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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Important Moments In Becoming A Ba’al Teshuvah (Conclusion)

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It was very important to me that other people learned about this Beginner’s Service, so I decided to write a letter to a Jewish publication. I had just seen a Woody Allen film whereby his character leaves Judaism for another religion. Responding to his mother’s troubled inquiry as to why he took this unfortunate route, the character says, “With Judaism, I guess I got off on the wrong foot.” With this in mind, I titled my letter, “The Right Foot.”

I described my experience at that church party and my encounter with the friendly people there, including the social worker and the Jewish priest. I expressed my sadness that some Jews get involved with such a church, not even knowing the beauty of what they’re giving up. I mentioned the “wrong foot” line from the Woody Allen movie, adding that if one wants to get on the “right foot” regarding Judaism there is a Beginner’s Service that I was attending. I left my answering service phone number for anyone seeking more details about this Beginner’s Service, where everything is explained in a patient and kind way.

I was grateful to receive a few calls from people wanting to learn more about their Jewish roots.

Then I got another call – from the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) – that would change my life. NJOP promoted beginner’s services around the country, and wanted more details about the service I attended in Cobble Hill so they could add it to their list of resources. The caller told me about the weekly Shabbos Beginner’s Service led by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald at Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Informing the caller that I was a playwright, he said, “That’s great. Rabbi Buchwald just had a play put on for the 10th anniversary of the Beginner’s Service.”

This was music to my ears. I called Rabbi Buchwald to gauge his interest in reading some of my Jewish-oriented plays for a possible production at his shul. He invited me to the shul’s Beginner’s Service. I accepted his invitation, and became a regular attendee for a full year.

Why did I keep attending the Beginner’s Service? Because of something with great impact that Rabbi Buchwald said to me: “I’m not asking you to give up your secular interests. I’m just asking you to put Judaism first.”

After that year under Rabbi Buchwald’s guidance, I began attending a synagogue in my Queens neighborhood as a Shomer Shabbos Jew. Yes, my plays’ characters returned to their Jewish roots – and I followed their path.

What ultimately led me to a deepening commitment to practice Judaism was my attendance at a church party and my revulsion at what I saw there. The beauty of a Susan and the warmth of people walking a different course in life than me can’t compare to the beauty, warmth and sense of being home that comes with following the path that is mine to traverse.

Alan Magill is the Senior Forum columnist for The Jewish Press.

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