Integrating My True Self into Religious Life 

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By Mindy Rubenstein 

I feel like I hover between two worlds. I discovered a more traditional form of Judaism as an adult — already married with children — and jumped in with my entire being. Over the next 13 or so years, I tried to quickly learn and absorb the mitzvos and to emulate the beautiful, confident, religious women I was meeting — through Chabad and Oorah — who were part of a world I admired longingly from the outside, and worked tirelessly to access.

Somehow, over the next decade plus, my husband and I attempted to integrate the laws and traditions of Torah Judaism into our modern American lifestyle so seamlessly that most within this world may not realize where we came from. It’s a beautiful thing, except when it’s not. Once we moved into a Jewish community, already looking “frum” on the outside— including our children — it probably no longer seemed that we wanted anyone to try to bring us closer. We now felt an expectation, perhaps a self-imposed one, to meet the standards of the community. 

I also realized that I was leaving behind part of myself in the process. I had wanted desperately to look like an Orthodox Jewish woman and to fit in. Ideally, as I now understand more fully, any life changes should be done gradually so they integrate with your personality rather than overcome it. In other words, religion should enhance and deepen your identity to make you a better you. 

But as I looked at myself in the mirror and in photos, I hardly recognized the free-spirited, creative woman I had once been. And now I understand better why my family—especially my parents—may have balked at my new lifestyle early on. It wasn’t so much that I adopted unfamiliar Jewish rituals, but rather that I had in essence closed a door on my former self, rather than integrate her into my new life.

Perhaps I had left behind, or ignored, parts of myself that needed tending. The Torah laws are a framework for our daily lives, a way to access the Eternal; but ironically and by design, that means looking deeply within.

For me, I think the key to embracing my identity as an observant Jewish woman was to create a balance, where my old self could come back again, but with an enhanced depth and direction. I realized that my creativity and talents could be utilized within a framework of Torah to reveal the unique aspects of myself and the role G‑d has placed before me.

As a journalist, it is part of my nature and my job to ask questions—of myself and others. I have learned to look at Torah Judaism with a dose of healthy skepticism. To dig deeper when things don’t make sense and the answers I receive don’t initially satisfy me. And that’s part of my mission with Nishei—to encourage other women to express their questions and discoveries in an effort to grow, connect, and inspire each other. 

Our talented volunteer editors, writers and artists live in Florida, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Arizona, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Israel. Some of us are baalei teshuva — women who grew up secular and returned to Torah Judaism. Some are geirim — Jews by choice. Some are Hassidic, Litvish, Modern Orthodox, Chabad, or new to uncovering the beauty of Judaism.

We span the vast spectrum of observance, and together with G-d’s help, we have created a meaningful, thought-provoking publication that includes advice for daily living from experts in their fields. 

Looking forward to connecting with you again for our High Holiday edition. In the meantime, if there’s anything you want to see more or less of in future editions, please be in touch.

IMG_1691Mindy Rubenstein, Nishei’s editorial director and founder, grew up in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, then lived in Maryland, Georgia, and Virginia, before returning to the Sunshine State two years ago. She earned a bachelor’s in business and writing from the University of Florida, a master’s in journalism from the University of South Florida, and has worked as a journalist and editor for two decades, with hundreds of articles published in print and online. Her hobbies include painting and ping pong. She founded Nishei in 2015 in Atlanta while homeschooling her daughter. Mindy and her husband have four children and now call Jacksonville home.

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