My Best Decision by Aviva Meshwork
It was the best decision I ever made. At the time, I just thought I was sending my son to preschool, but I was really doing so much more than that.
Our second son was born about six months before I made my best decision ever. I was the busy mother of two boys under the age of two and so grateful with my lot. However, I soon realized that in between trips to Walmart, the grocery store, and his younger brother’s nap time, our older son was getting a bit bored. He was ready for a more stimulating environment so we decided to look into preschool options for him. That was a great decision, but not yet the best decision I ever made.
Where does one send her precious, sweet, first born who could do no wrong? A good friend of mine who was also looking at preschools for her daughter had suggested one with a stellar reputation. It was everything a preschool should be: ‘academic’ (check), loving (check), clean (check), warm (check), well equipped (check), and (loud screeching halt here) Jewish.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t too concerned that the preschool taught Jewish concepts. In fact, that definitely wasn’t on my top 10 list of preschool musts. Nevertheless, it checked out in all other areas that were important to me, and so, with my husband having given me carte blanche to choose the preschool for our son, I went with my friend’s recommendation and signed him up. Closer to the best decision I ever made.
We ended up sending our son to a preschool in the Toronto area that was run by a dynamic, brilliant, and dedicated Jewish educator. She, together with her inspiring staff of devoted preschool teachers not only taught our son such things as the alphabet but also managed to spark a flame in his Jewish soul that completely caught me off guard. Before long, our son was coming home with incredible enthusiasm for all things Jewish as evidenced by his most popular conversation topics: Shabbat, the holidays, kosher animals, mitzvot… These themes and much more were all he wanted to talk about. Cute as it was, the problem was that I couldn’t contribute much to these conversations. Even though I was raised in a Jewish home, I had been living a predominately secular lifestyle, and though I did have some Hebrew school education, I wasn’t very much in the know about Judaism. My lack of knowledge therefore made it difficult for me to share in my son’s enthusiasm for his ‘newfound religious beliefs.'
Now that we had a ‘religious’ kid, what were we to do? I didn’t want to squash his enthusiasm, but I didn’t want to be unrelatable either. I decided to see for myself what was so exciting about this Judaism stuff. The preschool's director also provided many interesting and inspiring Torah-based classes for women, which I started to attend. With each passing class, more and more Jewish wisdom was revealed to me, and before long, I understood what had captivated my son’s soul. I, too, was becoming increasingly inspired.
After a while, I learned enough to know that there was still so much more to know (an endless amount actually) and also came to the realization that I couldn’t go back. In other words, I had been convinced that the Torah was the real deal and that so much of what I need to know is contained within it. The meaning, clarity, and wisdom that I was gaining from it was not something I ever wanted to give up! Now that I found it, I wanted to incorporate more and more Torah values into our lives. Just in case you are wondering, my husband was on board and on this path too!
Slowly, slowly and with the continued help from our mentors and teachers, we have taken on an observant Jewish lifestyle dedicated to learning and living according to the Torah’s ways. And we live in Israel, too! I never would have thought…
As you can imagine, I have received many questions from people who knew me ‘from before’ who were curious to know why I would choose a life of ‘restrictions.' While it is true that the Torah has a lot to say with respect to well… everything, I think the word ‘restrictions’ doesn’t accurately describe it. Yes, our Torah has many do’s and don’ts, and yes, there are many things that I used to partake in that I no longer do. However, these ‘restrictions’ serve a much broader purpose. The Torah contains within it the instructions for life, which serve to illuminate our life’s path. For me, this meant more clarity and freedom, a solid value system and accessible wisdom–all which I could incorporate into my daily life. The best decision I ever made was to follow the instructions.
Remember the old VHS machines? Mine would always flash 12:00. Why? Because I never had the patience to read the instruction manual with the information needed to set the clock! Somehow, I was able to get it to play my videos, but to get it to record anything at a specific time–forget it! The thing was stuck on 12:00! If I had just followed the manufacturer’s instruction guide, I would have been able to optimize the use of my VHS machine. Knowledge is power!
The Jewish People also come with a guide: The Torah. Within its complexity lies what we need in order to live an optimal Jewish life. Simply speaking, consulting the Instructions for life means that we have access to more clarity, wisdom, knowledge, and parameters as we navigate through life. Nothing is too much for the Torah–it’s all in there! Navigating solo can make for unsteady waters while navigating with the manual can make for smoother sailing, and this is something we just celebrated, loud and proud!
Following Sukkot, we celebrated Simchat Torah, the rejoicing of the Torah, our Ultimate Instruction Guide to Life as a Jew. On this day, we complete the annual reading of the Torah and immediately begin the cycle anew. We hold up the Torah and dance around with it! We show the Almighty how excited we are to relearn the instructions again for another year. Simchat Torah says thank you for the clarity that the instructions provide and the fuel we need for optimal living. I never thought instructions would be something I would ever rejoice over, but on this day we do, as we recognize that they have so much to offer.
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and children.