I meant to write a post about this past Shabbat, and while I do intend to get that out within the next day, I feel that I must write about today first.
I guess a lot has happened within the past 24 hours. Yesterday after class, I made the decision to buy my own set of tefillin. I had initially planned on waiting until later in the summer to see if I really wanted them (considering the price of tefillin, it’s not exactly a decision to be made lightly) but I really wanted to be able to wear a set tomorrow morning when I will be at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. Overcome with the feeling that having my own set would mean that I would suddenly feel connected to davening, I set out to HaSofer on a mission. This was the store that was recommended to me because despite being located in Mea Shearim, they are one of the few stores that will sell tefillin to women here. I joined my friends for drinks after this, and was eagerly greeted with “nu, let’s see them” regarding my new possession.
At the beginning of shacharit today, I took my brand new tefillin out of their boxes for the first time and carefully unwound the straps as if I were opening a present. The leather is shiny and new and beautiful but the straps cut into my skin like a pair of shoes that have yet to be broken in. Hoping for a magical davening experience aided by my very own tefillin, I was left feeling disappointed when the service felt mostly the same as it has every day before. Rather than focus on the beautiful singing happening around me, I was distracted by the strap on my hand that kept slipping off. If one is to believe that the purpose of tefillin is to be constantly aware of their presence, I guess they did their job. However, I do not see this as the reason for laying tefillin and I ended the service on less of a high note than I would have liked.
Throughout the day, doubts about being a rabbi began to creep their way back in. Surrounded by so many brilliant people who are also pursuing rabbinic ordination, it’s easy to feel that you are not good enough and could never possibly be a good rabbi. This isn’t a new feeling, but my continued frustration with prayer is not helping. Close to the end of the day, I noticed a flyer on the board for a talk that would take place tonight at Machon Schechter by Rabbi Sharon Brous. The topic was to be “re-imaging the synagogue”, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I decided to attend, and I made my way over from the CY after my last class.
I sat in stunned amazement the entire time. As Rabbi Sharon talked about her story, I felt as if someone were repeating my story to me. Listening to her talk about how she felt the same things at my age that I am currently feeling, I held on to her every word. I laughed when she mentioned how when she was in college she didn’t know not to talk after ritual hand washing, because I’ve done exactly the same thing. She described how she would spend her summers in Jerusalem feeling alive and connected in an entirely new way, and would return home not knowing how to maintain any of those experiences. The struggle of how to pray like you’re in Jerusalem when you’re not is something that’s been weighing on my mind every day. The story of her community, Ikar, is incredible. Started in a tiny room with folding chairs, it’s grown to a major gathering space for people who have not always felt at home in traditional synagogues. Her story and community give me so much hope that things will change and that I might be the one to change them.
I’ve had a lot to think about over the past few weeks, and a lot of room for self-doubt. I know that I want to be a rabbi and bring people to the Jewish community who struggle in traditional religious spaces, but this sometimes feels like an impossible task that I’ll never be inspirational or smart enough to accomplish. I have so many ideas and things that I want to do, but I have even more questions. I’ve been blessed to have met people here that I greatly admire and take in their stories, but it’s easy to feel intimidated by those who have already done so much more than I could ever imagine being able to do. There has been one thing in common with everyone I’ve talked to that has given me hope that I’m not as lost as I sometimes think I am: none of them had any clue what they were doing when they were 21.
Although doubt and confusing religious practice have clouded some of my days, I smile when I remind myself that the leaders I admire so much were equally clueless and unsure at my age. I’ll probably never be the next great world leader or best rabbi in the universe, but I think I’ll do okay.