My first experience in the Torah-observant community was really exciting for me. At twenty-one years old I went to my first Sabbath table where I enjoyed a feast with around forty other Jews – about a third of them being religious. Not only was this the first time I was meeting religious Jews, but also the first time in my life that I had met an Orthodox Rabbi and experienced a Shabbos meal with kosher food, uplifting and educational words from the Rabbi, songs and plenty of alcohol. I felt right at home, immediately.

Now, driving to the Rabbi’s home was a different story.

I felt uncomfortable with the idea of being around Jews – Jews who are considered and identified as being religious. The fact that I was completely unaffiliated to Judaism for twenty-one years didn’t help. And, neither did the preconceived notions that I had growing up. For example, religious Jews are unfriendly, look down on secular Jews and are completely backwards in their ways. Although, I had decided to join my life-long friend—who extended the invitation to me—I predicted being a total outcast and going home that night thinking that I should not have wasted my time. My prediction was off-target, greatly.

Not only did I leave that night with a spark of excitement and curiosity to explore Judaism, but also invites to Shabbos meals for weeks to come. I must admit that the dark-suits and black hats were intimidating at first and made me feel like an outsider; however the reality of the experience was something else entirely. I was welcomed by everyone, made to feel at home and surprisingly around people that I could relate to. These people were not narrow-minded and unfriendly, but warm, very hospitable and interested – interested in me, the unaffiliated Jew. Most surprisingly, everyone insisted that they have me over for Shabbos sometime – it was completely unexpected and overwhelming. They meant it, too. For the next month or so I would be going to different families in the observant community every Friday evening – an experience that would have a positive impact on me and my life. I not only felt welcome from day one, but I also felt part of the community and like family.

This entry was penned by an undergraduate university student in Boston, Massachusetts.