When I was growing up in a New York Jewish neighborhood, we all seemed to be the same. Our parents and grandparents had all come from similar backgrounds, preserved the same Jewish cultures and values and adopted the same sort from America.
Then I changed. I decided to intensify the Judaism in my life until there was no room for me in New York. I had to live in the HolyLand, in Israel. This wasn't a mystical spontaneous decision. The first seeds were planted when I was a student in the after-school Hebrew School, Oakland Jewish Center, Bayside, NY, which was a very close to Orthodox Conservative shul. When I was thirteen we moved to Great Neck where we joined the Orthodox Great Neck Synagogue which had a very strong and active Teen Club. That's how I ended up in NCSY and YU Youth Bureau Seminars.
Probably, since we're soon going to be in the month of Shvat, the New Year of the Trees, I keep seeing my Jewish soul as a tough seed, properly watered and fertilized. It's like that willow tree I planted from a rooted branch which one year suddenly bloomed as an almond tree. Apparently, an almond was once thrown in the ground next to that twig, and the two trees are intertwined. My parents thought they were raising an American and a strong Jew grew instead.
Here in Israel, everything is Jewish, yes, even American tackle football and rugby.
My son plays football and my cousin's son plays rugby. My cousin and I come from very ordinary American Ashkenaz (European) Jews, but here in Israel, our daughters married a Yemenite and a Tunisian, so our grandchildren follow those customs.
Here in Shiloh my neighbors are from all over the world, Canada, France, Argentina, New Zealand, Morocco and Hong Kong, among many other places. So when you walk around, you hear many languages and see all sorts of colors and features. Some are "Jews by Choice," and others are directly descended sans detours from distinguished rabbis.
Life's always a surprise, like my sh'kaydia almond tree, like me and my kids. What's next? I wouldn't venture a guess, just pray for good health for all and G-d's wisdom to bless us.