Posted by: RaeAn | 2 June 2010

The Countdown Begins…

I think I may still be in denial.

I know, intellectually, that very soon, I’ll no longer be living in DC, and instead I’ll be living in Jerusalem. I know, intellectually, that I’m about to leave the working world to go back to school. I know, intellectually, that I’m about to leave all of the friends I’ve made over the past five years and have to make new ones from scratch for the first time since my freshman year of college. I know, intellectually, that I have to pack up my whole apartment and deal with a moving company to get all of my stuff to my parents’ basement for storage for a year. I know, intellectually, that everything is about to change, and I know, intellectually, that the change will ultimately be good for me.

But emotionally… I have my hesitations, my trepidations, my reservations, and my doubts.

I’m about to embark on a journey that is supposedly going to change my life. I’ll be going to Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR, or just HUC, for short), which is the Reform Jewish rabbinic school. I’m not going to be a rabbi. I’m going for a double masters program: Masters in Jewish Education and a Masters in Jewish Communal Service. (The latter degree will, if all goes according to the not-just-a-rumor, by the time I graduate, be a Masters in Nonprofit Management.) It’s a three-year program. My first year will be in Jerusalem; the next two years will be in Los Angeles. That’s three years, including two and a half summers. (The half being the first tidbit: I’ll be arriving in Jerusalem in July for Ulpan, a Hebrew-intensive course, before the official semester begins.) HUC has four campuses: Jerusalem, Cincinnati, New York, and Los Angeles. Most of the programs (not all… most) require a year in Israel before you go to your stateside campus. Each campus has its own specialty, but between them, there are several programs: rabbinic, cantorial, education, social work, communal service, and probably more that I’m forgetting. But it’s most well-known for its rabbinic program. Check out its history online, I suppose:

Deciding to go to HUC was big for me. But not in the way it’s probably big for most people. It was big for me because I had to force myself to grow up and admit that rebellion is only worthwhile if you’re working toward something better, not against something that’s meant for you.

Let me explain.

My mother went to HUC. She not only went to HUC. She went to the Year-in-Israel program then to the Los Angeles campus. Not only did she go to the LA campus, she also was in one of the first groups of students to do the Joint Masters program in Education and Communal Service. There were 4 people in her Joint Masters class. I had grown up knowing HUC was an option, and that it was a good option, and if I wanted to work in the Jewish community, it was, in fact, a great option, and a very well-respected school.

But, like many people, I swore I wouldn’t do what my mom did. It felt like cheating. Like she’d already blazed a path, and I needed to blaze my own, be different, be NEW.

However, a path has many forks, and a mountain has many ways to climb to the top.

I took a year after college to work in the “real world,” to think about what I wanted. I almost didn’t apply to graduate schools at all for this coming year. Something convinced me to apply to HUC. I wasn’t all too serious about it at first. I figured I’d apply, but I’d probably work another year before I hit the books again. After all, HUC was the easy path. It’s what I was expected to do. ‘Cause my mom did it.

Then, as the application process wore on, and the deadline approached, and I worked on my essays, I started thinking about my motivations, my desires, and my dreams even more. I had a goal: I want to work in the Jewish community. I want to work in making the fractured elements come together, in putting together the pieces, in showing the world that a Jew-is-a-Jew-is-a-Jew, regardless of their nationality, skin color, first language, parents’ religion, gender, sexual orientation. I wanted to work to make the community a comfortable, welcoming place that permits every Jew to engage in their Judaism — on their level, not on what rabbi a thousand years ago said should be their level. I wanted to show that love belongs in Judaism, regardless of what gender that love embraces, and I wanted to make Judaism less of an -ism and more of an “is.”

I wanted to do outreach. In order to reach out, you need to engage. And in order to engage, you need to educate.

I was frustrated. How could I get to this path without doing what my mother does? After all, she works in outreach — interfaith outreach. She got where she is through the Joint Masters from HUC. I did not want to follow in her footsteps.

But one day, while I was working on one of the twelve pages of essay-writing which the HUC application requires, I asked myself: Why not? Why was I so scared of following in my mother’s footsteps?

My mother does good work. She’s happy. And she has big, big shoes to fill: she has, single-handedly, changed the face of interfaith acceptance in the Jewish community in Atlanta, and many other cities across the country as well, where others teach using her curricula. Am I scared I won’t measure up?

Maybe. But I also know that I have strengths which she doesn’t, and I have passions for elements different from her. If I denied myself a path merely because my mother took that path, how is that any different from taking that path only because she took it?

Perhaps it doesn’t make as much sense now that I type it out, but then and there, I finally became excited by the thought of going to HUC. I didn’t need to rebel for the sake of rebelling. I needed to save that energy for other, more important fights. Like for dominantly Ashkenazi communities to be accepting of Ethiopian Jews and for religious communities to celebrate same-sex love as much as they do different-sex love. I have a passion, and HUC is a good — no, a fantastic — path for getting the chance to work that passion into my life and my livelihood.

I sent in my application. I flew to LA for an interview. I sat in front of seven people who interrogated me (okay, I’ll be fair, it wasn’t that bad: it was an interview, but in front of a rather large committee), and I got a call from Dr. Michael Zeldin, the Director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, congratulating me on my acceptance and extending the offer for a full scholarship.

I was too thrilled for words. I was the happiest I’d been in a long time.

I no longer felt that I was following someone else’s path. This path is my own, because every path is what you make it to be. I’m looking for happiness, fulfillment, and passion. This path is my own, and I’m proud to be taking the first steps along the road.

And so I’ve been working in DC, and now, I have less than a month until I leave this town. I’ll be heading back to Atlanta on June 25, and hopping on a plane to Israel on July 5.

And I still don’t really know what to make of it.

I have so much more to write. But for now, let it suffice to say that this blog will be my method of documenting my journey, and I’d love it if you kept up with me as I followed this path.

The Countdown Begins.

It is June 1, 2010.
24 days to Atlanta.
33 days to Israel.

I’ll get over the shock soon.

~ Rae



  1. Yay!!! I’m so excited for you. I hope it’ll be wonderful. I look forward to reading more.

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