If you were to ask me 10 years ago if I thought that today, in 2010, I would be a practicing Modern Orthodox woman with four children in day school, I would have said “of course not.”  I would be living in Metro-West Boston sending my kids to a nice high-achieving public school, shopping at the mall on Saturday, and enjoying going out to eat with friends on Saturday nights. 

Sure, I had thought about becoming more observant at times.  I would be lying if I said it had not crossed my mind.  I went to a summer camp that observed Shabbat, and the experience of a close-knit cohesive Jewish community had always stuck in my gut.  And somewhere deep inside, within my own relationship with G-d, I had often wondered if I could ever enter that world as an adult.  Could I be a part of an Orthodox Community — send my kids to day school, join a small shul, live and learn with other Jews? It seemed so foreign, so far away.  How would I — a busy working mom, a member of a Conservative shul, living in a town with very few Jews — ever, in a million years, morph into the Orthodox world, even if I wanted to?

Things unfold in mysterious ways. 

My husband and I, and our children, moved to Sharon in 2002 to be closer to our aging parents.  We needed to be in the South Shore, and Sharon had a good school system.  We enrolled in the public schools and in the JCC preschool — a no-brainer.  Then one day, the first week we were there, I was at the town playground pushing one of my kids on the swing.  The mother next to me was chatting with her child about school, and started up a conversation with me about preschools.  I told her our plans, and she mentioned we should look at the local Modern Orthodox preschool, the Striar Hebrew Academy of Sharon. One did not have to be Orthodox to go, she said.  She added that it was small and it was close, and she was pleased with the academics.  So my husband and I took a look. 

Well, we were more surprised than anyone when we came out enthralled.  Even my husband, who was raised Reform and has always believed passionately in pluralistic education, was thrilled with the place.  He was convinced this was the school for us.  It was small, nurturing, and progressive. But I was still hesitant.  I wore pants!  I did not cover my hair!  I did not speak Hebrew.  I did not know enough Talmud or Torah! How would I manage? 

We decided to be up-front and asked those questions of the school directly.  I am glad we did and that we did not just run away.  Come to find out, those things did not matter.  Sure, there were parents who were observant and dressed more traditionally.  There were others who did not.  There were some who were extremely knowledgeable, and others who were new to Orthodoxy.  There were some families who were not Orthodox at all.  It did not matter. 

The parents and teachers welcomed everyone with open arms.  They helped our family learn and practice the aspects of Orthodoxy we wanted to learn about and follow.  Everyone was eager to support, encourage and help.  At the same time, we made our own personal choices of what we felt comfortable with.  I learned that there is a large spectrum of knowledge, practice and people within the Orthodox community, like in any other arena of life.  Everyone has their own interesting individual story.  Learning all of this made me feel much more comfortable.  My husband and I jumped enthusiastically into the SHAS school environment — and we are so glad we did. 

That was eight years ago, almost nine.  We have three children at SHAS, and one who has graduated and moved on to Maimonides School in Brookline.  My husband and I have become a part of both the Striar Hebrew Academy community here in Sharon as well as the Young Israel community.  We are Modern Orthodox.  We have made friends for life, and our children are growing up in an environment that promotes Jewish values, education and kindness.  Most of all, our children are living the experience of that close-knit cohesive Jewish community that stuck in my gut since summer camp.  That is a gift for life.  And one I hope they will pass along to their children.

This post is the latest in a series on “A Gift That Lasts a Lifetime” — eight days of posts about Day School for Chanukah 2010. Read them all.