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The Place Where I Belong     

You’ll find it, because it’s the truth: This is where you belong, this is your avodah, and this is what you want

TOmy high school self,

I get it. It’s hard to go to shul.

You’re tired from a long week in school. Your bed is warm. Your toes, when you poke them out of the blanket, are cold. There’s a good book waiting on the couch downstairs.

But you go anyway, because it’s Shabbos, it’s Yom Tov, and shul is the place where you belong. Sometimes. Often. Shul slips into your routine, out of it again. Every so often you hear something, read something, and you start again. It feels good — afterward.

You go for a few months, then you fall out of the habit again. You kind of enjoy the long and lazy Shabbos mornings, but also feel empty and yucky afterward, like you know you could’ve done better. Some weeks later, you’re back in shul again.

You try a few minyanim: the one where your father davens (but it’s squishy, and you’re shy of the women who’ve been there for at least a hundred years). The early minyan where few women attend, and you can get the front row seat (buuuut… it’s early). The yeshivah with magnificent singing (but you can barely hear where they’re up to until they reach Shemoneh Esreh).

But you go to shul. On Shabbos, sometimes, but on Yom Tov, for sure, and when it comes to Yamim Noraim you’ll be there from beginning to end. (Your seventh-grade teacher spoke about the power of saying Adon Olam with concentration on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You’ve never forgotten, and when you get to shul in time to say it with the tzibbur, rays of sunlight barely cracking the gray autumn skies, you feel a sense of accomplishment, of triumph. Made it.)

You spend a dozen Rosh Hashanahs and Yom Kippurs as a full-time shul-goer, booking your seat and preparing your machzor and your tissues and Tehillim and pages of notes to review. You spend the holiest of days in the holiest of places because you know it’s where you belong, and you’ll be there.

And now, I thank you.

Because hard as it is to imagine from the warmth of your cozy bed, someday you’ll be dreaming of going to shul.

One day, Shabbos morning will mean a cranky, out-of-routine toddler on a sugar high, and Yom Tov morning will mean the same, just longer, and you won’t be able to think about Yom Kippur without a frisson of panic at the thought: fasting, newborn, toddler, help.

One day — though it feels like forever away to you now — you’ll be a few houses and a million miles away from shul.

And while your heart sings at the gifts you’ve been granted, there’s an empty place inside of you that wonders: Where is it —, the magic, the spark, the awesomeness of the Days of Awe?

You’ll look for it in the feedings and the formula, in the strollers and the bedtime stories, the nosh and the naps and the diapers.

And you’ll find it, because it’s the truth: This is where you belong, this is your avodah, and this is what you want — what you davened for all along.

You know it’s your place, in the house, in the park.

You’ll be there.

But inside your heart, you’ll carry a sacred talisman: the melodies, the solemn chant of Hineni, the awesome cry of HaMelech. The joyful song of Kaddish at the end of Mussaf, the triumphal blast marking the celebration of our forgiveness.

As you snatch brief moments — a tefillah, a paragraph, a word, — you’ll hear the echoes of the prayers of years gone by.

When a quiet moment allows you the luxury of a Shemoneh Esreh on Rosh Hashanah, you’ll whisper the words of Malchiyos, Zichronos, Shofros, and suddenly you’ll be there, in the coveted seat by the mechitzah, watching angels in white crown their King.

You’ll hum Kol Nidrei to your newborn in the hospital and you’ll close your eyes and the machines will fade, the nurses will turn to shadow, and you’ll be there, in shul again.

Come Succos, you’ll sing Hallel to your toddler, and you’ll dance over the sticky floors and transport yourself back to the yeshivah of your youth.

It’s there, inside of you, inside of me, a dozen-plus years indelibly etched on your heart, on mine.

Because the years that you struggled to get out of bed Shabbos morning, in the years that you spent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, morning to night, on a plastic seat, straining to hear every word — you didn’t just make yourself a part of the shul. You made the shul a part of you.

And now, I thank you for that gift, right here in the place where I belong.



(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 812)

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