OOO-wah, I was religious.
One of the things that meant is that I was continually turning my nose up at my daughters' choice of youth group. In my old village, we were really spoilt for choice. There was Bnei Akiva (mixed crowd, tight short skirts, definitely NOT for us…) There was Ezra (technically more 'separate', but still with some mixing of the genders that caused me more than a little discomfort…) And then, there was Ariel (only for the 'real frummers', according to my daughters, but my idea of youth group Heaven, because they organised their activities around the yahrtzeits of dead holy people…)
My kids went to Ezra (like all of their friends) and I tutted about it to myself, but still felt morally superior, because at least it wasn't Bnei Akiva!
As usual, G-d knew exactly how to take me down a notch or two. We got to Jerusalem, and in the area where we live, the only youth group in town (unless you were a Beis Yaacov girl) was Bnei Akiva.
G-d softened me up for two whole months before I finally agreed to my girls going to it. Firstly, they were so miserable and lonely on Shabbat with no friends, that I was genuinely starting to worry that they'd go right off the whole idea of 'shabbat' unless we could find them some company, pronto.
Secondly, I discovered that this Bnei Akiva was much more serious and 'religious' than the one in my old village: girls and boys were STRICTLY separated, and you wouldn't get jeered at for owning a skirt that came past your knees.
My girls tried to reassure me: "Ima, this is the most dossi (Hebrew slang for super-religious) Bnei Akiva in the whole country!" they told me.
Still, Bnei Akiva was Bnei Akiva…
With heavy heart, I told my girls they could go, and I mentally wiped about 300 hundred 'frum girl' Brownie points off my spiritual stash.
"G-d, better Bnei Akiva and happy girls than no Bnei Akiva and kids who could end up not wanting to keep Shabbat any more…"
But I wasn't 100% convinced- until last week.
Last week, my oldest was in a Bnei Akiva acting extravaganza along with 15 of her female friends - and it was an amazing experience. The event took place in a synagogue tucked away behind the Kotel (in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City) - and I actually got emotional (and not for the same reasons I got emotional at previous youth group events.)
Instead of feeling uncomfortable / bored / claustrophobic / brain-dead, I actually felt really uplifted and part of something beautiful. Maybe it was the holy atmosphere, literally five seconds' away from the Kotel; maybe it was seeing all the beautiful young actresses, working together as a team; maybe, it was the true story they were acting out about Lebanese Jews trying to get to Israel.
All I can tell you, is that I came away from that evening thanking G-d that my daughters were in Bnei Akiva, at least this super-dossi branch of it.
Not in a million years did I ever think I would be writing that, or feeling those sentiments. But not for the first time, G-d is teaching me that when I get my false pride and holier-than-thou rubbish out the way, I can see so much more beauty in the world.