Returning Home

January 9, 2014
BY Shalomis (Shelley) Koffler Weinreb
How I became a Torah-observant Jew

When I was a little girl, I remember my mother gently telling me that there is a G-d and He loves us. She would say that her mother told her the same thing. This simple knowing formed the foundation of what I believed about the world, filling me with an innate sense of security.

In the Reform synagogue of my youth, there was a lot of talk about social justice and compassion for the suffering. And I’m grateful for that because those discussions made me a more sensitive, caring person. But there was not a lot of talk about G-d. I wanted to learn more about the G-d of which my mother spoke, and I couldn’t understand why there was so little discussion of Him when I went to “temple,” despite His frequent mention in the prayer book and Torah translations. I concluded that Judaism is not a spiritual religion; it seemed more like a social club and ethics society. I wasn’t even sure Reform rabbis believed in G-d, much less loved Him. With each passing year, I grew less and less interested in anything Jewish. I wanted more connection, more meaning and more depth. So began a long spiritual quest.

I learned to meditate, I studied Eastern and Native American religions, I read the New Testament, and I immersed myself in a New Age world of theosophy and mystics. I became a healer, a lightworker, a universalist. All religions were true. All names for G-d were the same. I drew my circle bigger and bigger to include everyone — all the while writing, singing and recording my “G-d-intoxicated” music. I had found my home and was happy for a time but for a gnawing restlessness. Something was missing.

A free-spirited musician friend of mine became an Orthodox Jew, and I thought she had lost her mind. I considered myself spiritual, not religious — never religious! One was enlightened and open; the other, clueless and closed. She tried for years to open my eyes to Torah Judaism, but I was the one who was clueless and closed. Clueless, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And closed, because I thought I knew. Finally, after seven years, my friend said the right combination of trigger words to unlock my heart and mind to the possibility that Orthodox Judaism was not what I thought it was. She sent me home with a stack of books and tapes that I devoured and then savored and pored over. Lo and behold, I discovered a vast, deep ocean of spirituality that surpassed the wisdom of all the yogis and New Age sages I had been studying for 20 years. My constant refrain was, “Why didn’t they tell me that?” followed by, “What else didn’t they tell me?” It seemed to me that my true, authentic religion was like a hearty 613-grain bread that was kept from me while I was given processed white bread to eat, stripped of nutrients.

Now I only wanted authentic, pure Judaism, not a diluted, retrofitted, design-your-own Judaism based on what is convenient and politically correct. After intense studying and questioning, I concluded that the Torah was written by G-d and that its commandments and laws are G-d’s manual for how to live a holy life as a Jew. I decided that if this is what G-d asks of me, I will obey out of my love and service to Him. And if that meant singing exclusively for women, I considered it an honor to use my music to do the will of the One who gave me a voice in the first place. Is not my compliance the least I can do to thank G-d for His gifts and blessings?

Living in modern times does not make me wiser than the greatest leaders of our people, from Abraham to Moses to Maimonides — spiritual giants who brought the Jewish people closer to G-d through observing, not reforming, His commandments. The Judaism of the first Jew, Abraham, the prototype and patriarch of our people, was centered on G-d and mankind’s relationship to Him. A desire to connect with G-d is encoded in the spiritual DNA of every Jew. That desire may lie dormant or may be covered over, but a Jew’s soul and her Creator are bound together for eternity.

Through becoming Orthodox and observing the Torah, my relationship with G-d has greatly developed and continues to deepen and sweeten. He is front and center in my life every day. My thoughts and conversations are filled with Him. I am aware that everything in my life comes from Him. This is the relationship I yearned for as a child growing up in the Reform world, the Judaism my soul craved that was waiting for me in my own backyard.

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