love is proved in the letting go

So, here we are.

The sherut will be here in an hour to collect me and take me far, far away from this place that has become my second home.

How to summarize a summer?

My mind is cluttered with unwritten blog posts, with words that went unspoken, with goodbyes that never happened. My fingers feel full of lead as I sit here and try to string together adequate words to conclude this journey. There’s nothing I can say or write that could possibly do justice to the wonderful, challenging, fulfilling, heartbreaking, and inspiring experiences I’ve had over these past 7 weeks.

There’s so much I wanted to write about, so many thoughts that never got put to paper (or keyboard). I wanted to write about why I love the Talmud so much; to try to describe what it’s like to sit on my most favorite promenade and watch the sun dip below the city; to put words to what it’s like to fall in love in so many ways; to tell you about my first pride parade since coming out; to write about the night where I led a service at the Kotel; to describe the anguish, frustration, and beauty of davening with Women of the Wall on Rosh Hodesh. I ran out of time to be able to write about everything, and there were some experiences that truly defied explanation

For some of these stories, there will come a time to share them-be it through writing, talking, or painting. They will be the stories that one day fill sermons. They’ll be the stories that get passed on to partners, to children, to friends.  However, there are a select few stories that shall remain memories, only to be known to me and the people that experienced them.  They shall remain safely tucked behind my eyes, never to pass through my lips or fingertips.

I don’t know how to properly give justice to all of the teachers, friends, and classes I was lucky enough to enjoy at the Conservative Yeshiva. I feel immensely lucky to have been able to devote a summer to learning and praying. I’m not the type of person to describe experiences as ‘life-changing’, but the lessons and wisdom learned in and beyond the Beit Midrash will never be forgotten. They’ve made an impression in my mind and soul like bright red tefillin marks on my arm after a morning of praying.

There’s no amount of prose or fancy words that can coat the truth: leaving sucks.  It’s just really, really hard to say goodbye to places, people, and things that I love so dearly. The other day, I was asked what it feels like to be going home after a summer here. The only answer I could really come up with was “it doesn’t feel like I’m going home…”.

Over the past two months, I’ve tried far too hard to force myself to enjoy every moment. I knew how much I missed this place, so I was determined to love it as much as I did in my head when I was in Ohio. It’s easy to create a fantasy in your head when you’re far away, but being here has a way of bringing you back to reality. Weaved into every breath was a little voice inside my head saying “enjoy this, because in a few weeks you’d give anything to be back in this moment”. As my time here draws to a close, I’m trying to be easier on myself. It’s okay to not love every second and you’re never going to appreciate the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. After all, to paraphrase John Green, you can never love something as much as you can miss it.

Throughout this entire summer, one question has being persistently gnawing at me. It’s the question of how I will possibly supply an answer when people inevitably ask me how my summer was, expecting me to give a quick answer. Realistically, I know that I’ll have to say “it was great!”, but that feels like a cop-out answer.  This experience was great, but it was so much more than that. It was incredible, terrifying, hard, exciting, too fast, thrilling, exhausting, wonderful, fulfilling, heartbreaking, sad, fun, challenging, and inspiring all at once. Saying only “it was great!” really erases all of the depth to this journey.

A few nights ago, Sofia and I talked about our feelings on leaving. She shared with me the concluding verse of a poem by C Day-Lewis, entitled “Walking Away”.  This poem is written from the perspective of a father as he watches his son turn into a man.  A strange choice for my final words of this journey? Perhaps, but I’ve been mulling over these words for the past few days, and they’ve eased the pain a bit. I will end with these words which I now know to be beautifully, painfully true:

Selfhood begins with a walking away,                                                                                                                       And love is proved in the letting go. 




Go slowly – don’t run

Last Monday, I had the honor of meeting with Tamar Elad-Appelbaum. Rabba Tamar is the founder of Kehilat Zion, the shul I’ve been going to every week. Over the past year, I’ve followed her community and derived immense inspiration from all of the work they do in this city. She’s built a warn, open community that combines many Jewish traditions-Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrachi, secular and Orthodox-into a space that feels authentic for people from all backgrounds and experiences. She also participates in many interfaith initiatives, including an annual interfaith Chanukah candle lighting in Jerusalem’s First Train Station.

With all of this in mind, I knew she was someone I needed to meet this summer. I see so much of what I want to accomplish in her; talking to her gives me hope for my future. I told her about my background and plans for becoming a rabbi, after which she (politely) interrupted me with some sage words:

“This is the first thing I want to tell you: Go slowly. Don’t run. It’s such a beautiful journey. One of the things I see in American society is that things are very very quick. In the Middle East, things are much slower. You know, it’s like making coffee, you brew it on the fire for such a long time-mamash do it slowly. Because you now have the gift of choosing, then of learning.  I think many times when you enter this world there’s something so intensive about it that you want to jump in to it, but you really have to start mamash from the beginning.”

I took in every word that she had to offer, and over the past week I’ve mulled them over and let each word really sink in. I’ve always been very quick to volunteer and try new things in Jewish spaces, regardless of if I am ready or not. Last week, I tried to chant Torah for the first time and it didn’t go particularly well because I don’t know the trope marks at all, and learned the portion from a recording. This is really not a viable method for approaching things because I fall into a perpetual cycle of biting off far more than I can chew and always ending up disappointed in my performance. Rather, I should take one thing and a time and really enjoy the process. It’s okay to not do everything all at once. I’m always going to feel behind (something she told me and I already know very well), and jumping into every possible thing simultaneously is not going to change that. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my plans for this upcoming year and what I want to do in the Jewish community. I have many things I want to do, read, and learn, but each time I find myself trying to take on too much, I hear her voice in my head, repeating “Go slowly. Don’t run”. I think that will have to be my motto this year (or for the rest of my life).

I still can’t really believe that I got to meet with Tamar. I thought that, at most, I would say hello in passing after services one day. I’ve had many experiences this summer, this experience being the primary one, which have shown me that I can do great things if only I open my mouth and ask. There’s not really anything that can describe what it’s like to meet someone who has inspired you so greatly or what it’s like to hear her tell you “If you’re going to be a rabbi, and I hope you’re going to be a rabbi…”, which is why it has taken me so long to compose this post, and I still feel I haven’t done the occasion justice in any way, but after all: Go slowly. Don’t run.