Hallel’s Excellent Adventure

Hallel’s Excellent Adventure

“Umm, well, you see Morah Achinoam…”

“Hallel needs to take two weeks off from school in January in order to travel to Canada to ‘discover her roots’…”

A “Masa Shorashim.” That was the embarrassingly lame white lie I invented in order to justify Hallel’s upcoming two-week absence from 6th grade. But “discovering her roots,” a phrase that evokes images of Eastern European graveyards and forgotten synagogues being used as Hungarian city halls, was infinitely loftier than the true purpose of Hallel’s upcoming trip to my husband’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario…

On this much-anticipated trip, Hallel would go skating on a frozen lake and tobogganing and (can you believe this?) SNOWMOBILING by the family cottage.

In other words, the point of Hallel’s pre-bat mitzvah trip (which her older sister went on as well before her bat mitzvah 2 years ago) was to have lots of fun in lots of snow with my husband’s parents.

So Hallel’s been away now for a week in Canada, and she’s having a fantastic time…

So far, she’s adored “boganning” and snowmobiling with Savta and watching an entire (completely mystifying) Patriots game with Saba…

But something that I hadn’t really thought so much about before Hallel left for Canada was the fact that we were sending our 11-year-old girl off entirely on her own to an entirely secular environment…

B”H, my in-laws are long-standing experts at “kosherizing” and the “kosher rules” as my mother-in-law calls them. And, miraculously, a very lovely, friendly young couple just opened up a Chabad House on THE SAME BLOCK as my father-in-law’s house and they generously hosted Hallel for both Shabbat meals.

But, in addition, during our phone calls Hallel’s been updating me on how she’s trying her best to live as a Jew in Kingston. She told me about how she decided to wear a skirt over her snowpants when she went “boganning” with Savta, and how she made Kiddush all by herself on Shabbat morning, and how she’s been davening almost every day, all on her own.

And I realized something that I hadn’t realized before.

My husband and I are two baalei teshuva raising a family-full of FFB children. And our children have never ever spent time on their own outside of an Orthodox home and framework.

So for the past week, for the first time in her life Hallel has been presented with a choice. With no Orthodox parents or teachers or friends or random busy-bodies looking over her shoulder, she has had to choose whether she would actually keep the laws that she has grown up with for the past 11 years…Despite the fact that if she didn’t daven or wash before bread or wear skirts, no Kingstonian would even bat a frost-bitten eyelid.

But there, in that totally secular environment, Hallel has decided to live in accordance with the Torah, just like Josh and I decided to when we lived in our own secular environments.

And I realized that my lame white lie to Morah Achinoam was actually the truth after all.

Hallel IS discovering her roots, retracing the route of the journey back to Hashem that Josh and I took ourselves 20 years ago.


  1. What a beautiful and meaningful bat mitzvah experience for your daughter. We also live in Canada – but not in one of the major Jewish centres. We have thought long and hard and have decided to make our home here for the foreseeable future – not as a default, but as a conscious choice. Living as one of a handful of from families scattered throughout our medium-sized city, you really have to be committed to mitzvot for the right reasons. No one who knows will see you leave your house in trousers with no hat. No one who knows the rules of kashrus will see you in the grocery store if you nibble on a non-kosher pastry. But you realize that Gd will see you. And you will see yourself. So you walk around all day keeping mitzvot for Hashem and for yourself (and your children). In 6 years, living here has strengthened my frumkeit and has afforded me the opportunity to question and seek away from pressures of “wearing the uniform” or keeping the “chumra of the week”. Knowing yourself is priceless. Mazal tov to you and your lovely daughter!

    • thanks elisheva, that is such an inspiring way to see things, thanks for sharing that…

  2. that is really special that you sent her and that she is living the way you have taught her in your home. may you see continued nachat from all your children.

  3. beautiful! much nachas!

  4. This is the dream of every BT parent. Maybe not sending their kid off to Canada (for me it would be Minnesota – close), but to send their kid off to a secular environment involving secular family and that kid, on their own, churning out one Kiddush Hashem after the other. Mazel Tov, Chana Jenny, not only on your daughter’s bat mitzvah, but on your chochma to give over Yiddishkeit to your children in a way that they embrace it for themselves.

  5. Sharon Saunders

    Ruthie spent 1 mo in Puerto Rico keeping kosher; no mean feat. Her complaints were that Empire chicken is the pits & no kosher marshmallows for all those bbqs. There are a total of 500 Jewish families in PR, mostly from

  6. as my children grow up, they begin to travel, and i have seen this same miracle of faith time and again. it proves the theory that if you fill the child’s cup to overflowing with Torah and Mitzvos, they will have a foundation, an anchor, for the rest of their lives.
    growing up as a Conservative Jew, i was only given a taste of Torah, and many more bland explanations of why we don’t do these things (mitzvos) anymore. with such a weak foundation, of course i didn’t stick to the little that we did do at home once i lived on my own. i see that pattern being repeated in my nieces and nephews; the ones who went to hebrew school but ended their jewish education with the bar mitzva party.
    our neshamas are crying out for soul nourishment. every mitzva we do is nourishment for our soul. who wouldn’t want to do that for our own soul’s sake?

  7. Amanda Elkohen

    This gives me great hope that my kids will also be able to go visit Grandma and Papa on the *ahem* holiday tree farm (yes, yes, I grew up on a tree farm), all on their own someday, and that I won’t need to worry about the choices they make.
    Mazal tov Hallel, on your upcoming bat-mitzvah! Enjoy the snow!

  8. Your daughter sounds like she has the right attitude about being an Orthodox Jew. Kudos to you for raising her in this way.

    Mazel Tov on your Bat Mitzvah, Hallel.

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