgent of anything I'm interested in and encouraged me to keep reading through the website, which I did for days, weeks, and months on end.
We didn't go to synagogue, we didn't celebrate the High Holidays, we didn't even identify ourselves as Jews.
Judaism was something I had always had an interest in since I was a young child. Growing up in an inter-faith family, the only thing I knew about it was my mom's family was Jewish and my dad's weren't. My mom had told me some stories about her experiences with Judaism. I heard about how she'd crash bar mitzvah parties at the synagogue (by accident of course!), how I was named for my great-great grandmother in the Jewish tradition, and about yummy foods like latkes.
But that's where it ended. We didn't go to synagogue, we didn't celebrate the High Holidays, we didn't even identify ourselves as Jews. In fact, we celebrated Christmas and Easter in our house and when I was growing up, I attended Sunday school at the Presbyterian church where my father's parent's went. But something always felt “off” to me, I didn't feel like the services I attended there were right. And I was viewed as troublesome in the Sunday school class because I didn't just “believe”, I questioned everything they told me. Sunday school teachers don't like young children questioning the immaculate conception!
When I was a teenager, my family moved to the Washington D.C. area and my Mom started attending synagogue on Friday nights. My father and I reluctantly accompanied her, but I didn't feel any less awkward there, especially since most of the service was in Hebrew and I had no idea what anyone was saying! I was especially confused when at the beginning of the Friday night service, everyone stood up and looked at the doors to the sanctuary. “Is this to make people coming in late feel bad?” I remember asking.
Unfortunately, our Friday night Shabbat services were short lived. After showing an interest in becoming members of the synagogue, my mother was told by the Rabbi there that she wasn't actually Jewish because her father wasn't Jewish. My mother was devastated and we never went back or talked about it again. I've never forgotten that episode, and have always felt bad that when my mother was trying to reach out to her Jewish roots and reconnect, she was pushed away without a second thought (and for a totally mistaken reason: my mother was in fact Jewish according to Jewish law since her mother was Jewish!).
A few months later, she died in a car accident and without a solid religious background, I felt like I was left adrift. I still felt like there was a God out there, but that He must be punishing me for doing something wrong. I was upset and missed my mom terribly. The only thing I felt like I had to connect with her on some level now that she was no longer with me was Judaism. I told my dad I wanted to study Judaism, so he took me to the local Reform congregation where the Rabbi talked to me about Judaism and how “hard” the commandments were, then gave me a book about it and sent me away. I felt very dejected and like there wasn't a religion out there for me at all.
And for years, that's where my Jewish journey ended. I skimmed the book the Rabbi of the Reform congregation gave me, but it was a very dry account of the tenets of Judaism and it didn't seem to have anything to do with my life or anything modern. Judaism seemed to be an old-fashioned religion.
It wasn't until I met my husband again (we had dated in high school) that I started looking into Judaism again. We went to a service at the Reform synagogue I had been to before, and though it was a very good service, it still didn't seem right for us at the time. So, we didn’t go back, and I studied Judaism on and off for the next few years. The year I started working in Washington D.C., I started reading the Torah every morning and was starting to feel closer and closer to God.
Once I found Aish.com, I knew I had finally found my Jewish identity. Aish's articles were insightful, relevant, and always made me want to learn more.
I firmly believe studying Torah helped to lead me on the right path and the Hamantaschen was just a sweet treat to keep me on that track. Once I found Aish.com, I knew that it was right – I had finally found my Jewish identity, the part of me that I always felt was there, but could never access. Aish's articles were insightful, relevant, and always made me want to learn more.
It didn't take too long for me to want to learn Hebrew and I convinced my husband to join me in taking classes. We started with Beginning Hebrew at the Reform synagogue, then started to attend Friday night services with the new Rabbi there, and gradually our lives started to fall into place. We started lighting Shabbat candles, my husband bought me a Noah's Ark mezuzah for our front door for our wedding anniversary, and we started keeping Kosher.
Fourteen years ago, I tried my first Hamantaschen cookie and discovered the website that brought me back to Judaism. Now, we’ve become observant, keep Kosher, and have brought two daughters into a Jewish life and the oldest is now attending a Jewish day school. This weekend we’ll be making Hamantaschen together with our own recipe, but I will never forget those Hamantaschen that helped bring me to where we are today.