Life is a journey—one filled with opportunities for growth, moments of pure inspiration and joy, and challenges that may seem too hard to overcome. And once in a while, there is a major bend in the road—one that leads us to a huge change, to growth beyond our wildest dreams. Sometimes, all it takes is one small light bulb to go off in our heads to spur us down a path that will transform our lives forever.
Jenna Maio, whose name may be familiar to readers from Ami Living, has been down this road, and is now sharing her story to show that no matter where you are in life, there is always room for growth and change.
Judaism was a culture, but had nothing to do with spirituality, as far as Jenna was concerned.
Raised completely secular in the Five Towns, NY, her family moved to Hewlett when they decided the neighborhood was becoming “too religious”. Her only connection to Judaism was severed when she was kicked out of Hebrew school because she didn’t see how the things she was being taught applied to her life. Judaism was a culture, but had nothing to do with spirituality, as far as Jenna was concerned.
It was a pure fluke that she ended up in Eretz Yisroel, learning in Neve. (I won’t ruin the plot line by giving you too many details—to find out the whole story, you’ll have to buy the book! Keep reading for purchasing info.) But her story doesn’t end there with a magical happily ever after.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz explains in his book, Living Inspired, that the ba’al teshuva’s journey has three phases. There is a quick flash of inspiration, that lightning bolt which sets one in the right direction, followed by dark times of confusion where it can be hard to remember the proper path, and finally, after working hard to fight one’s way through the darkness, the cementing of what one knows to be true, and the implementation into one’s life as a permanent change.
For Jenna, the second phase had just begun. Already enrolled in a prestigious college, she headed back to America, losing a lot of the original inspiration she needed to keep her focused on returning to Israel and a Torah lifestyle. She started dating a self-proclaimed atheist—who called her “Princess”—and changed her mind about returning to Neve.
As a bas Yisroel, she really was a princess. And she made it her mission to deserve this title.
Then yad Hashem intervened again. On a random visit to her grandmother in Florida, she met up with a friend she hadn’t seen since her Israel days who convinced her to return to Neve. Back at Neve, she received a packet which quoted one of her amazing teachers stating that the path to growth can only begin with the realization that you are a princess. Recognizing it for the sign it was, Jenna realized she had come full circle. The moniker of “Princess”, which she had hated being called by her atheist boyfriend, had now become a name of honor. As a bas Yisroel, she really was a princess. And she made it her mission to deserve this title. She did a wonderful job of it too, because after her engagement to her future husband, he told Jenna that she was a “real Jewish princess”.
Jenna’s full journey was originally published in pieces as a serial in Ami Living, and has already inspired thousands of readers. Now compiled into her new book, Princess Without a Crown, she will no doubt move thousands more with her amazing coming-of-age story. With honesty and vulnerability, she proves that no matter what one is up against, one can forge her own path, self-actualize, and be happy.
You can find Jenna’s book on Amazon here. (If you live in Israel, you can purchase the book from Jenna herself, or in bookstores soon). Jenna also runs both a podcast and a website, Modern Jewish Girl, where she shares relevant divrei Torah for all levels of learning, no matter where one is on her own path.
May Jenna’s story be the flash of inspiration which sends many others onto the path of Torah, or to a deeper understanding of the lifestyle we already lead. Because, after all, we could all use a little light in the darkness.