Latest update: August 31st, 2013
This change in attitude also applied to kashrut. Rather than thinking of kashrut as an impossible scenario, I viewed it as a process of learning new halachot and practicing forgiveness when another family member used the wrong utensil. I learned to keep my meals small and simple as I was scared of violating any halacha or eating non-kosher by accident. When I saw packaged kosher food displaying the OU symbol, I felt that in the middle of nowhere Hashem was reaching out and giving me a big hug. He was letting me know I was not alone.
On the other hand, Shabbat became the ultimate adventure, as my parents were living on the 45th floor in a building an hour’s walk from the Jewish community. I would spend Friday night at Chabad and then walk back for an hour through the streets of Hong Kong. Since the security guard did not speak English and could not help me by operating the elevator as a Shabbat elevator, I ended up walking many flights of stairs to get home. But after a few weeks, I realized that the stairs were a small price to pay for the love and feeling of Shabbat I experienced from Chabad of Hong Kong.
In July, Shabbat became a little bit easier. My sister moved to Hong Kong from South Korea and found a place that was five minutes from the synagogue on the 22nd floor. After my experience with the 45th floor, the 22nd was so much easier and I would walk up and down those flights three or four times a Shabbat! Still, you haven’t done Aliyah L’Regel until you have 22 flights to walk up and there is no air in the stairwell.
It was those climbs that ultimately strengthened my faith in Hashem. In Parshat Bechukotai it says, “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them…I will turn my attention to you, I will make you fruitful and increase you, and I will establish my covenant with you.” (Vayikra 26:3) Rashi comments that “Im bechokotai telechu” means that you will toil in Torah. I really believe that I fully reached that mitzvah: as you’re dripping sweat and you’re on the 19th floor, and you’re singing V’hi Sheamda and telling yourself D’var Torahs that you just taught yourself — nothing can compare to that!
By the end of July, I was coming to terms with my situation and the moment that I believe was the pinnacle of my growth took place on the last Shabbat of the month. It was the Shabbat in which I felt the most alone but at the same time, I felt Hashem’s hand the most. I went with my family to Kowloon for Shabbat.. Kowloon is another island in Hong Kong; it has a small synagogue for international travelers that hosts Shabbat meals. I was invited to stay at someone’s apartment and given directions on how to get there. The building was in the apartment complex known as Qing Wah Palace.
Since Hong Kong used to be a British Colony, knowing Cantonese is not really a necessity on the main Hong Kong Island, but it is definitely necessary in Kowloon. I got lost because I could not properly pronounce “Qing Wah Palace.”
I was walking around Friday night in an area in which the bars were going full throttle till around 4:00 am. I walked for hours in every direction retracing my steps. I walked till I had no idea where I was and felt my senses leaving me. I saw things that I should not have seen. It was in that moment that although I had no idea where I was going and I was getting pretty scared, I realized that Hashem had my back and it was only through Him that nothing happened to me that night.
When I finally found the synagogue at 5 a.m. and gave up all hopes of getting to the apartment, I realized that being an Orthodox Jew is the most amazing thing in my life and nothing was going to take it away from me. I was no longer worried that I would fall and go back to my old ways. It took a few scary hours of wandering for me to realize that people will say what they say, but I see the unbelievable greatness of living a Torah lifestyle and I will not give it up for anything.
About the Author: Liran Weizman is a senior at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women. She is an intern in the OU's Department of Communications and Marketing.
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