I am a husband and father living in Lakewood, New Jersey. On the surface, I look like I live a standard religious life, but underneath, I’m on a deep journey of spiritual growth, pain and reconnection — thanks to Makom. Makom is helping me in a way I could never have imagined. I grew up in a Frum Yeshivish environment and went through the Litvish Yeshiva “system.” As a young teenager, I learned full-time and continued doing so for about 10 years. While I thought that Torah learning was going to be my life, I was mistaken. I had no idea where life would really take me and how difficult things would become. During the most difficult times, Makom was there to show me that I had a place within Judaism, no matter how rejected I felt from the world I was once a part of. Let me explain.
As a bochur (young man), Yiddishkeit was everything that mattered to me. I would never miss tefillah btzibur (prayer with the congregation) or zman krias shema (time of saying shema), even during bein hazmanim (in-between yeshiva sessions). I learned with hasmadah (vigor), reviewing every Gemara and shiur (class) until I remembered every Tosafos, and understood as much as I could. Furthermore, during bein hazmanim, I would learn a minimum of half the day. I can say without a doubt that my only focus in life was to become a Torah scholar. I took my Judaism seriously. Maybe too seriously.
Despite my hopes and dreams, things started to dissolve before my very eyes. When I got married, some latent trauma was triggered that pushed me into crisis. I still do not fully comprehend why, but I started sinking into a place of emptiness and despair. No matter how hard I tried to improve things, I just became more and more desperate. Thankfully, through mental health counseling and medication, I got the help I needed. Since then, I have rebuilt my life and am pursuing a meaningful career. However, my relationship with Judaism is a very different story. The hurt was too much and I just couldn’t regain connection. My experiences left me too estranged to pick back up again right away. As a result, I felt homeless within the Jewish world.
Time went on, and while I still considered myself frum (religious), I could not daven (pray), learn, or put on tefillin. However, I still hoped that with time I would have the ability to rekindle my Judaism. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. As time went on, and as hard as I desperately tried, I was only growing more and more distant until it hit me that I no longer wanted to be religious at all. I could not. I needed to save my life. I could not care about Judaism if it did not care about me. As a result, I stopped keeping kosher, stopped keeping Shabbos, and stopped believing in Judaism altogether. I thought I had no option.
I had no idea where my life was headed. How was I to live with my Orthodox family in an Orthodox community when I wanted no part in it? My wife had heard about Jew in the City and Makom and recommended that I join. At first, I was not interested in giving religion another chance, but after a while, I warmed up to the idea and decided to give it a try.
Joining Makom was one of the best things to happen to me. It sparked a new sense of hope I did not think possible. I felt accepted in an Orthodox circle that embraced me the way I am. Moreover, being around other people who have had similar challenges gave me a sense of validation. But instead of viewing Judaism as an unredeemable evil, in Makom, I am learning to see Judaism through a healthy lens where I see so much beauty in life. Through the amazing classes, leadership, and dialogue, I am learning that my negative associations are a result of trauma and I can choose to separate them from our tradition. More importantly, Makom has given me a feeling of unconditional belonging which gives me a fighting chance to “pick up the pieces.”
Fast forward a couple of short months, I am now keeping Shabbos and kashrus again, and even started wearing tzitzis. Most of all, I have a new sense lot of hope that I will regain a heritage that is truly my own.
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Wow! Allison, you are a hero! This beautiful piece brought tears. Allison, your accomplishments are inspiring! You are just amazing. May Hashem bench you with bracha ad bli dai for what you’re doing.
The writer’s story was heartbreaking. He is a true hero. May Hashem bench him with continued strength. He should always remember: Hashem loves him, not the one who hurt him.
Wow! Beautiful message! Beautiful power of Makom and brave man for re-examining Judaism!! Bravo!!