If Not Now, When?
Written by Dara Kurlander   
dara20kurlander.jpgI remember that momentous day of unexpected self-reflection vividly.  I was a seventeen-year-old driving home in the car referred to as the “Blue Bomb” from an NCSY (National Council of Synagogue Youth) event at a shul in Manalapan in  central New Jersey.  Although I was a public school student, my adolescence consisted mostly of Jewish activities like Shabbatonim, daily learning with a chavrusah by phone, attending an Orthodox sleep-away camp, and visiting with residents at a local Jewish nursing home.  I took great pride in thinking of my self as an Orthodox Jew, a choice that I had made as a ten-year-old child.  (My family belongs to the Conservative Movement; my parents provided a Hebrew School education and a fundamentally solid Conservative Jewish background).

Through my involvement with NCSY, I became passionate about Judaism and committed to an Orthodox lifestyle. I immersed myself in Yiddishkeit, was surrounded by peers from NCSY whom I regarded as teachers, mentors, and friends, and even convinced my parents to kasher our home and build a sukkah every year.  At seventeen, however; I reached a crossroads, which occurred to me on the way home from an NCSY executive board meeting:  “Do I really want to remain an Orthodox Jew, or should I attend a secular college and assimilate into general society?”  For a seventeen-year-old girl who had opted for the parsha over the prom, this was a complicated personal conflict.  My original plan had been to attend Stern College and continue to explore the observant lifestyle that I established at a young age.  In an attempt to put off the inevitable decision, I secretly buried the Stern College application in my high school locker.  Over the course of a couple of grueling months of self-inquiry, and with the assistance of my parents, family members, rabbis, teachers, and friends, I reached a life-changing decision:  to attend college at a non-Jewish college.

Although my formative years were spent in a public school setting, as a college freshman at a university in Connecticut I remember experiencing shock and astonishment at the unfamiliar environment.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed freedom and a seemingly unrestrained lifestyle.  Basically, fitting in the category of an all-or-nothing kind of person, I traded Torah for trayf and engrossed myself in school and extracurricular activities.  In retrospect, I realize that I felt something missing from my life:  I remember frequently passing the local Chabad House and toying with the idea of paying a visit.  How could something that had seemed so essential to me as a girl seem so optional as I was becoming an adult?  I asked myself this question – and excused myself – often.

After graduation, I moved back the New Jersey suburbs.  My concentration on profession, friends, and family left minimal time to practice religion.  I identified myself as a “spiritual” as opposed to “religious” person.  The most important thing, I convinced myself, was just to be a kind person, even though I’m still not sure what that really means.

Two years ago I moved to Hoboken, mostly to enjoy the relatively fast-paced city lifestyle.  Along my journey, I encountered a few things that brought to the surface some of my inner beliefs about Judaism.  These included meeting people who enjoyed being Jewish, and who participated very fully in both Jewish and non-Jewish activities.  In August 2007 I decided to attend a JYAH (Jewish Young Adults of Hoboken) social event.  It was a spectacular summer’s evening and the event was located on a restaurant rooftop overlooking Manhattan. I met many new and interesting people; yet, I left unsure if I wanted to continue to attend Jewish-based events as an adult. The transition from Orthodoxy to a secular existence had been a painful one, and I was unwilling to peer into my past at the time.

However, during the next few months, I received regular emails and invitations from JYAH.  Even though I still feeling apprehensive about becoming involved in organized religion-based events, in early November 2007, I decided to attend a Saturday morning service at the United Synagogue of Hoboken.  During this particular moment, I came to the realization that it was important to incorporate midos (good character traits), mitzvot (commandments), and mishpocheh (family) into my daily life once again. I started to become involved by attending United Synagogue of Hoboken services regularly as well as various JYAH events.

My rekindled involvement in Judaism is now based on knowledge and life experience.  It continues to be a work-in-progress and includes a balance of spirituality and religion.  Becoming involved with JYAH and attending services at USH has made a tremendous impact on me in my 30’s, in a way I never expected when I was in my 20’s.  JYAH is an outlet to meet and connect with other friendly and welcoming Jewish adults in the Hoboken area during social events, holiday celebrations and philanthropic opportunities.  Attending religious services and HudsonJewish Shabbat dinners provides me with a second chance to unite with the Jewish community and has filled a piece of me that has been missing for years.

In a nutshell, Pirkeh Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) explains my experience best, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others what am I? And if not now, when?”  It is both an honor and privilege to be part of the Hoboken Jewish community and the Jewish community-at-large.  During this brief chapter in my life, I learned the value of re-incorporating Judaism into my existence, which benefits me both spiritually and emotionally and is crucial for both my personal welfare and the sustainability of the entire Jewish people.