I’m a new face here at New Voices. None of you know me, and I don’t know any of you yet.The first thing I want to do is say that I hope your New Year has been sweet so far. Because let’s face it, shall we? For some of us, 5770, in many ways, totally sucked.
I left teaching Judaic studies to figure out why it so suddenly felt so hard to teach, driven by conflicts and feeling like I didn’t fit anywhere. I didn’t fit with friends, with family, least of all with my own Jewish community. I rediscovered a gem of wisdom I had known once already–many of us don’t feel like we fit, and question our authenticity as Jews–and that where I needed to go was back to college. And this is why I’m back in classes; I’m an undergraduate student again, slowly investigating that feeling of alienation, of being an outsider. Sometimes I’ll talk here about my own struggles with ‘fitting in,’ and sometimes I’m going to talk to you, with you, about news that covers that topic in a Jewish way. It’s my hope that I won’t be the only voice talking here, that I’ll be able to bring you other voices and perspectives of other Jews I know going through these same struggles.
There’s a long tradition of wrestling with angels in our religion, of questioning things. So, on this New Year, when our public and private and religious schools are all starting up again, and we’re all downing Rockstars to stay awake in class, this is a space where I’m going to question, and wrestle, and talk.
Something I was struggling with in my role as a Judaic studies instructor was where teachers fit inside the synagogue, how we function as part of the community. I don’t have any children of my own. I’m under thirty. I’m divorced. Those are all things that make me struggle to find a fit in the community, but made me feel even stranger as a teacher. I wasn’t like the people I taught alongside. I wasn’t like the parents of my students. I had previously felt ‘at home’ as a faculty member in other posts, despite being a new, young teacher. Being childless didn’t matter so much to me. The particular teaching position I’m mentioning cast all my differences to me incredibly stark relief: I was not like other people, and it showed to me every day I was there. Part of that was probably the recent divorce, but some of it? Some of it was real. It was a mutual inability to really understand, to know where the other was coming from. So I finished out my contract, and withdrew from teaching. One thing led to another, and I’ve thrown myself into journalism instead, heart and soul. I don’t know if I can teach again, till I better understand that lack of fitting in, that bone deep hurt of feeling like a stranger. There’s a whole laundry list of reasons I could give for why I don’t ‘fit in’ easily in places, and they can all be considered valid. They’re all real parts of me. But why I’m here, why I’m in journalism, is an awareness of that relationship between self community and place—and feeling more often that not, a sense of being on the outside. Not everything I’m going to explore is going to be cozy for some people—eating disorders, race relations, sexuality, divorce, a whole itinerary of uncomfortable places—but I’m hoping I’ll understand more things, in the end. This is college, we’re supposed to wrestle with the crazy and weird and the hard.
May your new year be full of learning, and an openness to exploration.