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.