I t’s a story you’ve heard so many times, but this time it’s mine.

I was a young girl with a fire for knowledge. I packed my bags and flew across the Atlantic to the sedate Midwest in search of more, attending an elite university for graduate school. I met some fine people in this quaint city, one day led to the next, and I was starting to learn and change — I was becoming frum.

After I graduated, my rav advised me to go to New York — the Midwest was not a place for a young, single frum girl. And so I uprooted myself again and moved to New York. I moved in with a friend from the Midwest who had made her way to New York a few years before me. Our apartment was on Avenue M between East Ninth and Tenth. It was early September and Brooklyn was busy preparing for the Yamim Noraim.

There are kind people in the world, you know. People I knew a little, and now a lot, invited us to spend Yom Tov with them. It was beautiful, as Yom Tov always is, but even more so seen through my still fresh eyes.

On Simchas Torah, my roommate turned to me and said, “Come, let me take you somewhere special.”

She led me along the street until we were on Coney Island Avenue between Avenues L and M — Yeshivas Chaim Berlin. We entered and walked up the many stairs to the ezras nashim that encircled the beis medrash from above.

From my all-seeing perch, I was taken. Young men dancing and singing. I’d come across pictures in publications of scenes like this; I’d glance and then turn the page. But now I felt the energy, experienced the joy, the ecstasy, the reverence as they hugged the sifrei Torah that danced with them, and how they embraced the roshei yeshivah among them.

And then my eyes beheld the faces of the roshei yeshivah. They spoke about transcendence and euphoria in my graduate classes. They spoke about the range of human emotion and depth of experiences too. It was all textbook and analytical. But in those moments, I felt it. I felt it and knew it all through seeing the roshei yeshivah’s glowing faces.

I had come to Yiddishkeit as an intellectual. It all made sense. I took things on because I knew them to be true, whether I liked doing them or not. I was very intellectually honest and I had to do what needed to be done.

But here I was accessing the emotions of Yiddishkeit, beholding the free flow of love and passion for the Torah, the combination of fervor and tenderness on display, the overwhelming and satisfying crush of feeling something larger than yourself with all your being.

I just stood there in rapture.

A few years later, I convinced my parents to let my sister live with me and attend college in America. “It’ll be good for her,” I said.

My sister was taken by New York, but come Simchas Torah, I turned to my sister — who had recently started her own journey to Yiddishkeit — and said, “Come, let me take you somewhere special.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 680)