When I became frum, I had expectations. Unlike most baalei teshuvah though, they weren’t particularly magnificent. Having already experienced reform Judaism and modern Orthodoxy (although I’d say some MO people are ‘frum’, I definitely wasn’t), I had no real reason to be swept away by illusions of a perfect life with everything I’d ever wanted (or whatever it is that they tell you in kiruv). I suppose I wanted a warm Jewish community. I definitely wanted to speak to and learn from other Lubavitchers. And more than anything, I wanted to read. To study. To interpret texts. As I wrote these words, I wondered to myself, did you get what you wanted? And I realise that the answer isn’t simple and straightforward. It’s not yes-or-no. There are greyzones. I suppose that I got what I wanted, on the whole. I’ve tried different frum shuls and found one I really loved. I’ve had the honour of learning from a handful of very respectable rabbonim, even if I’ve only been to one Parsha class in my life. I’ve got a more than decent congregation with a brilliant rebbetzen and rabbi. And of course, I’ve somehow made the time to study everything I can get my hands on, and don’t plan to stop studying or writing any time soon. There have been ups and downs. Peaks and troughs. Moments when I wanted to give it all up, and moments where I felt on top of the world (well, to be honest I can only remember one moment like that, but…). It’s been a confusing journey. A tough one. But- cliche of cliche- it’s the most rewarding journey I’ve been on. The most amazing. The most life-changing.

I could hardly write a post called ‘my Jewish journey’ if I wasn’t going to say it was a magnificent, character-developing journey. So maybe that was predictable. But I feel my journey has (largely) been everything but predictable. Does everone say that? Maybe, but I’m definitely not your stereotypical baalas teshuvah. Is it offensive to assume there’s such a thing? Probably yes. But I think it’s fair to say that most baalei teshuvah are different from me. Very few start off as reform Jews, try modern orthodoxy, and only then discover Chabad. Most BT women have little to no interest in studying Tanya, or Pirkei Avos, or commentaries and halachos deemed ‘unfeminine’. Lots discover Judaism on their college campus, whereas I wasn’t yet 18 when I fell in love with the religion. Additionally, my earliest days as a BT involved being, and learning, alone. I didn’t go to friday night dinners (I never have, to this day), I’ve never had a one on one study session, and I don’t really have any frum friends (or non-frum ones, for that matter). I don’t know any other baalei teshuvah, and my observance was largely the result of online study. Perhaps I should write a book called ‘Torah-observance in a vacuum’.

But I digress. So what have I learned from this ‘beautiful, awe-inspiring journey’? I don’t want this post to drift any further towards an incoherent, disorganised ramble. But I find it difficult to sum up everything I’ve learnt since I discovered Torah-observance. How can I? So many amazing people who’ve truly changed my life. So many simchos and chagim. And also, so many not-so-joyous occasions. So many difficult times. So many faith-testing moments. I think, even if I still struggle with it, I’ve learned thankfulness. Because I truly am thankful. Thankful to the many people who’ve made my life better, easier, worth living. And thankful to G-d. For letting me discover and enjoy all this. It’s been an amazing journey.

Published by Lily Smythe