As a child I was brought up to respect your elders and to be polite. These ideas were stressed at home and at school but we did not know what the deeper level of this meant. As I grew older and began to see the world differently I saw there was so much more to loving others.
When I first came to Yiddishkeit at age 29 I was exuberant to have found my way. I rediscovered a side of my family that had always been frum and was anxious to get to know them.
As a young child I had vaguely known some of them because we had spent many summers together at my grandparent’s bungalow colony. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I had a recollection of them.
We, my parents and grandparents, and numerous other family members had not really known what Shabbos was all about. They on the other hand kept Shabbos while at the same time we did “our thing.”
We swam in the pool, played ball, barbequed, and played music but one thing that was different was the little store we had always remained closed on Shabbos.
I also remember my Poppy running with a kippa on his head to the old dining room where he would join the prayer s and then as soon as they finished he dashed off to his Saturday job.
Those who kept Shabbos would smile at us and always wish us a warm Shabbat Shalom. We would return the greeting and all was peaceful. On the long Shabbos afternoons the women would gather on the main lawn and watch their children play while discussing the Parsha.
I would sometimes run by them just to hear their warm greetings.
“Hello Faygala, they would call to me, “Are you enjoying your day?”
I could feel their kindness wrap around me like a warm blanket. “I am great, I would reply, “Enjoy your Shabbat.”
“Oy what a cutie she tells us to enjoy Shabbat”.
Just now, many years later I have only begun to realize how much this was to become my yardstick of” Loving thy Neighbor.”
The mutual respect shown by both sides of the family was amazing, no one ever put the other down nor did they argue.
We were all so diverse, we came in many shapes, we expressed ourselves uniquely and we perceived things individually.
This picture of my family was one of the greatest impetuses in my own travels to Yiddishkite.
One of the first things I did after becoming frum is I contacted some of these cousins I remembered from my childhood. Some were Modern Orthodoxy, some chassidish and some were Litvish.
I was so impressed by their mutual respect for each other. I met many of them and it was amazing but one incident remains outstanding.
One of my cousins was married to a Chassid and when I went to visit them I was introduced to something I had never ever seen in my life.
I was welcomed into their home as if I was a visiting princess. My cousin and her daughters lead me into their simple but homey kitchen and proceeded to surround me with such love. I was overwhelmed by their friendliness.
Then my cousin’s husband stood at the doorway his back facing us in a booming voice he welcomed me and then left. My cousin explained to me gently that this was the way they did things. Not only that but the women and men always ate in separate rooms.
This was a concept that was so foreign to me and initially I was overcome. It lasted only for a fleeting moment and then it passed as I was flooded with memories of the Bungalow colony. These are the same women who accepted and loved me as I was back then. This is what I wanted to do now.
“You can ask us any questions Faygala, my special cousin said. I am sure this is strange for you.”
I thought for a moment and answered her,” As a child you always accepted us all you are a living example of who I want to be. I do not need to ask any questions I can see we are very different but so what.”
I could see tears forming in her eyes, everyone in the room became emotional, and we all felt such closeness as if our neshamas were intricately bound at that exact moment.
The rest of the visit went very well and as I was taking my leave and getting into my car I saw my cousin’s husband was there he turned around for a very brief moment and smiled the most beautiful smile at me. Then he quickly turned away, I felt at that moment that Hashem had sent me this astounding gift. By smiling at me this exceptional man had let me know that our job is really to love one another. No matter our customs, no matter where we come from Klal Yisrael needs to accept each other with love.
This became my motto as I traveled along my path and to this day no matter how different a Yid may seem I try to practice the invaluable lesson.