9.21.2008

A risk that paid off

I wrote this post on August 25, but didn't have time to review it and post it until now. Busy, busy, busy, as my grandma, z"l, always used to say! (Actually, both grandmothers often remarked on how busy I always seemed to be.) I am not going to update it, since it captures a particular time and place that I kind of like having in captivity, one month and many changes later.

* * * * *

I’ve been wanting to write a wrap-up post about my experiences in the yeshiva for awhile now, but I’ve been very busy with last-minute doctors’ appointments (health insurance in Israel for people who might theoretically have pre-existing conditions—any advice?), setting up my freelance writing and editing business (clients, anyone?), finalizing things with my subletter, and packing up my stuff (not done yet).

But here I am, in Omaha, Nebraska, waiting for a flight back to New York after my cousin’s bat mitzvah. The bat mitzvah was beautiful, and much more joyous and hopeful than I had expected. (If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may recall this.) I also got to see my grandmother’s gravestone for the first time, which somehow felt…right. The family members who chose the inscription chose very well.

Aliza Mazor came to the yeshiva to do a wrap-up session on the last Tuesday that we met. She asked us all how we think differently about our own Jewish life as result of the experience. I hadn’t thought about it, since I was so busy learning. Once I started writing, I found that I couldn’t stop. This is the list that I made, and I think it’s safe to say that most or all of these merit their own posts. Someday, I hope!
  • I feel like more of an actor or an active player in my own Jewish decisions. I would have described myself that way before the summer, but, in retrospect, I have been passively floating along for a very long time.
  • I have new confidence that I have something to say and that other people want to hear what I have to say.
  • I have a new feeling that egalitarianism isn’t beyond the pale religiously or sociologically.
  • I have a new sense that perhaps tefillah and limmud Torah aren’t as totally separable as I previously thought they were. Perhaps you can’t honestly do one without the other.
  • I have a renewed conviction that one can and should bring one's personal and emotional life to bear on one's limmud Torah.
  • It’s possible to not be afraid of a challenge, even if it sometimes includes failure.
  • Halacha can be relevant, interesting, and more than either an intellectual game or a sort of traditional, ethnic code of conduct that's divorced from the intellect.
I was mildly terrified of the yeshiva experience before I went. The days were long; I hadn’t learned in such an intense environment in a very long time; I wasn’t sure how I felt about the egalitarian davening setting.

And it worked out. In fact, it worked out so well that I didn’t even remember by the end that I had been (mildly) terrified before I started. It wasn’t perfect—of course. It had its attendant frustrations, which were only exacerbated by the fact that I had such high expectations. I was given a choice between two gemara shiurim [Talmud classes], and I chose to be in the one for people with slightly less experience, which may have been a mistake. I had a great chavruta in that class, though, which was amazing. (I don't know if I recognized how great it was at the time.)

I don't really have time to write more--I have a plane to catch. I just wanted to tell everyone, after this summer of relative silence, that I am glad that I made the decision to spend the summer learning, and I'm glad I decided to do it where I did it.