Studying religion academically can sometimes be challenging as a person that identifies religiously. I have seen it cause people to loss their faith or cause severe frustration. You spend so much time reading religious text asking questions of historical context, literary structure and other scholarly inquires that it is easy to loss sight of where you, G-d and your community fit into the picture. It is too easy to get caught up in study guide and exam questions and stop asking how the text is speaking to you and what connection you have to the text.
As I begin a new program where I will be asked to read Jewish text from a critical, academic perspective, I want to remind myself that I can learn something deeper and spiritual from all of these text and that should be just as much of a priority. A quote I have adapted from a friend is what I repeat when I begin to loss sight of this:
Stop reading Buber* to just learn about Buber. Read Buber* to learn about G-d, yourself and the world we live in.
*Martin Buber is a 20th century Jewish Theologian. You can substitute his name in the quote for any religious thinker or text and it still rings true. This is the perspective I want to strive for as I begin this new school year and the New Year.
Inspiration can be found anywhere, but what a shame to ignore it in texts that traditionally and fiercely address these topics just because they are assigned readings. That would truly be a disservice to my spiritual self.
This week is the week of finals at school. It is my final finals’ week of my undergraduate career, and it is super busy. As I work on papers day and night, my t.v. is constantly playing Seinfeld episodes that I have on DVD. I love Seinfeld, and it really seems to provide comfort and familiarity amid the chaos of tests and papers.
The constant background noise of Seinfeld has made me begin to question, “is the most Jewish thing about me Seinfeld?” I grew up without knowing a single Jewish person. My interaction with Jews is still limited. Through my university, I have met a few Jews, but my closest friends are Christians. My time at shul is really the only Jewish filled time I get all week, you know, besides Seinfeld.
My true introduction to Jewish life has been through t.v., and Seinfeld has always been my favorite show. My lessons include: do not make out during Schindler’s List, there is no need to wait to make Jewish jokes after I convert, and be careful what you tell rabbis in confidence.
A show that celebrates zero Jewish holidays during 9 seasons and only has 1 of 4 main characters as a Jew remains one of my most meaningful cultural, Jewish experiences. As ridiculous as it sounds, the ability to quote Seinfeld with ease and watch mini marathons during finals makes me feel at least a little closer to being a Jew.
It is now officially late March, and the time has come to receive acceptance (and rejection) letters from graduate schools. I only applied to four schools, two in the U.S. and two in Israel, and I thank God that the two I have heard back from so far have both been letters of acceptance. While I am glad I got into both programs, I secretly hoped I would only get into one program out of the four so the decision of where to go would be made for me. I have trouble deciding what to eat for dinner, so the decision of where to get a Master’s from is pretty much impossible for me.
I spent the past year trying not to become too invested in any program so I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t get in, and now, I have to go against the rule I made for myself and rank. There are so many factors to consider, such as money, faculty, location. I also have to at listen to, and somewhat consider, the opinions of my family, friends, and mentors. I think all the programs I applied to are great and pretty comparable to each other money wise (when taking cost of living, scholarships, and everything into consideration), so it really feels like it is coming down to where I want to live for the next two years. And as scared as I am to say it, I feel the answer is Israel.
I spent this past summer in Israel studying at Tel Aviv University. I had the opportunity to see many different parts of the country and even spent my last week and a half exclusively in Jerusalem. While two and a half months is not the same as two years, I feel like I had the opportunity to get a good sample of what life would be like living in Israel- and I loved it. I can’t idealize it and say it was truly only the land of milk and honey. I had my phone stolen at the shuk in Tel Aviv, had to sit on the floor of an overbooked bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat, and had a few awkward moments in Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Even with the not so great and many frustrating moments, I could still see myself living there (at least for a few years). And what is a better time than when the commitment is only two years and I am only 22 years old?