Monday, November 26, 2012

The Blessings and Curses of the Full Time Jewish Student

At 6:30 a.m., my eyes open and search for the tantalizing snooze button. As I struggle between gaining a few more minutes of sleep and reading online sermons, the clock ticks away—I eventually lose the opportunity to do both. This pattern repeats every morning.

Is it easy to be a full-time Jewish student? In New York City’s Upper West Side, one would most likely think it is. I, however, cannot agree whole-heartedly. Throughout my eleven years of Jewish day school, I have witnessed some of its most severe challenges and reaped some of its greatest benefits.

While in many schools, both public and secular private, students my age become numbers, my Jewish day schools have nurtured my formulating Jewish identity. My high school teachers, some with double PhD’s and published books, are addressed only by their first names, generating a culture of both amiability and constant accessibility that my peers and I use gratefully. They have set the foundation of Jewish and academic knowledge that enables me to pursue my passions. Most importantly, however, they’re full-time educators, parents, and members of their own communities, and like Marc Kramer mentioned, they are expected to be committed to their personal lives, too. Perhaps it is through their unremitting commitment to their own values that strengthen the learning environment that my friends and I experience each day. Each day, along with the dual curriculum, I learn values of klal Israel that teach me how to become a member of the greater Jewish community.

My unique “job” of being a Jewish student is accompanied with many compromises. Unlike most full-time working people, my day exceeds the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  time frame. There is no separation between school and work for me; with nine different classes ranging from math to Talmud, my workload by no means relaxed. I accepted the fact that I may never be cheering for my school at a Friday night football games, but there are times where the copious number of assignments interfere with my involvement in the Jewish community; this I find tragic.

 Too many mornings have passed where I am unable to read, contact, and learn from the greater Jewish world. If I, a product of Jewish day school education, cannot visit the sick, feed the hungry, and be active in a synagogue, then who will? If my growing pile of Talmud homework is preventing me from pursuing tikkun olam and pluralism, then to what value is my education? I am so fortunate to learn Jewish values from my wise teachers, yet am given no time to apply them.

As my graduation date rapidly approaches and my future plans will soon unfold, I look back on my years spent inside classrooms. I have been shaped by both the advantages and hardships of the Jewish educational world, and I cannot imagine discovering my passion for spiritual leadership in any other way.
Will I one day become a non-profit Jewish educator? Will I lead congregations, Hebrew schools, summer camps, and youth groups? I have no idea. I do know, however, that my alarm clock will continue to ring each morning, presenting me with the opportunity to balance both my mandatory and personal Judaism.  Perhaps, I will someday learn to accept that struggle while feeling less guilty about the compromises. But who knows? My life in the Jewish workplace is only beginning.