Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Reflection Is Its Own Teacher

on June 5, 2016

Four years ago today, I graduated high school. Though this revelation was prompted by a friend’s Facebook post, I pondered this milestone after sitting through Hebrew College’s graduation and ordination ceremonies. In three years, I too will be graduating for the third time, and my years in college have taught me that time does not wait for anyone. It passes you by faster than you can ever imagine.

I heard something at Hebrew College’s commencement that really stuck with me: we do not learn from experience, but from reflecting on experience. Before I embark on my next great adventure tomorrow, I want to learn, and so I turn to reflection.

In January, I spent ten life-changing days in Israel. I mean truly touching and transformative in every way. Going on birthright changed me as a Jew, literally in the sense that I became a bat mitzvah but also in ways more subtle. Through birthright, I fell in love with a nation that I never had really called my own until that point. Seeing the land of Israel allowed me to physically conceptualize an otherwise intangible concept. Wandering the land of Israel allowed me to wander home. I’m going back someday; there’s not a doubt in my mind.

In February, I received the news that I had been waiting my entire undergraduate career to hear: I had been accepted into cantorial school. When I got my acceptance letter, I could still remember the day when I first decided I wanted to be a cantor, and the overwhelming doubt and exhilaration that filled my mind as I began to comprehend both becoming Jewish and becoming a leader of the Jewish people. It felt incredibly fulfilling to know that all of my hard work had not only paid off for myself, but made me a desirable candidate at a wonderful institution.

At the end of the month, my luck changed. The woman who had been a grandmother to me passed away, which was preceded by the deaths of immediate family members of two of my friends. They say that death comes in threes; I think we would prefer that death didn’t come at all. Being a comforter and then a mourner myself taught me a lot about human empathy and strength. Additionally, I had always felt that my knowledge surrounding Jewish funeral rites was lacking. I can now say that I’ve had more than my fill and wish that this learning experience hadn’t been so raw and personal.

April saw the end of my five-year relationship with my boyfriend. I don’t really have the words yet to make sense of it, but it still shakes me to my core on a daily basis. I am in the process of reshaping who I will be after it.

In May, I graduated Hofstra, completing my undergraduate degree and marking the end of four years of truly amazing growth. By the time I left Hofstra, I had made unbreakable friendships, deepened my knowledge of music theory, history, and practice, led a Jewish a cappella group, served as Vice President and President of my Jewish organization, and advised a Jewish high school youth group. The list goes on. There was never a dull moment, and it was a four years well spent.

Tomorrow, I begin cantorial school. If I’ve learned anything from these past six months, it’s that the next chapter of my life is going to transform me in unexpected ways. It’s going to come with unbelievable highs and accomplishments. It’s going to give me first hand experience, both positive and negative. It’s going to leave me broken and hurting in unexpected ways. And it’s going to fill me with an unknowable, inexplicable joy the day that I receive my Master’s in Jewish Education and certificate of cantorial ordination.

May the coming years be not only a blessing, but years of learning.

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