The Baal Teshuva And The Atheist: Part IV

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By: Rochel Alkhazova

 

ISRAEL

“What’s this?” Sel questioned, pointing at the luggage in Lina’s room.

“My luggage!” Lina simply answered, as she stormed around the room, looking for her silver pair of heels.

“Going somewhere, I see?” With a bit of shock in his voice, Sel followed his girlfriend with his gaze.

“Yeah, I’m going on vacation.”

“And…when were you planning to tell me this news?”

“I was going to tell you—I just got busy with packing and all. Oh! Found them!” She waved the heels in front of Sel, running to stuff them in one of her suitcases.

“You have one suitcase dedicated just for shoes?!” Now he sounded really shocked.

“Not just shoes…HEELS, actually!” she said with excitement. “I need all these pairs for the different outfits I have.”

“Okkkkkkay! So, may I ask where you’re going?” He crossed his arms.

“Israel!”

She noticed the sadness in his eyes and said, “I’m only going to be gone for ten days. You won’t even miss me.” She smirked and continued. “You know, this thing just kinda worked out. My cousin spoke with someone very, very last minute to help both of us go on this free trip to Israel, so there was not much planning to do on my part. It’s called Birthright or something. So I jumped at the opportunity. I need a break after school, before I start working at the hospital. And it was a free trip—everything kinda fell into place. It was just so last minute—sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.”

“I guess,” he said, scratching his head. “Have fun!”

 

The plane ride with cousin Svetlana was exciting. They couldn’t wait to relax at the beach, meet new people, and go out dancing. Lina knew she was equipped—with all her outfits and high heels.

“I wonder which hotel we’re staying in…I can’t believe I’m just going in ‘blindfolded’!”

“I’m sure it’s going to be great, regardless,” Svetlana calmly answered.

 

As soon as the plane landed, Lina’s insides filled up with something she couldn’t explain. She felt full. Not from-eating full, but mind, body and perhaps soul…a complete full. Not sure what to make of that feeling, she blamed it on the long plane ride.

 

All group participants met next to a large tour bus, which dropped the girls off on top of a big hill.

“Is this it?” Lina asked Svetlana, as the bus opened its doors to let the girls out.

“We are at Neve Yerushalayim girls…welcome!” the madricha said into the microphone.

“I’m guessing this is our hotel,” Lina said out loud.

As they were shown into their rooms, Lina discovered that it was not a hotel, but a dorm room. A dorm room!!!! What?! Four girls to a room?! Thin mattresses, shared shower and bathrooms…Linens!? Where were the linens???

“Svetlana? Where are we? Where did you bring me?” Lina said in her most upset, confused, and angry tone.

“I’m guessing to a school, Lina…looks a lot like a dorm room to me.”

“You think?!”

“Oh, calm down. We’ll still have fun. Trust me!”

“I don’t want to be here, Svetlana! I really don’t! How in the world are we going to sleep on THAT?!” She pointed at the thinnest mattress she’d ever seen in her life. “Where’s our hotel? And the beach? Where’s the vacation?! I want to go home—I’m getting a ticket back home.”

“Wait… let’s just give it a try. Stay a few days, and if you’re miserable…then go!”

Lina huffed and puffed, and blew her offended feelings to the side…for just two days…or so she thought.

 

Lina and Svetlana quickly realized that two of their suitcases would be tucked under the bed for the rest of the trip. Because on the first day, as they toured the Old City of Jerusalem in their heels, they felt as if they were sliding down a slippery slope on the shiny stones. They each had to buy a pair of flip flops to keep up with the group. Stowing away her fashionable heels and outfits, Lina was kept too busy to think about buying a plane ticket back.

With her soul still feeling full, and her comfortable flip flops sitting next to her on the bus, she looked out of the window, enjoying the most magnificent views she’d ever experienced in her life.

 

“What are you chanting?” she asked one of the madrichas, as she left the bathroom.

“I’m saying a blessing after using the restroom. We thank Hashem for making us healthy and able to relieve ourselves whenever we need to.”

Finding it weird, Lina gave a little giggle and hopped back on the bus, curious to see more of amazing Israel.  The girls listened to words of wisdom in Neve, they toured the most unbelievable places, they ate the most heavenly Israeli food, they learned about the mitzvah of Challah…and then it was over. Ten days flew by like two. Lina did not want to go back.

“I will definitely visit you again, Israel,” she said, as she boarded the plane back to the States.

***

“I want my Lina back!” Sel said, staring into her eyes.

“Oh, come on! What do you mean?”

“I mean, since you came back, you’re not the same! You don’t talk much. You don’t even look at me anymore!”

“Just give me time—I need to get back to the routine! I just got back.”

“You have been back for almost over a week! You’re just so…so…quiet and secretive. What happened to you?”

“I’m not secretive! I just have a lot to think about!”

“Think about what?”

Lina took a deep breath, staring at the crumbs on the floor—looking at anything, so she wouldn’t have to look at him.

“Lina…you know what we have is something special. I have wanted to ask you for a while now…and I wanted it to be special…but I’m just going to ask you now…”

Lina stopped to look at him. “Not now…I’m sorry, I have to go. I’m going to the synagogue—they have a lecture I want to hear.” She stormed out the door.

Changing her tight jeans for a long, flowy skirt and a long-sleeved shirt, she admired her new look. As she was putting on a headband to cover some of her hair, she noticed, through the mirror, her jeans resting on her bed. Picking them up, she threw them in the garbage. Then she opened up her closet, and hugged all her clothing, lifting them off the hangers and throwing them out, all at once, into a large garbage bag. She now owned two skirts—and that’s all she left in her now-kosher closet.

 

“Rabbi?” Lina asked, after the lecture was over.

The Rabbi nodded, waiting for her questions.

“I’m seeing someone, but he is not Jewish. I don’t know what to do.” She felt tears fill her eyes.

“Are your mother and father Jewish?” he asked.

“Yes!”

“And theirs?”

“Yes.”

“And theirs? And all the other generations before them…they are Jewish, right?” 

“Yes, of course!”

“You are Jewish because they tried so hard to keep it that way for so many generations. Would you want to break that chain? If you close your eyes and imagine your future home, do you see mezuzas on your doors?”

“Yes!”

“Can you have that with him?”

Sorrow hit her heart. She knew what she had to do.

 

“Hi!” Sel smiled, as he opened the door. “Wow!!! Wait a minute! You look REALLY Jewish now!”

“Of course, I do! I AM Jewish!”

“I mean the outfit and all!”

“Sel…I have to talk to you…In Israel, I heard things that made sense to me! All my questions were miraculously answered. I tried to ask harder questions—in fact, I thought they were unanswerable questions—but the answers existed. It all makes sense to me. When I came back and looked out of my window, I noticed people rushing like little ants to get to wherever they needed to be, and the cars honking, cutting each other off…and the traffic, and the people…they never stopped. I was looking down at them for a long while, do you understand? They never stop! They rush and rush, but they never stop to think about why! Why are they rushing? To where? What’s the point of it all? There is no clarity; it’s just a huge rush! Do you understand what I’m trying to say? No heels required! That’s what I’m trying to say!”

“I only understand that I care about you, Lina. We both know we’re going to get married one day.”

“Are you willing to raise Jewish children? Are you willing to keep Jewish holidays?”

“Lina…You are Jewish, but I am Muslim…I will never accept the Jewish religion—it would be a disgrace!”

 

Offended, Lina decided she would give him a taste of his own medicine. In a flat tone, she said, “Sel…I’m Jewish, but you are Muslim…and I will never accept the Muslim religion!”

His eyes filled with sadness. So did hers.

“If you become the mother of my children, you will teach our children the Jewish way…because you’re the mother, and they will learn from you…and I don’t want my children to know the Jewish way—they have to learn the Muslim way.”

“Do you understand now? It’s not going to work! I’m not giving up Judaism!”

“And I’m not giving up Islam.”

 

STAY TUNED FOR PART V...

 
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ROCHEL ALKHAZOVA

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.

Rochel Lazar