By: MARLA LIPMAN
When I first became observant, I was, for the most part, on my own. I did not have a strong attachment to the observant community. I lived on Antisdale in Cleveland Heights and would walk to Taylor Rd Synagogue on Shabbos morning. I would meet a friend there who also did not have much of an attachment to the community. After davening (services), I would go home to my parents’ house on Antisdale and eat a cold Shabbos lunch, often by myself. The day would be very long, with nobody to visit or to share the Shabbos experience. There were a few observant families on my street that I did not know very well. My commitment was floundering.
One Shabbos morning, as I was walking home from Taylor Rd Synagogue, an observant man came sprinting out of his house toward me. I barely knew him. After Shabbos greetings, he asked if I would like to join his family for lunch. I could not join them that day, so he invited me for the next Shabbos, which I did accept. That next week I nervously walked over to his family's house, not knowing what to expect. I did not really know them, but felt the invitation was a kind gesture. It was not a large house, even though the man had a wife and five small children. The food was great and I had a wonderful time. I became their regular guest. I felt like part of their family, always receiving warm treatment from the parents as well as the children. My commitment as a Torah Jew became much stronger.
Harriett Bloch, the mother of this wonderful family, was often outside with her children, during the weekdays, kibbitzing with all the neighbors, whether they were religious or not. Since many nonobservant people do not have contact with observant people, getting the friendly, welcoming feeling from someone like Harriett was crucial. My mother became friendly with Harriett and got a really good impression of observant people through the way Harriet interacted with people of all backgrounds.
A few years later, the Blochs celebrated with me when I became a Kallah (engaged) and at my wedding. Today, we still remain good friends. Harriett later revealed that they were hesitant to come outside and invite me over to their house. They had watched me walk by for several weeks but were afraid of what my reaction would be to an invitation from a family I barely knew. In fact I am incredibly grateful that they made the decision to invite me to join their family that Shabbos many years ago as I am not sure if I would be where I am today if they had not reached out to me.
I am sure many people have similar stories. The Blochs had no special training in Kiruv (outreach). They were just a regular observant family that welcomed me in a friendly and accepting way. I learned how beautiful an observant family's life can be and wanted to live my life in a similar fashion. While it is difficult to reach out to nonobservant Jews as we are uncertain about how they will react, I urge everyone to do whatever they can. Just welcoming others and taking an interest in them can make a positive difference in people’s lives. It certainly did so for me.