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April 15, 2016 6:20 am

A Journey to Judaism and a First Passover

avatar by Lieba Rudolph

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A Passover seder. Photo: JNS.org.

A Passover seder. Photo: JNS.org.

It wasn’t just what we learned — it was also what we saw and felt at a Chabad Shabbaton in May 1987 that convinced my husband Zev and me to become Torah observant. Immediately.

We learned that G-d had performed overt miracles in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We saw grandchildren and grandparents together, looking into the Torah to answer an all-consuming question: what does G-d want from us now?

I sniffed truth, Zev sniffed Jews who love living as Jews. Together, we felt this was the community where we belonged. The Shabbaton ended on Sunday. By Tuesday, I was learning how to keep kosher.

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Soon we heard rumblings that our new Lubavitch friends were worried about us: The Rudolphs are moving too fast. But I knew we weren’t. I knew I just needed to move far enough, fast enough so that I wouldn’t turn back. Because I also knew that I could be dissuaded from living a Torah life —  Restrictive! Outdated! Anti-woman! — and if I stopped and thought about it too much, I would probably turn around. And I didn’t want to. Because something inside me beyond my intellect knew it was the right decision.

So we moved fast, doing radical things like giving away our practically new dishwasher and expensive wedding china. With our kitchen kosher enough for Moses himself, we would be forced to think long and hard before bringing home the bacon. Within weeks, we had even stopped eating in non-kosher restaurants. Only a super-rational commitment to G-d could explain why I would give up my favorite pastime in exchange for learning how to cook.

I never questioned whether we had bitten off more than we could chew until our first Passover. We had plugged along diligently in all aspects of Jewish observance and then along came the eight-day holiday that took over everyone’s lives. It wasn’t enough to avoid eating chometz, leavened bread products. I had to eliminate it from everything in my possession. Just scratching off the encrusted gook from the kids’ car seats took an entire day. Cleaning our actual kitchen connected me to our ancestors’ slavery in Egypt through a labor I had never known before: any and every surface or appliance that would be used for Pessach food needed some combination of scrubbing, boiling, torching, or covering. Meanwhile, an indignant question simmered inside me: For this I needed an MBA?

I wish I could say that it got easier the next year, but it didn’t. It was worse; I knew what was coming. My Pessach scrupulousness veered into obsessive-compulsiveness. I developed my own case of seasonal affective disorder; springtime meant Pessach and Pessach meant anxiety and grumpiness.

My condition was as traditional as the Pessach Seder. It wasn’t about the cleaning. Or the kitchen. I was holding out on G-d, not quite sure He was worth the work.

So why is He worth the work now?  For one thing, Pessach is physically easier. With kids out of the house, it’s less likely I’ll find Cheerios under the beds. I’ve also let go of some of the stringencies that aren’t necessary. I can do that now because I’m more secure in my relationship with G-d. I showed Him I loved Him on His terms, even though it was difficult for me. After many years, I understand that the greatest gift I can ask for is to be able to truly know that He’s “worth it.” What else do I need?

When I tell the story of our journey, some people say I should take more credit for the choices we made. And maybe I should. It’s hard to do that though, knowing how clearly G-d was communicating with my soul back in 1987. (Our sages say He tries communicating with all Jewish souls, as often as every day.) Why I listened then, and why I kept listening, I honestly don’t know. I guess I just figured G-d had to be smarter than I was.

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  • robert half

    Lieba,
    It’s the most amazing part of our body and souls, the mind and brain. My oldest friend, Art Bechoeffer did the opposite of what you did. He became an evangelical Christian. He truly believes in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. His G-d is the same as ours but he approaches it in a completely different way. If we are ever in NYC at the sametime I am sure he’ll be delighted to come down from Rochester to meet you You are both so sincere in your devotion but 100% different in the way you approach it. He is probably the brightest and most intellectual person I know, so the conversation will be fascinating for me sitting on the sidelines.
    I truly feel terrible telling you this but there is only one G-d. I feel that he (she) is the most divisive part of mankind.
    More wars and killings have been done in his name.
    Isn’t it time that we find ways of coming together than continue in the past ways of each of us having our own opinions,
    which we all think are 100% correct.
    I really am sorry to tell you my real feelings as I know they are so different from yours.
    But the nicest part is that even if we are so different in so many ways we can still love each other.
    Bob

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