By Ben Lazarus
I once read in the Ethics of the Fathers (1:14) “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” I gathered that displaying willingness to surpass the person you are today will in turn improve the person you become tomorrow. Every day we go through life truly blessed with a new opportunity to wake up and decide on the person we want to be and the impact we want to make on our world. However, our actions ultimately define us. We should all strive to better ourselves, without any excuses.
Recently, I was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly across the world, leaving my London home and having the pleasure to spend time experiencing the Five Towns Jewish community. Little did I know this would end up being the best thing to ever happen to me. It would drastically change my path and perspective on life. A brand new and exciting chapter in my story.
I grew up within a non-observant family with a secular attitude towards Judaism. Thereby, immersing myself within this new environment would be a seemingly stark contrast from the lifestyle I was accustomed to. Some may suggest such a drastic personal change would evoke apprehension, being such a daunting prospect. However, this is a common misconception; I perceive being fearless as taking leaps and bounds into the unknown and being open-minded to what you might discover. I have gathered that displaying this positive mentality and willingness to learn has drawn upon like-minded individuals to support me in my pursuit of ultimate happiness and fulfillment. This journey wouldn’t be possible without the Five Towns people whom I now regard as my family, those who have never failed to provide me with unconditional love and support throughout my time here. I personally haven’t discovered a Jewish community comparable to that of the Five Towns. It is sincerely so special and unique. Now the Five Towns will forever be my home away from home for many reasons.
A major aspect contributing to this thought process was Shabbos. Throughout our history, Shabbos has been a core element of Jewish survival and well-documented part of our tale of neis (miracle). The Jewish story is a tale of survival, effectively fighting against the odds to freely practice religious beliefs.
It’s no secret that Jews have suffered from hardships throughout history. This dates back to ancient times—for instance, originating in the vein of mass enslavement and destruction of the beloved Beis HaMikdash, and in more recent times with the tragedy of the Nazi persecution. However, the Jews have prevailed. If anyone wants evidence for Jews blossoming more than ever, look no further than the Five Towns on Shabbos. The beautiful Jewish Shabbos traditions are enthusiastically celebrated, amounting to something spectacular.
I’ve never experienced a Shabbos comparable to it. Enter the Five Towns Sabbath Bride, a mystical coming together of family and friends. Shabbos here was something that resided strongly within me and really touched my soul. This allowed me to feel a special connection like never before. Shabbos is a time in which wisdom is developed and shared. Families love and laugh. People live in the moment, away from their busy lifestyles, and general distractions are avoided. It is a moment in the week to take a deep breath and focus on the important things in our lives. Being involved with a family-oriented community Shabbos for the first time in my life was particularly influential within my mindset. Feeling a great sense of belonging, discovering more about myself, and growing as a person epitomizes the spirit of Shabbos. It is a breather taken from a long, hectic week, necessary to appreciate the finer moments that we are blessed to receive every day — being alive and having so much to be thankful for. It essentially teaches us to love and care for the people around us and appreciate what we have because life is inherently precious.
I was particularly overwhelmed and became empowered by the warm welcome I received upon my initial arrival into the Five Towns. Complete strangers were willing to open up their own homes to me, taking me in as family. The sense of hospitality I received was nothing short of inspiring, a phenomenon that rarely occurs outside of this special community. The Five Towns has a unique element of hachnasat orchim (the welcoming of guests), a beautiful occurrence that been thoroughly practiced and embraced on a daily basis.
The Five Towns Jewish community has taught me that I can be myself and that is enough. The experience has been a reminder to feel comfortable with the person I am today and celebrate my individuality.
This has handed me the license to open myself up within the Jewish framework. It allows me to have gratification and pride with regards to my identity. Within this community our differences are celebrated and encouraged. Whilst it is certainly essential to remain true to our sense of idiosyncratic personality, it is important to keep moving forward and seek to carry on developing as a character.
Surrounding yourself constantly with people who inspire you every day will provide enough motivation to become the best possible version of yourself.
Judaism encourages us to acknowledge the sanctity and paramount value of every human life. This has taught me the importance of always looking at the positive qualities in people. I have learned to treat everyone with the utmost respect and admiration. The legacy we leave behind is the positive impact and the differences we make to the world everyday. No matter how big or small, our actions have consequences. I’ve learned that little acts of kindness never fail to go a long way. Start to see your neighbor in the same light as your family. Be that source of inspiration to make a positive impact in the lives of others and create a brighter future. Be ohr la’goyim (a light unto the nations) and challenge yourself to shine the brightest. You never know what life is going to throw at you next, but be prepared to receive it and embrace it.