The Baal Teshuva and the Atheist: Part V
By: Rochel Alkhazova
Meaning and beauty entered Lina’s life as she delved into being an observant Jew. Most of all, she couldn’t wait to go back to Israel. She decided to join a six-week program. The program trained young professionals in leadership skills to become madrichim, and then took them on a two-week trip to Poland and Israel. The participants were secular, but Lina recognized that she had also been secular not too long ago. She particularly saw her old-self reflected in one person, named Alex, who constantly argued with the Rabbi during lecture time.
“Hashem created a perfect world,” the rabbi would start, but then Alex would interrupt.
“Nothing in this world is perfect, not even a ‘perfectly’ round penny!” No matter what the rabbi said, this guy would always say something against it and try to prove his very atheistic viewpoint.
‘He thinks he knows it all,’ Lina would say to herself, trying not to roll her eyes, as she watched Alex argue once again with the rabbi.
On the second day of class, Alex approached Lina.
“I’m going to marry you,” he said, just like that…point blank.
As Lina’s eyes rounded in surprise, she couldn’t help but give out a tiny laugh.
“I don’t think so!” she blurted out to this Alex person.
A month of classes passed by faster than anticipated, and then it was time to go to Poland. Poland seemed like a cold, dark place. Unfriendly, and still Jew-hating. Maybe it was because they visited graves and concentration camps, or maybe because Poland really was unfavorable. Walking on the same path in Auschwitz as those Jewish souls had years ago sent shivers to all the participants, and they couldn’t wait to step into the land of Milk and Honey.
As Alex tried to make conversation with Lina, she repeatedly attempted to ignore him, but no matter how hard she tried, he was always right there next to her.
As they boarded the plane to Israel, Alex tried to talk to her again.
“Have you ever been to Israel?”
“Me too…I wanted to move there at one point, but then decided against it.”
“I want to move there!” Lina said dreamily, looking out the window as the plane took off. Then she added, “Why would you even consider moving there…I mean with your views and all?”
“You know…arguing with the rabbi, not believing in anything from the Torah…”
“I went to yeshiva when I was younger, and just got really turned away from it all.”
“Why? Like, you really don’t believe that Hashem exists?”
“So why are you even here?”
“A more or less subsidized trip…also to meet new people…” Alex shrugged.
“Been there, done that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I held the same views as you at one point,” Lina answered, still looking out the window.
“I was religious like you at one point, too,” Alex replied.
“So, what happened?”
“I got turned off by a lot of religious people that I met along the way…especially in yeshiva. The kids, and even the teachers, would not accept me because I was different. An immigrant…my family was not religious, and they didn’t accept me because I wasn’t religious enough. Then, when I went to public school, things got much better and easier.”
“I had a totally different experience in yeshiva then you did. Maybe you went to the wrong yeshiva.”
“I went to four! And they were all the same! And the religious people were all the same! Unwelcoming, uncaring!”
“Well, Hashem’s Torah is perfect, but people are not, and that’s why we need and have the Torah to help us achieve our best selves.”
The week in Israel flew by even faster than they could blink. Alex and Lina continued their conversations about Torah, Hashem, and everything else Jewish. Lina tried to help him see what she had found herself—the truth…the beauty amongst the ugly, life amongst the stagnant, blessings amongst the disguise, peace amongst the chaos, and trust amongst the doubt. But Alex was unmoving.
“Hi, Lina, it’s Alex. I was wondering if you wanted to go out for a cup of coffee?”
“Hi, Alex. No, not really! Hold on, someone is at the door.”
“Hi!” And there he was, beaming at her.
“Oh! It’s you!” Lina dropped the phone. She had to collect herself to utter another word. “And so many roses! Wow! I’m allergic to roses…actually, I’m allergic to all flowers!” Lina said deliberately, hoping it would give Alex the message not to come knocking on her door and with flowers! How dare he?!
“How about a cup of coffee at the Coffee Bar?”
“No, I really don’t think it’s a good idea! To be honest, I think it’s a little too much—you showing up at my door, with flowers and all.”
“But Lina, I told you from the very beginning…never mind. All I want to say is I like you! A lot! Can you give me a chance?”
“No, Alex! I’m not interested. I’m sorry. I wish you contacted my shadchan or something…but we are never going to work! We come from different ways of life. I’m religious, you’re not…not even interested. It’s not going to work. And then you are like stalking me…it’s making me a bit uneasy!” Lina tried to close the front door, but she actually slammed it in his face. Alex was left standing there for a few minutes, roses in his hands, before he said, “We can make it work!” hoping she heard him. “You are a fresh baal teshuva, so what that I’m just… just…I’m just…I just want to tell you that we can try and make it work! My cousin holds the same views as me, and he’s married to a very religious girl like you, and they are making it work!”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she replied through the closed door. “I will never give up what I worked so hard for…what I so strongly believe in…Will you be able to keep Shabbat? Kosher? Family laws? I will not ever give any of that up for anything!”
“That’s fine with me…we will make it work!”
Months passed, but Alex did not give up. He phoned, asking for a chance. Lina finally decided that if she did not agree to go out for coffee, he would ask her for all eternity.
At the sound of the broken glass, a joyous song broke out, as Lina and Alex walked down the aisle, hand-in-hand as husband and wife.
…Od Yishama B’arei Yehudah
Kol Sason V’kol Simcha
Kol Chatan V’kol Kallah…
Lina’s rabbi smiled with joy, and she remembered how when he had met Alex, he had approvingly said that his middot outnumbered anyone else’s that he’d ever met.
She was a baal teshuva, and he was still somewhat of an atheist. But they would make it work…wouldn’t they!?
Stay tuned for Part VI…
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.