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Trek for Truth

Shira Yehudit Djalilmand

Most Jews who find their way back to Judaism travel a long, hard journey to reach the truth. But for me, who came to Judaism from a place so very far away, the journey was not only spiritual but physical, as I wandered the globe desperately searching for meaning.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

arrow signsI grew up in a middle-class, Church of England family, in a tiny town in the heart of the Yorkshirewoolen district, a region renowned for the contrast of its sooty gray mills and vivid green hills. Our town was so small, and we were so surrounded by hills, that, whichever direction we took, we could be sure of reaching open countryside within five minutes.

The garden of our house backed onto the canal, behind which was the railway line, then the river, and then the woods. I spent most of my free time playing in the woods, where there were wonderful natural swings and jumps, and enticing trees to climb. My greatest pleasure was to take my bike down to “my secret place”— an enchanting little copse in the woods with a fresh, cold stream rippling through it. It seemed to me that no one else in the world knew of this place; I never saw anyone else there, and although I would sometimes bring a trusted friend, most of the time I would go on my own, a magical haven just for me.

From my secret place, it was a short skip to the main woods, and then a good walk up a steep hill until you suddenly burst out of the trees into a wide-open plateau, with a view of the entire valley, church spires and mill chimneys combining together in a landscape uniquely Yorkshire. There were many farms in the area, some of which hired out horses, so I learned to ride. Many times I would take a horse out alone and go galloping across the fields, jumping the hedges and riding fast until I was shouting for pure joy. In this gloriously natural way I grew up, a child of the fields and forests.

But as I grew older, my innocent joy turned to bitter cynicism as I saw the seemingly pointless suffering in the world. My future seemed equally pointless. And so I fled from the comfortable middle-class career path that had been mapped out for me — university, career, 2.2 kids, and an annual holiday. At 15 I was living in a sordid studio apartment in a dirty, northern, seaside town, surviving on welfare and hanging out in amusement arcades. By 18 I was bored with hanging out and started studying philosophy in university. At 22, with a master’s degree, I was engaged to a soon-to-be accountant, living in a respectable apartment in a respectable neighborhood ofManchester, with a respectable managerial position.

And I hated it all. I wanted out. Out of my job, my engagement, my apartment — out of the whole pretense that was my life. I wanted to run away from it all as far as I could go, far from the materialism and superficiality that corrupted everything and everyone, from the shallow, meaningless existence that people called life.

So I got out. I quit my job, broke up with my fiancé, and sold most of my possessions so that I could afford to travel, I didn’t know where. But I had to go somewhere, find a way of life that had some meaning, or I would die.

 

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