Image: Logan Pass in Montana, part of the North American Continental Divide, the great American watershed (skeeze/pixabay)
Certain experiences divide our lives into a clear Before and After. I can count those days on my fingers: the birth of my first child, my move to California, the day of my conversion, and rabbinic ordination. They are days when my identity shifted, even though the shift may have been a long time coming. Before Aaron was born, I was not a mother; afterwards, I would never describe myself without at least mentioning motherhood. I’m sure you have your own list of watershed events, those days after which you are never quite the same.
The funny thing about watersheds is that you cannot see past them. I thought I knew what my first marriage would be like – and what I thought was mostly a fantasy. I thought I knew what motherhood would be like – and some wonderful surprises lay ahead. Whether things went well or not, after each watershed, the common theme remained surprise. We set goals for ourselves based at least to some degree on fantasies and assumptions, and then we live our lives.
11 years ago today (May 18, 2008) I stood in Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, receiving semikhah (rabbinic ordination) from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. I had worked hard for that day for eight years: two years of intense Hebrew study, and six years of rabbinical school. For those six years, I lived without my family in Jerusalem and Los Angeles. There were big sacrifices involved.
Now I’m on the other side of that watershed, eleven years past it. As with the other watersheds, it’s all been a surprise: I never became a full time congregational rabbi, which was what I wanted when I applied to HUC.
Instead, I’ve served primarily as a teacher since 2008: I teach classes on basic Judaism to newcomers to Jewish community. I’ve developed an online presence via this blog and social media, also primarily focused on educating beginners and newcomers. My “Intro” classes moved online, too. I stay in touch with many of my students for years and years — one of the great pleasures of my life is watching them live their Jewish lives. This year I’m moving into a new phase of teaching by writing. I’m moving slower, but I have no less energy for the work. I have reached an age when many people are thinking about retirement, but I cannot imagine stopping now.
I’m grateful for the ways in which I have been able to serve, and very grateful for all the learners: students, readers of this blog, people with whom I’ve chatted casually. I love being a rabbi, even though very little of it has gone to plan.
What are the watershed moments in your life? Were you surprised at what you found on the other side?