*This story is 100% true; only the names have been changed.
I just graduated from a public high school. Tomorrow I will be on a flight to Israel, to learn in yeshiva for a year.
I was raised as a "traditional Jew." Shabbos meant candle-lighting and soup. Then, everyone in the family did their own thing. For me, Friday night was club night. My friends and I were all over the club scene. My friends knew where to go, what to see, and how to get away with coming home very early in the morning. I was used to this lifestyle. These were friends of mine since I was in junior high, some even since elementary school. One in particular was a guy friend of mine.
We got close in high school. You know how it goes, "friends" sometimes turns into something more. We already knew so much about each other. So we went out. Before I realized it, I was really falling for him. The way he looked at me, the way he made me feel... Was I thinking about the future? About weddings or regrets? No, it was all about the now.
I was on top of the world. I thought I had everything under control. Things were developing nicely. It was a little bit quicker than I would have liked, but that was okay - I loved this guy! He spoke to me in ways that really made me feel safe and cared for. Everyone always said we were great together - and we were. We looked good together, we got along, and we made decisions together. It was together that we decided that "going all the way" was the next step that we just had to explore. So we did.
Outside of school, we were involved with different activities. He was involved with schoolwork and sports; I was going on NCSY Shabbatons, which allowed me to travel and meet people. They were a lot of fun, and I would find myself planning the next month's trip in advance. Slowly but surely, my boyfriend and I got involved in other things and eventually we just got bored of each other. We moved on to other relationships and to other life experiences. No matter what else may happen in my life, there is nothing I can do about the fact that I gave him a piece of myself that I can never get back.
Throughout the rest of high school, I continued to go on the Shabbatons and other events. In the back of my head there was this burden. It was especially felt when we would talk about the importance of marriage and about keeping an appropriate separation between boys and girls. I would be sitting in a room with advisors who were five or ten years older than me and who had never even kissed a boy (or a girl). But I was not a virgin. I felt low. Very low. As I continued to go trips and events, I kept this secret to myself.
I started to learn with a chavrusa, (a learning partner) and I quickly gained in interest in my Judaism. I had always felt strongly about being a Jew, but I had never learned the basics. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I met amazing friends, advisors and rabbis, who were religious yet down to earth. After becoming exposed to Shabbos, the depth of Torah, and the closeness I was feeling towards Hashem (G-d), I decided I wanted to try to be religious myself. I even started looking into seminaries in Jerusalem.
NCSY knows how to talk to teens who have never fully kept Shabbos before and I was feeling at ease. That is, until - you guessed it - talks again about "shomer negiah" ("guarding touch" ) and saving yourself until marriage. Everything was making sense and I was really starting to see the beauty of Judaism, but I felt that I could never really grow because of my past.
I had no idea that surrounding my beet-red face and ashamed gulps, that there was a concept called "teshuva." It means "repentance" in English, but the full essence of the word can't really be translated. When you really feel like your shouldn't have done something, or you feel that you have made a mistake, you must look in your heart and ask Hashem for forgiveness. When you do this, it is like the action never happened.
The Torah tells us, that if a person was bad all of his life, with murder, deceitfulness and hate, and it is only on his death bed that he feels true regret, then when he goes onto the next world, he will be forgiven of all his sins.
Whoever reads this, please note that I am a real person. If something similar to this has happened to you, know that you are not alone. Don't be ashamed, especially with yourself.
Even the most righteous people fall. It's the only way to really get up and grow.
B'hatzlacha (you should have much success) and I will see you next year in Jerusalem!
Editor's note: Sara sent her story in an email with the following message. While not part of the story originally intended for publication, it carries a message worth sharing:
I was a little hesitant to share this since it is such a sensitive topic for me. I was, and am, still a bit scared. Despite my fears, I do feel that if I were to have seen a story like this, there would have been no need for tears. So this story is for anyone who may have some connection to it, and they should never feel alone or angry at themselves.
That is why I would like to share my story. What could be better than showing another boy or girl that there are people who are just like them, who at some point in their lives get connected to Torah and start on the path of Judaism? The main idea I hope I can get across is that it's never too late. They are not alone and, most importantly, Hashem wants us to repent. He loves hearing us say things like "I didn't know the difference between Shabbos and a party on Friday night, but now that I do know a bit about the differences, I want to grow, I want to learn more about my heritage, and I want to be closer to you, G-d."
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