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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Important Moments In Becoming A Ba’al Teshuvah (Part I)

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But first there was tonight and that party. Susan gave me the address and time, and I left – but not before telling Susan and her friend that I looked forward to seeing them later.

I felt like I was dancing all the way home, but in retrospect I probably took the subway. If you’re familiar with that adrenaline surge when you’re very happy and looking forward to something, that’s what I had.

My normal attire of dungarees and a T-shirt was not a possibility for the party. A nice shirt, tie, dress pants and a sports jacket were what I was bedecked in when I knocked on the apartment door at the appointed hour.

A man opened the door and although he had never before seen me, he greeted me like we were long-lost brothers. Concerned that his joy in seeing me would go on indefinitely, I looked around the room of people playing board games until my eyes looked into the eyes of beautiful Susan. She rushed over to me with an excited “hello,” expressing happiness that I came.

Then she walked me to a table, and after short chitchat and the eating of potato chips and pretzels, we began to play Monopoly. It was very relaxing. You didn’t have to think about what you’re going to say next, how you’re going to impress the other person, or how you’re going to play it cool. You just went with the flow, all the while building houses and hotels on Atlantic City streets. This was just the kind of warm and carefree interacting that had been missing in my life. I was so grateful to be there.

A few minutes later, though, I didn’t feel so carefree. I heard the praising of that man on the cross – and then more and more praises followed. At another table, during a break from their board game, a man was telling another man how he had been lost in the big city until he had found this church, and how it had changed his life for the better.

My ears keyed in to other conversations going on and many seemed to be about how the church had impacted the partygoers’ lives. I looked at stunningly beautiful Susan, wondering if she was just like the rest of them. Or would we just be friends, with her laughing at my jokes while we walked along the creek?

That dream went up in a puff of smoke when Susan asked if I’d like to hear about their church. Given my limited Jewish affiliation at the time, I was surprised to have such a strong, visceral, internal reaction to her question. I questioned why I would want to hear about her church. To be sure, if I wanted to hear about it, it could bring me closer to her. I looked at her closely and was stunned at her changed mood in such quick fashion. She was no longer this free-as-the-wind, gentle-spirited person. She was on program. She had a goal – and nothing would stop her.

To me, she no longer looked beautiful.

(To be continued)

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One Response to “Important Moments In Becoming A Ba’al Teshuvah (Part I)”

  1. As soon as it mentioned ‘Jewish priest’ and the hook was a shiksa and a church…this piece lost me. Simply NOT interested in seeing Part II…I am never going to go from being a secular Jew to Orthodox or haredi…EVER.

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You don’t become a ba’al teshuvah overnight. There were many events in my life that contributed to the deepening of my religious commitment, including a party I attended with young, beautiful church members who tried to make me one of them, and how I met their “Jewish priest.” (I’ll discuss both experiences during the course of this continuing column.)

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