Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Growing up in the in the era of the flower children and metal rock I was taught to “live and let live.”

People from all walks of life, from those who lived in the “Village” to those upper middleclass suburbanites were of interest to me. Life was a mixed bag and as culture, music and dress changed so did I.

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After my peace and love look of the hippies, the disco era began and I started to wear heavy makeup and sparkly dress. With each new fad I discovered I changed my appearance to keep up with latest trend.

I was always trying to fit in but somehow I just managed to stand out. In my haste to please I overdid everything and the more I tried the worse it got. I was so enthralled with the superficial that I never took the time to stop and take a look at the reality I was creating by being flamboyant.

I had only one loyal friend throughout my school years, Jo, she was quiet, confident and honest.

I dragged her along on many of my adventures and she often tried to show me I did not have to try so hard to be accepted by others.

“Gail, why do we need to go to the mall again? You have tons of clothes and you know I hate shopping.”

“Come on Jo you know I just have to get that new blazer I saw last week it’s on sale Please!”

She knew once I made up my mind there was no arguing, she reluctantly tagged along on my spree. As we raced from store to store I was invigorated but Jo tagged listlessly along. I pretended not to notice and chatted gaily all the while.

“Isn’t this great Jo look at all the stuff we found?”

“We, you mean you found I haven’t bought one thing.”

“Oh sorry, I got carried away again, do you want to buy anything?”

“No you know I am saving money for my future. You know Bob and I are planning on getting married in six months.”

“Ok have it your way but getting married at nineteen…well for me that’s too young. I have too much to see and do.”

Jo sighed, “Whatever Gail, just hope you find what makes you happy soon.”

Not wanting to continue the conversation I just shrugged, jumped up and dragged her into the next store.

We got home late and as we parted ways Jo threw out a smarting goodbye.

“You know Gail, one day when you stop trying so hard to fit in you will find the real you.”

I just pasted a big smile on my face and waved goodbye.

I was not athletic nor a sport enthusiast, I loved to sing and dance but was looked down on by the drama club. I was too showy.

I would express my opinions loudly even when no one was interested and nobody except for Jo had an inkling of my lack of self-confidence.

One day we were on a break, I announced out loud, “I think it’s just great we get to have the graduation ceremony outside but why do we have to wear those hideous robes.” No one even bothered to respond they just moved on as if I hadn’t even spoken. This was one of the better reactions sometimes they just told me to be quiet and that my opinion was worthless.

Yet I kept on trying to fit in I just wanted people to like me but it never materialized.

Eventually I realized I really did not know who I was. I had lost my sense of self maybe I never even had it? I was unsure of my next step but something inside me shifted. I knew that it was time to look inside and figure who I am.

It was scary and confusing but I knew it was necessary. I bravely approached my parents and asked them to get me someone to talk to.

They were happy to help they had watched my struggles from afar and tried to support me as best as they could. It had pained them to see me try to hide my unhappiness.

It took a lot of hard work, many tears were shed. I did not realize then what was missing in my life was more self-love. After going to therapy for a year I made strides and became more aware and fulfilled.

I stopped being flashy in my dress and began to see the world had all kinds of people and I my place was out there too. I was brought up in a traditional Jewish home and had never really given much thought to what my religion meant. My strongest connection to being Jewish was my love for Israel. I had been there at age 16 and really wanted to go back again.

At age eighteen I graduated high school I found myself working at odd jobs and eventually I rented my own apartment to solidly my newfound confidence.

I felt I needed to see Israel again so when I was age 20 became a volunteer on a kibbutz in the Jezreel valley. I loved the kibbutz but after a year I opted to return home to continue university.

While I was away my family had started to become interested in Judaism. They were now attending an orthodox synagogue. I was welcomed home to a newly koshered home and a family that now was Shabbas observant.

I was happy for them but this was all too much for me so I decided to move out, work fulltime and go to college at night.

I need to figure out my next step I was really glad my parents and sister were happy with their lifestyle changes but it is not for me. During my therapy sessions I had come to realize that the superficial girl who I was for many years, is really a loving person who wants to help others deep inside I really want to be a nurse and reach out. I decided this would be my next goal.

I worked hard to support myself while becoming a nurse. After I graduated I found a good job and was able to nurture others with my work. I had grown so much. Gone was the lost unhappy child and in her place a young self-confident young woman emerged.

I kept in close touch with my family and respected their ever changing connection to Judaism.

It wasn’t until many years later that I would begin my own journey into a Torah way of living.

When I finally did become religious I realized the concept “love your neighbor as yourself” which was a major idea in the secular world was only superficially practiced. I now realized you can only love others if you love yourself first. As a religious Jew I now use this concept on a deep level. I have reached out to others and opened my home for anyone in need. Many have passed through my home just to get a kind word or a hot meal. The more I give to others the more I connect to a world rich in caring. I have finally realized this is what I had been searching for all my life.

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