Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This story begins over 30 years ago when I started becoming observant. I was lucky that my parents and sister had traveled this journey ten years before me and I had a strong support system. I met so many amazing Yidden and was surrounded by their caring and warmth.

After a year of steady growth I was introduced to my husband and we started our life in Eretz Yisroel. To this day I love knowing I wake up and on a clear day I can see right out to the Dead Sea.


It took me a while to acclimate to living here and raising children in a new style. I found myself struggling to understand the rapid fire Hebrew spoken all around me but I forced myself to speak the little Hebrew I knew and slowly I became proficient.

I was living in a whole new world. My first job was working as the nurse/counselor in a small private psychiatric facility. I was the only religious person there. The rest of the staff viewed me as a curiosity and an enigma. Between my weak language skills and my first encounter with a challenging staff, I fought to answer their questions with patience and grace.

“Were you always religious? Why did you move here? Why are you renting? What about your husband – is he also newly religious?” And on and on the questions went.

I struggled to answer politely even though sometimes it felt like I was being bombarded.

One day we were sitting around and taking a break in the staff room and one of my co-workers bursts out, “Why do you dress like that it is the middle of the summer?”

Another one answers as if she knows, “So no other man but her husband will look at her.”

Yet another co-workers chimes in: “That is nonsense. She just has to follow the laws from the Torah or no one from her world will talk to her.”

As this turns into a heated discussion between my co-workers I remain quiet until they all turn to me. “Nu, so what’s the answer?”

“All of you have a point,” I said gently in my broken Hebrew, not wanting to reopen the tense discussion again. “A woman dresses a certain way because she chooses to respect the laws in the Torah, it is part of her commitment to her lifestyle.”

“Yes but you look down on others who don’t dress like you. We are not good enough and you do not like us.” As these accusations began flying around the room I felt myself sinking into deep confusion.

Here I was just getting acquainted with the my Judaism and learning many new laws as a married woman and all of a sudden I had to be an example of this new world I had entered less the two years ago.

I decided to just answer as best as I could and to steer the conversation away from halachas and see if I could express myself eloquently enough to show these misguided coworkers their intrinsic worth. This in itself was going to be hard.

“Please let me speak, I began, First of all you are all special and important to Hashem.”

“Oh, come on, please we do not keep the Torah how can that be?” one woman scoffed at me while mostly everyone else nodded in agreement.

I looked around nervously. “Listen I am new to this and honestly I do not have all the answers but one thing I know is that every one of you is precious. Maybe I can’t give you a deeper rational but this is what I was taught from day one. This concept is one of the major reasons I became religious – the idea that we are one nation was amazing to me.”

“You might be like that, but look at the hatred we live with here. What do you say to that.”

“Honestly, I do not know what to exactly say but it seems our evil inclination – or maybe you want to call it our dark side – wants to wreak havoc on our ability to love one another.”

There was a short silence; everyone seemed to be processing my last words. I waited in the stilted atmosphere all the while silently asking Hashem to help me reach my co-workers.

It was obvious to me how much they wanted reassurance that they were still “ok” even if we were so different.

Finally one of my co-workers spoke up, “Well it still doesn’t solve the problem. You people just dislike us and in return we dislike you.”

“I hear you and this is a really hard issue. I do not have any easy answers. The only thing my heart tells me is we can start to change this right now by one at a time learning to love each. We can agree to disagree but still be respectful.

Some of my co-workers started nodding in agreement but others still looked peeved. I had done my best and I hoped I did not sound too preachy.

Our break was over and we ran off to our various tasks before I knew it my shift was over and I was on my way home.

Later that night I called my rabbi to discuss what happened and to get some advice from him. He felt my need to understand and to change my co-workers’ feelings.

“All you can really do is be an example and show them you care and keep on answering them from your heart,” he said.

After a bit more discussion we ended the call and I resolved to just try to do as the rabbi said and to hope by being myself we would all learn to understand and accept each other.

You may be thinking by now: Oh, come on, don’t be so unrealistic; that’s just the way things are. But for me, I am still hoping that one by one we can overcome the nisayon and become lev achad.


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