The Baal Teshuva and the Atheist: Part III
By: Rochel Alkhazova
Lina argued with teachers and pushed around other students. She wrestled through the chaos, fighting to fit in and survive the public-school system. No longer Ester, she was now ‘Lina—the girl not to mess with’. She forgot about Ester. She forgot about Jewish holidays, and brachos, and the sweet tunes of morning prayers.
“Hey Lina…” a plump boy turned around to face her during a break in class, “What are you?”
“Whatcha mean, what am I?”
“Like—I’m Spanish and Christian, and you?” he stared, blowing his bubble gum in her face.
“I’m mixed, OK?!” she blabbed out, folding her arms across her chest.
“Mixed with wha’?”
“I’m Russian and Spanish,” she lied.
“Are you Christian like me?”
“What’s it to you?”
Taking his gum out, he stuck it under the desk, and said, “Just wanna know, ya’ know?”
“I’m nothing. Just Russian and Spanish…OK? So, turn yourself around and stop asking me pointless questions before I punch you!”
The smirking faces of Russian kids tiptoed into her mind, and Lina tried extra hard to hide her Jewish identity from her American classmates. She was embarrassed to admit she was a Jew.
When her family moved to Chicago, they tried to enroll the girls into a yeshiva.
Lina was nervous standing in front of the Rabbi.
“Will you feel comfortable sitting with elementary school girls for all the Jewish and Hebrew studies you missed out on?” he asked Lina, who was now a middle-schooler.
“Yes! I want to learn these things,” she replied, a bit shy, yet excited at the thought of studying in a Jewish school again.
“Your girls are coming from a public school…” the principal said to Lina’s mom “…and a non-religious family…” He brushed his white beard and continued, “…I don’t think your girls will catch up, and the influence they might bring to the school is unwelcome…”
And that’s when the burning light within her Jewish soul died down. She forgot…EVERYTHING. All that Lina learned about Judaism disappeared as fast as lightning strikes.
Babushka was diagnosed with cancer. Lina and her family traveled back to New York to stay with her in the hospital. Lina took a wet washcloth and cleaned Babushka’s feet and hands, working her way to the rest of her body, when Babushka said in a very low, weak voice. “My dear Lina, thank you so much! Your hands are calming, and you have refreshed my body.” After a short pause, she said, “You will make a wonderful nurse.” She then drifted into sleep.
As tears rolled down Lina’s face, she wanted someone to help Babushka survive, but no one was able to help. Babushka was getting worse by the day. Lina walked outside to take a short break from the hospital. Looking across the street, she noticed a synagogue. Running up its steps, she tried to pray. She tried to pour out her heart and cry to Hashem. She mumbled requests for Babushka to survive and fight through her disease. With all her heart, she tried, but she felt a brick wall…she couldn’t do it… she couldn’t pray. A few days later, Babushka passed away…
“I’m moving,” Lina announced, as she brushed a lock of curly hair off her forehead.
“What do you mean, moving?” her mother questioned, with a shaky voice.
“Exactly that! I’m leaving Chicago and going to New York to study nursing.”
“You can’t just leave…you’re too young! Plus, you just started college here…and your baby sister will miss you…and I thought you had no idea what you wanted to study?!” her mother held onto her tea cup as if her life depended on it.
“Oh, it will be fine. I just can’t stay in Chicago any longer—I need a change!” Lina announced. “Plus, Anna is already seven! She’ll be fine—and you guys will come visit!”
“How is nursing school going?” Bella asked Lina on the other side of the line.
“It’s amazing! It’s hard, but totally amazing! I can’t believe I have just one more semester of clinicals left and then I’m done!”
“You know I have to tell you something crazy…” Bella said, with a hint of confusion in her voice.
“Before you go, let me tell YOU something crazy! I met someone.”
“Oh!!! Aaaaaand?” Bella held her breath, anxious for more information.
“And, he’s amazing! We have so much in common—we laugh all the time, and it is just amazing—and crazy! And I haven’t told anyone about him yet, Bella, because I’m nervous. We are getting really serious, I mean, like, really serious…I think he wants to propose.”
“Is he Jewish?”
“Well, because…well, I was going to tell you something. Actually, it’s about Mama. I think she went a little…you know…crazy…”
“What do you mean? And what does that have to do anything with Sel being Jewish or not?”
“Ok—Mama started lighting candles on Fridays, and reading all these books about G-d, and she is even talking about covering her hair…like a wig…can you believe that? I even found a book that says something like Kaballah, and I think she is not well if she is reading those things…like covering her hair with a wig…really?!”
“Oh no! That sounds scary-serious! Maybe we should speak to a psychologist and see if Mama wants to talk this out? Maybe she is going crazy because she’s into all those books? We have to stop her before it’s too late.”
“Lina, please tell me Sel is Jewish, because if Mama finds out your new boyfriend is not Jewish, I think she’ll be really upset.”
“Oh, this is bad, Bella…He is actually Turkish…like…” Lina gave a long pause, “…or not even like…He is Muslim. But it doesn’t matter, Bella, because I don’t care about those things—you know that! I mean, I care about Mama of course, but I don’t care if the guy I marry is Jewish. He’s an amazing person, and it shouldn’t matter who I marry—as long as we are in love, and he has a good heart!”
For the next couple of months, Lina’s mother phoned her, trying to talk her out of her relationship with Sel. But Lina would hear nothing about it…because she had ‘forgotten’— or perhaps she was waiting on that special something that would ignite her soul on fire again…
Stay tuned for Part IV...
enjoys learning about anything and everything. Spending time with her family is one of her favorite pastimes. Running a daycare keeps her motivated and busy, but she always finds time for an ice cream break! Rochel holds a degree in journalism and absolutely loves writing fiction and stories for children.