I was born into a Jewish family which was very involved with Jewish and synagogue life, long before we all became Orthodox. Our family belonged to a synagogue affiliated with the centrist Conservative movement of Judaism (religiously in between the more liberal Reform and more strict Orthodox movements) in Rockville, Connecticut, a suburb of Hartford. I attended that synagogue through Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, and participation in the Conservative movement’s USY youth group in high school. I also became familiar with Reform Judaism after my family moved to the neighboring town of South Windsor with its Reform synagogue, and I occasionally attended events with the Reform movement’s NiFTY youth group.
At the time, the Conservative movement was the largest Jewish denomination in the United States. Since that time, Reform and Orthodox Judaism have grown in their share of congregants; Reform is now the largest denomination. The Conservative movement was an attempt to meld the traditional/Orthodox belief that Jewish law is binding and obligatory on all Jews (rejected by Reform Jews, who believe Jews are free to choose their ritual practices) with an openness to the seemingly heretical findings of scholars about human authorship of the Bible (rejected by Orthodox Jews). In reality, Conservative rabbis, including our own, tended to be strict in their observance of Jewish law like Orthodox Jews, while Conservative congregants, including my family, tended to pick and choose their practices like Reform Jews (though on average Conservative Jews were a bit more traditional than Reform Jews).
While my parents, like most people who attended suburban American Conservative synagogues, did not observe Jewish law as understood by Conservative or Orthodox rabbis (for example, they ate food which was not kosher, and did not follow the laws restricting various activities on the Sabbath), their level of involvement in Jewish and synagogue functions was unusually high. They were vocal supporters of Israel, and they were part of a small group of local Conservative families which got together for traditional Sabbath meals. Also, they were very concerned about Jewish assimilation and the prospects for “Jewish continuity” (the survival of Judaism in light of assimilation and intermarriage). Throughout my childhood, before my family’s journey towards Orthodoxy began, my parents repeatedly expressed their disapproval of “interdating” and “intermarriage” with non-Jews. They even argued that Jews who intermarried were “finishing Hitler’s job” of destroying the Jewish people, because many of their children were not Jewish.
The first person in my family to become Orthodox was my older brother, who became interested in Orthodox Judaism around the age of 11. My brother was inspired by the writings of extremist/militant Rabbi Meir Kahane (though my brother later became an Orthodox rabbi who opposed many of Kahane’s teachings). After some initial resistance, a couple years later, my parents started becoming interested in Orthodox Judaism themselves through my brother and the Orthodox Rabbis and communities he was in contact with. My parents’ move towards Orthodoxy was partially a reaction against assimilation (most of my cousins intermarried), partially because they liked what they saw, and, I now realize, partially because they had a lot of personal problems and it was an escape.