The following post is a portion of my admissions essay to the MJED program at Hebrew College.
“One must study with powerful exertion to attain the true meanings of Torah, each according to his capacity. The more one learns, the more he wants to learn…for by means of the light which we have already attained we can see that there is yet more light, and we hope to attain that too. It may be compared to one who enters a room in the treasure house of the king, which is filled with all kinds of precious objects. There he finds a door leading to an inner chamber, and in there he finds yet another door to other inner chambers; and the closer one comes to the chamber of the kind himself, the more precious and beautiful it is than the one before it. Had he not entered the outermost chamber, he would have known nothing of the other, inner chambers. So it is with Torah: by means of the light he attains at first, one sees that there is yet greater light, and so on. Thus does one desire to understand and attain more, until one has attained all the mysteries of the world and its fullness.”
Hayyim of Volozhin (d. 1821), Ru’ach Hayyim 6:1
Teachable moments are the educator’s infatuation. We are trained to look for them, to jump on them, and to capitalize on the opportunities presented in a particular situation. Not so coincidentally, many of these moments that occur in our personal lives remain unnoticed while our focus is fixated on those of our students. As the Talmud teaches us, “A person can only learn Torah from a place that their heart desires.” (Avodah Zarah 19a) Six Ten years later, my vision has changed dramatically – as a Jew, a lifelong learner, and as an Educator. However, before I address that, a little history is in order…
Graduating high school meant a great deal to me as a 17-year old. Between getting out of my parents’ house and being off on my own, ecstatic is an understatement when describing the place I was in at the time. A self-motivated product of the Reform movement, I was ready for the next step in my journey. I had grown up at Jewish overnight camp, been on my temple youth group board for five years, had done the whole Confirmation thing, had gone to Israel, and I knew that I wanted to continue exploring and building upon my Jewish identity. I had never been very interested in what high school offered, and was much more enthralled by what the world had to offer me. I could go to college, take a myriad of classes that focused on topics that I was genuinely interested in, and eventually get on with my life. Fast forwarding a bit, I did not find the niche I was looking for while I was away at school the first time around, and was not happy. I couldn’t pinpoint the reasons for this, and was incredibly lost. Only now, ten years later, am I able to reflect and process where I ended up…and how I got here.
I have had the honor and distinct pleasure of serving the Temple Beth Elohim community for the past six years. While my role and title have changed as our programs have grown, I would like to suggest that there is a deeper connection to this. “One must study with powerful exertion to attain the true meanings of Torah, each according to his capacity.” I approached my new role as Renaissance Educator with great enthusiasm, dedication and excitement, recognizing how lucky I was to be able to fulfill my dreams. Finally having the opportunity to help set a vision and create youth programming that engages our teens and meets them where they are, I knew I was at the right place at the right time. “The more one learns, the more he wants to learn…for by means of the light which we have already attained we can see that there is yet more light, and we hope to attain that too.” The more I learned, the more excited I became about my work. With new responsibilities came the new title of Youth Educator. I dedicated everything I had to it, and began to craft my career path. It made sense to me. I was good at it. I was getting incredible experience, doing amazing things, and establishing a reputation for myself.
“It may be compared to one who enters a room in the treasure house of the king, which is filled with all kinds of precious objects. There he finds a door leading to an inner chamber, and in there he finds yet another door to other inner chambers; and the closer one comes to the chamber of the kind himself, the more precious and beautiful it is than the one before it. Had he not entered the outermost chamber, he would have known nothing of the other, inner chambers.” Something was missing. I realized that in order to be most effective, my personal toolkit needed to be complete. So I tried the full-time work, part-time school thing. The opportunity to learn and apply my coursework to my daily responsibilities was rewarding. Then I struggled. I found it extremely hard to create a work-life balance that enabled me to concentrate on my studies. I knew I wanted to continue my education, but I found it difficult to manage my time effectively in order to accomplish my personal goals. I wrestled with this silently, unsure how to move forward. I was exceedingly grateful for the opportunities I had been afforded through the relationships I had built throughout the field and the work I had done at TBE, but I was quickly burning myself out. Through a series of life-altering events (both personal and professional), my views shifted. It started to make sense. In order to find my best self, I needed to prioritize the personal over the professional. It was, in fact, because of the tremendous experiences I had that I now realized that it was time for another change. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn the things I did not know.
“So it is with Torah: by means of the light he attains at first, one sees that there is yet greater light, and so on. Thus does one desire to understand and attain more, until one has attained all the mysteries of the world and its fullness.” This is where I am today. No longer am I hiding behind the security of the known quantity. I find myself humbled by the support and kavod I have received from my mentors and friends. It has been a long and interesting journey, and is one that is only beginning. Ten years later, I know myself better than I ever did. Ten years later, I realize that while I am a kinesthetic learner at heart, there is much to be learned by study and interpretation. In order to further achieve my professional goals, I must take care of myself first…a lesson I have been teaching my students for years but was unable to heed my own advice. As I begin this next part of my Jewish journey, I look to accomplish 3 significant goals:
(1) Concentrate on my personal education, focusing on the areas that will help strengthen my personal toolkit and allow me to advance in the field of Jewish education;
(2) Continue to engage in meaningful opportunities for learning and growth, attending classes, workshops, conferences and other professional development opportunities;
(3) Connect my learning to the vast experiences I have had in the field, and continue to craft a vision for engaging our youth in transformative Jewish experiences to ensure the future of Jewish literacy and peoplehood.
I am full of mixed emotions as I reflect upon my time in the field and prepare for immersion into full-time study again. I am excited, scared, hopeful, intrigued, confused, motivated…just to name a few. But, most of all, I am confident that I have (again) arrived in the right place at the right time. Because of the work I have done over the past ten years, I now have vision of where I came from, where I am, and where I want to go. While this might not have been a typical admissions essay, my journey has not been one that I would label as such. With the support of the incredible faculty and staff at Hebrew College, along with my community and friends, I am ready for the next step. Thank you for your consideration of my application. Hineini: here I am.