A true story
She didn't know what gave her the sudden desire to go to
shul that Friday night. Maybe for lack of anything better to
do, a mixture of curiosity and nostalgia -- I wonder what
it's like to go to shul for the first time since I was a
schoolgirl, and be able to understand some of the
siddur. Having been in Israel for over two years, she
had relearned quite a lot of the Hebrew she had scorned as a
Anyway, it was certainly an interesting experience to see
the old familiar sights and be assailed by the sounds of the
prayer which she felt penetrate directly into her soul,
bypassing her conscious intellect. So quickly and
However, the first thing was not to feel out of place. Oh,
here's a girl of about my age who, I can see, is without a
hat. Just to be on the safe side...
"Excuse me, do I need to wear a hat?"
"Are you married?"
"Then you don't need to wear a hat. You are dressed quite
suitably, although your sleeves should really cover your
"I'm sorry. I didn't know. Now I understand why all those
religious women go around looking so `covered up' even in
the height of summer."
"It's called tzniyut, modesty and propriety."
"If you don't mind me bothering you so much, would you be
prepared to show me what's going on in the prayers? You see,
I'm here for the first time since I was a schoolgirl in
England. Then I used to visit shul regularly every Shabbos
morning, but, I am ashamed to say, only for social reasons.
I never took any interest in what was going on..."
"Certainly, but it is forbidden to talk in shul except for
what is connected to the davening itself, so here,
I'll just show you..."
They finally parted, the girl, Esther, to her home for
Kiddush and the Shabbos seuda, and she, back to her
rented flat shared with another girl, a ten minute walk into
the very secular suburb of Tel Aviv.
On impulse, as Esther drew away, she called to her, "By the
way, what time do they start here tomorrow morning?"
"Oh, that's a bit early for me. But, maybe, I'll try to make
"I'll be very happy to see you then. Shabbat Shalom."
Back in her apartment, she reflected on `what she had done.'
She, a confirmed, know-it-all atheist who despised all
religion as a `Freudian father substitution,' deciding to go
to shul on Shabbos?
Well, what does she care? She was not going to force herself
into a fixed mold of beliefs -- that was exactly the thing
that she had always despised -- every since she was twelve
years old and had decided she didn't believe in G-d. At that
time, this was certainly the conventional stance that
everyone paid lip service to then -- and she therefore
staunchly remained sitting during the amida in school
prayers in the morning and afternoon, even though everyone
else stood and prayed, mouthing the blessings thoughtlessly
and mechanically, as was expected of them.
In fact, now that she came to think of it, she rather liked
the idea of going against the current. For after all, here
in Israel, now, in the early seventies, in her social milieu
and where she had chosen to live, being scornfully anti-
religious and atheistic was hardly daringly unconventional -
it was just the opposite - the very essence of
conventionality! And when she tried to discuss the subject
in some depth with professedly intelligent people of her
age, she was chagrined to find that, contrary to her own
agonizing over the meaning and purpose of life, these
`athiests' were merely tarred with the same brush as the
conventional, utterly non-thinking people she had attended
school with, and with whom she had attended the "Jewish
Youth Debating Society" -- which always found people to
support the current philosophical, social or political ideas
of the time, but were at a loss to find anyone daring enough
or thinking enough to disagree.
She also liked the idea of surprising, or even more
strongly, shocking her family and acquaintances by suddenly
declaring she was going to start keeping
Wait a moment! What was that? Keeping mitzvos? She
had only just visited shul one Shabbos, and she was already
deciding to keep Shabbos, eat kosher, dress modestly...!
That, dear readers, is indeed how it started...