After Koren Publishers began following my blog, I started thinking about my own experiences with Koren publications, and remembered the Siddur which symbolises my journey through observance.
The siddur wasn’t actually supposed to be mine.Bright, shining blue, with embossed gold lettering and crisp pages, I carefully removed it from the bookstore’s shelves, and held it in my hands. I knew straight away who I should give it to. M. M who had just lost his best friend and had no family. M, who was shown no chesed by the kehillas, and needed somethinh- anything- to brighten his days. Visions of him davening with the siddur flew through my mind. Maybe M would lay tefillin one day. Maybe he would turn to the siddur in his loneliest moments, mumble the words, and feel a sense of contentment. Or maybe not. For when I presented him with my guest, he croaked sadly that he couldn’t read it. He told me that it was very nice, though, and proceeded to talk about his second bar mitzvah and Hebrew reading skills, while I nodded, slightly hurt and feeling the emptiness of my wallet. M could read Hebrew, but I couldn’t. So why had I cared about his observance, when I had mine to think of?
While I still tried my hardest to embrace reform Judaism, the siddur lay still, gathering dust, first in a cardboard box, then inside an Ottoman. Then as I stood in limbo, in the drift between reform Judaism and something else, the something else I couldn’t attach a name to, it moved into my bag, and stayed there, in a large pocket, nestled beneath other miscellaneous items. It felt safe there. It felt right. Like a segulah of sorts; present, there when I needed it, but not intimidating or pressurising. I still had no inclination to read the words inside, but I wouldn’t leave the house without it. I became what I called ”MO”- modern Orthodox- somewhat traditional with a twist. While I wasn’t entirely sure what this new world, featuring the previously verboten O-word was, it did fill me with a passion for learning. For reading. For studying. For writing. It made me who I am today. Hoping to feel something, that something which I felt when I studied halachos, I brought out the Siddur and attempted to glean some joy, some beauty from it. Nothing.
Then a change came over me. I moved towards Chabad Chossidism with the ground rule that I was not Chossidic. And to this day, I suppose that most people agree with me. Frum from birth Chossidim, born and raised in Stamford Hill, stand by my original statement. Baalei Teshuvah are to be tolerated, but someone from a secular background, a woman no less, suddenly claiming to be a chossid? Unthinkable. But I digress. Chabad Chossidism was fascinating. It was authentic. Something to immerse myself in. And so I did. And suddenly, light shone off the cover of my gleaming, still brand-new looking, siddur. I just had to open it. Little more than six months have passed, but my siddur is now unrecognisable. It’s not new, it doesn’t look like a beautiful gift, and the word scuffed pushes itself unpleasantly towards my mind. But I don’t care.
Finally, the siddur which was always M’s is mine. It’s the siddur I practice my still-shaky Hebrew reading with. It’s the siddur I bury my face in when I daven at home. It’s the siddur I bring out on public transportation. It’s a gift from Hashem.