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As told to Leah Gebber

It didn’t take long for me to discover that most frum guys don’t want an irreligious girl — even if she really wants to be religious

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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LONELY WOMAN OF FAITH I felt so alone. There was no one who respected my faith or understood what it meant to be a Jew. I began to long for the chance to live a Jewish life, a life dedicated to higher values

Arocky hillside before me, somewhere deep in the American West. Miles of march behind me. An 80-lb pack on my back. Hours to go until the finish line.

My legs were clay. The drill sergeant touched his Smokey Bear hat as if to remind us of his rank yet again, blew his whistle, and pushed us on. My sense of being moved from my mind into a place around my middle, just pushing forward, forward, on, up, higher, lift the leg, then the next.

Around me, fellow soldiers grunted and cursed. I closed my eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and asked G-d for help.

It was the first time in my life I’d spoken to Him.

As soon as we had a rest stop, I threw myself on the ground and reached into my backpack. There, I had a small siddur I’d been given years before. I opened it to the Psalms and began to read. King David was a warrior! I quickly realized. He had pleas to be saved from his enemies, references to battles. A sudden affinity sent chills up my spine.

After that, I began praying regularly. Basic training was stressful. Being yelled at, sleeping in digs with no privacy, the mess hall… I had joined the army after receiving my degree, so as to gain some practical work skills, but I hadn’t reckoned on being thrown into an alternate universe.

I had grown up in a Conservative family with a love for Judaism but little practical knowledge and even less understanding of a life in which emunah, bitachon, and tefillah form an integral part of one’s inner landscape. But faced with the stress of the army base, I began to reach higher.

It started with prayer. In times of stress, times when I was pushed to my limit, it comforted me to know there was One Who would listen to me. Interestingly enough, before that time, identifying as a Jew had numbed my awareness of its meaning. As in, I’m a Jew, you’re a Hindu, she’s Christian — in a multicultural society these monikers are almost meaningless. Distinctions based on religion have been rubbed away.

If I got someone like me, who wasn’t fully observant but was interested in learning more, what if he learned more and decided that Judaism wasn’t for him?

But as the army pushed me away from observance, it woke up the fight in me, that place that realized, hey, I want this in my life. I avoided pork, but there was no kosher food — and I had to eat. As Pesach approached, I asked my seniors if there’d be a Pesach Seder on base. “Oh, no. Everyone who’s Jewish goes away for Seder.”

I couldn’t get away, but that also meant that I had no Seder. On Yom Kippur afternoon, I was summoned to base to participate in a ceremonial presentation. I had requested the day off — and had been granted it — but then the ceremony was scheduled, and everyone had to be present. I was furious. I went to the chaplain to lodge a complaint. “Yes, I understand you,” he said, sympathetically.

I looked at him. He was a Messianic Jew, and I thought, oh, no you don’t.

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