My First Passover
by Susan Kornhaber
Friends who have known me for a long time know I have always been searching for more spiritual content in my daily life.
Three years ago, through my daughter, I became friendly with a young woman named Robin.
She had three children and, though she was very observant, she never told me what to do; instead she let me learn by watching.
And while there was so much I didn't know or understand, I saw that there was always a wonderful, warm feeling of peace and serenity in her home.
After each visit I felt that her family had a very special gift.
To watch Robin set the Shabbat table or watch her small children say their prayers or read Hebrew was something that I had never witnessed as an adult.
Robin and her husband were devoted regulars at the Chabad Center in New City.
I had always known that Chabad was right in my neighborhood, and I had actually attended High Holy Days services there one year, but Chabad seemed very foreign -- too religious and somehow, very different from secular people like myself. I didn't know then, that Chabad attracts all sorts of people and makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable.
The Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Avremel Kotlarsky, and his wife, Chani, invited us to participate in classes, and even invited us to their Seder, but somehow, we never took them up on their offers.
Then, two years ago when Robin and her husband were honored at the opening of the Chabad Jewish Community Center in New City, I came to the dedication ceremony.
At the last moment I decided to stay for the entire evening, and it was on that night that something happened to me.
I was so moved by what I heard and the spiritual feeling that emanated from the Chabad people, I experienced a feeling of genuine Judaism -- something I had never felt before.
After that I slowly began to make changes in my life.
I started lighting Shabbat candles and going to the Chabad Center every Saturday. Little by little I became a Shabbat observer, although kashrut took longer.
Two summers ago Robin took me on a tour of various stores in Monsey and once again a whole new world opened up for me.
I remember the delight I had the first time I bought a kosher chicken and served it on Shabbat. Even after I was buying only kosher meat, I still didn't keep a kosher home.
I was afraid to take that step -- the process of kashering a kitchen seemed so formidable. So, I stayed in that space -- just buying kosher meat -- for a long time.
Right before Passover the rabbi called me.
Gently explaining that one of the themes of Passover was that of the Jews breaking out of the bondage of slavery he suggested that perhaps I was being bound by the chains of fear of becoming kosher; it was time to break those chains and go forward.
The truth of his words hit me.
Last Passover I kashered my home, and I must say, I'm glad to have done it, for keeping kosher gives me a strong spiritual connection with G-d.
Despite my own changes, most of my friends and all of my family live, for the most part, as they had always done.
I don't push anyone, for I honestly believe that religion and spirituality are personal things that you cannot dictate to someone else.
However, just because I don't demand change, I have witnessed some wonderful changes in my own little family.
My husband has grown to love going to shul on Friday nights to hear the beautiful songs that welcome the Shabbat bride.
My husband and daughters love their Friday night Shabbat meal.
In the past, after a long week of work, Friday nights meant going out or buying take-in, and my teenage girls always ate with friends.
Now, each week a beautiful table is set with fresh flowers and shining candles. Friends, and family often join us in saying the blessings and singing Shabbat songs -- it's a different world!
Saturday-Shabbat is another gift.
No phones, no errands, no rushing in and out of the car.
My Saturdays are spent in shul with people who are now my friends.
After the rabbi discusses the parsha of the week, there's always a lovely kiddush, and after shul, we go home to the marvelous hospitality of sumptuous Shabbat meals shared by fellow congregants. Other times I bask in the luxury of a good book or a Shabbat nap.
Yes, I am still in transition; I am still learning so much about my Judaism, but it's a lifelong process that I plan to be involved in always.
Reprinted with permission from The Chabad Magazine, Rockland County, New York.