February 24, 2020

The Power to Observe

When my husband Daniel and I moved to Los Angeles seven years ago, we were not fully observant Jews. We were on the path — I was doing an Orthodox conversion and he was interested in being observant again — but we hadn’t fully committed. 

We would shul hop in Pico-Robertson every Shabbat morning, looking for the right fit. At one synagogue, we talked to an Orthodox man at Kiddush about why he chose to be observant. 

“I didn’t,” he said. “I just grew up with it. If I could choose not to be, I would.” 

“Why?” Daniel asked.

“It’s too much of a hassle. I want to lead a normal life.” 

For months, those words haunted us. What were we getting into? Were we going to be miserable, too? Would we regret our decision to become observant for the rest of our lives but keep practicing simply out of guilt or obligation? 

At the time this occurred, we already had our hesitations about taking on this lifestyle. I was addicted to my smartphone and couldn’t put it down on Shabbat. I dreaded the High Holy Days season because, as an entrepreneur, I wasn’t getting paid for time off. I didn’t enjoying having to spend extra money on kosher meat. 

Daniel was afraid that observance was going to have a negative impact on his comedy career, because so many of his gigs were on Friday nights. He didn’t want to be seen as an outsider in the deeply atheist, anti-religious comedy community. 

So when we spoke to this man, it confirmed many of our fears. If we became more observant, there was no way we would like it. It was going to be as drab as secular society made it out to be. 

Since I’m a convert and Daniel is a baal teshuvah, we are lucky that we had the opportunity to shape our Jewish experience. 

While his voice resonated in the back of our heads, we weren’t completely deterred. We continued shul hopping, but we couldn’t find our spiritual home or the inspiring hook we were looking for to truly commit. Then one day, Daniel met a young Orthodox rabbi who just moved from Israel, and he invited us over for Shabbat. 

At the rabbi’s house, we had an uplifting and warm experience. He and his family seemed very content with their lifestyle. He invited us back nearly every week, answering our questions about observance and encouraging us to do more. Slowly, we did, thanks to him, along with many other families in the community who showed us how beautiful this lifestyle can be. 

I realized the importance of community in becoming and staying observant. I wasn’t finding so much inspiration in my prayer book or listening to rabbis speak on the bimah. While I loved studying Torah, that alone wasn’t enough to convince me to transition into this lifestyle. I had to see, firsthand, how wonderful it was. 

Today, because we’ve had such positive experiences, Daniel and I are observant. 

I love doing Shabbat because it’s a chance to connect to what truly matters. The High Holy Days are my favorite time of year because I get so many ways to strengthen my relationship with HaShem. I’m OK with spending more money on kosher meat because it means the animals had a painless death, plus I’m supporting Jewish-run businesses. Daniel has made his own path with his career that lets him observe Shabbat and still pursue his passions.

Since I’m a convert and Daniel is a baal teshuvah, we are lucky that we had the opportunity to shape our Jewish experience. I feel bad for the man we met at synagogue and those like him who feel they have to practice but don’t really want to practice. 

That’s not what our religion is about. HaShem wants us to be happy and find meaning in the mitzvot. Once I realized that, it completely changed my perspective. It helped me become the observant Jew I was meant to be. And today, I can confidently say that choosing this lifestyle is the best decision I ever made.

Kylie Ora Lobell is a Journal contributing writer.