Last Sunday, we packed up our minivan with suitcases full of clothes, diapers, toys and other essentials for our family's seven-hour drive to Atlanta. It felt like the exciting ascent that people experience when they make "Aliyah" to Israel — toward a life not about materialism, but rather, about spirituality and growth.
I was born in the Tampa Bay area. My husband and I went to schools in Pinellas County, left for college and came back home. It is a wonderful place to grow up, surrounded by beautiful beaches and many friendly people. Much of our family is here, and it is difficult to leave them, but it's not too far away for visits.
Over the past eight years — beginning with a class at Chabad of Pinellas County in Palm Harbor and then high holiday services, Shabbat meals, programs and events at Chabad of West Pasco and in other communities — we have taken on a life devoted to living by the Torah. As I've written before over the years, it's not always easy, but it is a life filled with meaning and a constant desire to grow and learn more.
Some call it Orthodox Judaism, but I'm not crazy about that label. Others have started calling it "Classic Judaism," since it's the way Jews have lived for 3,000 years, and many are coming back to it.
My husband and I, and our children, observe Shabbat, keep kosher, pray often and give to charity. I have learned the powerful notion of "Think good and it will be good." And that God can be part of every moment of your life, if you let Him. Living this life has made me look at things differently, feel differently, and, I hope, treat others better. I still make mistakes, still get angry and irritated and don't always "think good," but I'm working on it.
We have grown so much here in the Tampa Bay area and experienced the gamut of Jewish life — attending a Reform temple, a Conservative synagogue and Chabad.
Several years ago we moved to Maryland, which offers a large population of Classic Jews. It wasn't the right time or place for us, so we came back home and tried to make it work here. We continued learning, meeting new people, moving within walking distance of our synagogue and growing a little more every year.
Last year, the Pinellas County Jewish Day School closed after 30 years in the community, and we were left looking for another option. We sent our oldest to a small Jewish school in Tampa, 45 minutes away.
Over the years, we looked at other options, other communities and our search led to vibrant, growing Atlanta. There are thousands of young, Classic Jewish families there. Many are baal teshuva, the Hebrew term used to describe people like us who have started observing more of the Jewish laws and traditions. There are kosher restaurants (sushi!) and various Jewish school options, lots of Classic Jewish synagogues and even a gemach, which is a donation/support society.
Once we made the decision to move, everything fell into place like magic — with the hand of God seemingly evident with each step, each phone call, each person who contacted us to say how happy they are to have us come to Atlanta. Our children, who are still very young, are starting at a well-established, award-winning Jewish school and will have the chance to make new friends and grow up surrounded by a warm, supportive, tight-knit community of people.
As a mom, I am taking a chance, but I have complete faith in our decision. Even if the days and months ahead will be challenging, the long-term benefits are worth it. Think good, and it will be good.
As we begin the Hebrew month of Elul and prepare for the upcoming High Holidays, it is a time to start fresh.
So I take a deep breath, unpack our suitcases, close my eyes and pray. Please God, be with us as we continue our journey in Atlanta, and in the life that awaits us. May we continue to grow, to be good people, and to serve as an example of goodness and godliness to those around us.
Mindy Rubenstein wrote Faith in Motion, a Pasco Times series that won the national 2010 Wilbur Award from the Religion Communicators Council for chronicling the spiritual journeys of people in Pasco County. Her own journey now takes her to Atlanta.