Finding God on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Finding God on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Today, I attended a class on the month of Kislev. About the transformative light that can be found in this darkest of months.
On the bus home, I sat next to a woman named Tsippora who had also been at the class. Tsippora spoke Yiddish and dressed like she had been born in Mea Shearim.
But, it turned out, she hadn’t been. She had actually been born in Paris. And hadn’t even know she was Jewish until she was 21 years old.
Tsippora had studied dance at a British university, And then had spent almost a year studying Chinese at an intensive language program in China.
“So when did you become religious?” I asked.
She laughed. And then she told me this:
“I decided I would travel home to Paris from China by taking the train through Mongolia and Siberia to Moscow. It sounded like such a great idea when I was planning it, like a grand adventure. But once I was actually on the train, I realized I had made a big mistake. The train was full of unsavory types; it felt scary and threatening for us, two young women traveling alone.
“But something incredible happened. A miracle. It turned out that there was a full eclipse of the sun that week, and that the best place to see that eclipse in the whole world was in Siberia. So, as the train headed Russia-ward, it suddenly became packed with hundreds of students, like me, and other Western tourists in whose company I felt much safer than the regular heavy-drinking locals.
“When I made it home to Paris, a friend who was converting to Judaism invited me to meet her rabbi. And it was that rabbi who explained to me that I was, in fact, Jewish. And that Jews, like me, should be keeping mitzvos. And that very week, I was on a plane to Israel to learn for myself what mitzvos were, and to start keeping them. And 20 years later, with my husband and our children, I still am.
“But when I think about it, I think my story, my return to Judaism, didn’t start with meeting that rabbi. It started on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, during that total eclipse, when I felt for the first time in my life that somebody (Somebody?) was looking out for me in this world.”
Tsippora’s story reminded me of something the teacher, Julia Sara Lustigman, had mentioned during the class that we had just heard.
“A caterpillar doesn’t say ‘I’m going to grow wings and fly!’ Instead, it buries itself within the darkness of a cocoon, and from within that darkness, it transforms, grows wings, learns to fly.
“And the same is true of a baby. The womb is a place of darkness. And it is within that darkness that the seed and egg come together and create the greatest miracle of all, a new human being.”
“So too, Kislev is the darkest month of the year. This month, so many people are depressed, anxious, feel like they are in free fall.
“But out of this darkness we can grow, transform, finally enter the light that awaits each of us.”
Like that butterfly and that baby and that young student who emerged from a total eclipse ready to be reborn.


  1. Beautiful!

  2. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story!

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