Many peoples’ lives take a linear path, like a non-stop, domestic flight. They know where they started and they know where they will end. They are born and raised in one location – and they remain in that place physically and spiritually as they age.
My life, on the other hand, has been more like an around-the-world ticket with many stops along the way. I know where I started, but have made many changes and stops along the way.
And sometimes when I stop to think about something from the past, it’s simply hard to imagine where I’ve been…or where I am today.
Shavuot is always a time for introspection for me – and a time to marvel at where the plane has landed.
15 years ago, Josh and I were newlyweds, starting out in Maryland. We had stumbled into a modern orthodox shul a few times, but we hadn’t yet really connected with anyone there or decided if we fit.
After trying out the shul a few times, I ran into one of the members at the JCC and she invited me to come for Shavuot. Josh was away for three weeks on a graduate school trip to Russia and Israel and I was all alone in our new apartment in Rockville.
I tentatively told her that I would come for Shavuot, and then I started to look into what this Shavuot thing entailed.
I went by the shul to speak with the assistant Rabbi, and I asked him to give me more information about Shavuot. I remember, when hearing that it was a two day holiday and that people took off work for it, thinking that this was simply beyond anything I was ready for.
So, I told my acquaintance that I couldn’t come for Shavuot, and I was kind of hoping it would end there. Then, she invited me for Shabbat instead. I assumed that she meant for lunch, and I accepted.
Then, she said, “Ok. We have an extra bedroom. That would be great.”
An extra bedroom? What the heck would I need a bedroom for if I was driving over to their house for lunch?
And then I realized that she was inviting me for ALL of Shabbat – to come and stay with them.
I was really nervous. Here I was, just beginning to put my toes into the waters of religious observance while Josh was thousands of miles away, and I was going to stay at some random couple’s house for 25 hours by myself while they had Shabbat.
Deep breaths…but I decided to say yes.
We had a lovely Shabbat and I got to know both her and her husband and to learn a lot about Shabbat. For dinner, we were joined by their neighbors and their two young sons.
After Shabbat, I wrote a long letter to Josh trying to convey to him the sense of community that I felt with them; the love that my hosts showed towards their neighbors’ kids; the energy and enthusiasm that the young boys showed towards Shabbat; and the joy that I felt while I was with all of them. I told him that we had to find a community where we could raise children of this sort and that we needed to be part of a larger group.
Little did I know that we would, within two years of that letter, move into the cul de sac where all of these families lived and become part of their community and their family of close friends.
And, they would all be part of our journey towards becoming Torah observant Jews; they would greet Matan and Yehuda as they were born (and would even host the Shalom Zachor for Yehuda); they would become our closest friends; and they would encourage our path and enthusiastically support our eventual Aliyah.
And they would be there with Israeli flags waving, years later, on that early morning on July 13,2004 as we drove up the hill to our home one last time to say goodbye before heading to the airport for our Nefesh B’Nefesh flight.
You really never know where life is going to lead and you never know who is going to gently guide you on that journey to self discovery.
And you certainly never know whose invitation might just make all the difference in the world to a young couple starting out.