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Pivot Turn

July 22, 2020 | by Jody Berkel

Dancing my way towards a deeper relationship with God and the Jewish people.

I’ve always loved to dance. I danced my way through high school and university as an interactive dancer for bar and bat mitzvahs, often doing four parties a weekend which left me barely able to walk by Sunday night. My dance partner and I created Let’s Dance Entertainment Inc, a completely new form of children’s entertainment in Toronto. Our high energy kids’ entertainment quickly expanded to a mobile entertainment company, specializing in an array of creative themes, including a Style Studio, karaoke, spa and music video dance parties as well as corporate holiday parties and after-school programs.

This business kept me busy for 25 years and then… pivot turn. I chose to take a completely new direction with my life.

It started after the birth of our second child. I felt this overwhelming sense of gratitude to God. I’ve always been a grateful person but this was different. I believed in God but I didn’t have a relationship with Him. I didn't know how to fully express my gratitude. My aunt, whose son was becoming observant, called me and asked, “Jody, do you want to come to a Torah class?”

“I don’t even know what a Torah class is," I replied, "but maybe going will be one way I can say thank you to God for all the blessings in my life.”

So I went and… mind blown.

I went back the next week, and the week after that and I haven’t stopped for the past 11 years. My 2011 trip on the Momentum trip put my desire to grow Jewishly on overdrive. I was instilled with a deep sense of responsibility to the Jewish people, and felt that the fate of the Jewish people was largely in the hands of the Jewish women. I knew that if I didn’t give my children the basics of Judaism, they wouldn’t get it. And I no longer wanted to be a weak link in the incredible chain of the Jewish people.

My family's slow and steady growth towards living a deeper, more committed Jewish life has been an incredible journey of ups and downs, twists and turns.

I heard a quote from Rabbi Noah Weinberg ob"m, the founder of Aish Hatorah: “If you want to represent the Jewish people, you have to know what the Jewish people represent.” So I started to educate myself in order to educate my children, getting involved in holiday and community events at every opportunity. My family's slow and steady growth towards living a deeper, more committed Jewish life has been an incredible journey of ups and downs, twists and turns.

One of our larger growing pains came with the decision to move our son, entering fifth grade from public school to Jewish Day School. I remember that first week of school, as we spoke about how it was going. He said, “You put me into this school to learn, but do you know what I do for half the day – the Hebrew half of the day? I just sit there and stare at the walls because I haven’t got a clue what anyone is saying.” With love and support I shared with our son the story of Rabbi Akiva, and of how at age 40 he began to learn the aleph beit, the Hebrew alphabet, and how he ultimately became one of our greatest Sages. "If Rabbi Akiva can begin at age 40 and reach such heights in Torah knowledge," I said to him, "then at age 10 you’ve already got a head start on him.”

Today, our son is learning in a yeshiva high school. This is nothing short of a miracle.

As I began to delve deeper into the beauty and wisdom of the Torah, I felt as if I have discovered a great treasure, a treasure that always belonged to me but that I wasn’t even aware I had. Once I recognized that this treasure belongs to every single Jew, I knew I could not keep this all to myself. Beyond sharing my love and passion of Judaism with my family, I felt a responsibility to reach out to my Jewish brothers and sisters as well.

In Israel leading a Momentum trip

When I first told my mother that I was going to teach a Torah class, she responded, “But you don’t know that much?” I replied, “Rabbi Noah Weinberg said that if you know aleph, teach aleph. Whatever you know, share and teach.” This deep sense of responsibility to my family and my community prompted me to continue to learn and teach, sharing my passion and love of Judaism with others. To that end, I began creating opportunities for other women and their families to learn and get involved in giving back to their communities.

Becoming a city leader on a number of Momentum trips to Israel, where I went from participant to leader, was incredibly meaningful. The opportunity to give back to others and share the beauty of Judaism with other women who are just starting their journey overwhelmed me. One moment stands out, it was Friday night and one woman on my trip asked for help when washing her hands before we make a blessing over bread. I choked back tears as I gently showed her how to do it, remembering what it felt like not so long ago to be on the receiving end. It was full circle moment for me.

Learning with a group of amazing women in Toronto

How did I get here? God asks us to create a small opening for Him, and He will open the whole world for us. That opening is gratitude. When we recognize our blessings and how our unique talents and abilities have been sent by the Almighty who loves us more than anything, our feelings of gratitude will overflow.

Our morning prayers begin with thanking God for directing the steps of each person. In every baby step I have taken towards a greater awareness and knowledge of what it means to be a Jew and represent the Jewish people, I have felt His loving embrace.

Life is a dance; we turn this way and that way in the choreography of our lives. When we understand that our partner is the Almighty, the choreographer of all life, each pivot turn we make to get closer to Him is always a step in the right direction.

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