Community Blog My Path to the Rabbinate
For most of my adult life, I have been Yisrael: in joyful combat with the Divine. For years, decades even, I thought I was somebody else. Several somebodies actually. As a child and young adult, I mostly thought I was an actress and singer, which I was. Then I thought I was a hippie crunchy stay-at-home mother, which I was. Then I thought I was a Jewish professional, which I was.
But also, I thought I was shy, which I was. I thought I was Jewishly underdeveloped, which I was. I thought I was too far along in my established choices to try something new, which I was. Until I wasn’t.
The whole time, I was a searcher, a God-wrestler. Maybe that was the truest identity all along. It’s certainly the one that seems to stick.
As an undergraduate music student, I had briefly considered the idea of cantorial school, but two things stopped me: my ego and my ego.
Ego #1 was the insecurity that I had not had a proper Jewish education and would never be able to catch up. Ego #2 was that I had read an article about cantorial work that cautioned that it was its own profession and not a fallback for failed opera singers. Hmpf. I still had much more ground to cover in fulfilling my destiny as a failed opera singer.
So I let it pass, grew up, sang a while. Then after my sons were born and I brought my focus closer to home, I began to develop a more realized Jewish identity and went to work in the Jewish community.
A few years in, I participated in a Unity Mission organized by the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. On this pluralistic exposure trip to Jewish New York, I found myself (in both senses) at a tiny weekday Shacharit in an unfamiliar setting. Though the service was conducted entirely in Hebrew and at breakneck speed, something about its beauty touched my soul. Before my thoughts even formed around my words, I blurted: I think I want to go to rabbinical school.
When your deepest voice speaks without your conscious mind’s permission, it can take a while to allow yourself to listen.
At that time I had established a career in congregational life: doing membership, community engagement, informal education, and more, for a synagogue I felt deeply connected to. My work was satisfying and joyful, but somehow incomplete. One day, a congregant was in my office to talk about a project we were working on together; out of nowhere she summed up that sense of incompleteness, saying, “Naomi, the work you’re doing is spiritual leadership but you’re limited by your position.”
It would be a few more years before I linked my sudden insight in New York to my congregant’s comment, before I gathered up the courage to be a beginner again and believe, Ted Lasso-style, in the impossible.
At one point in the discernment process, I attended a study program for aspiring prayer leaders. For days on end, I prayed and studied, walking in the woods during the breaks, and singing with friends until all hours. One night I came in quite late, after my roommate was asleep. Not wanting to make a disturbance, I tried to settle in quietly and in doing so, I put my things down … wherever.
Next morning I woke up and couldn’t find my glasses. Of course the great irony of misplaced glasses is that you need the thing that’s missing in order to find it.
My kind roommate helped me look. We looked in the obvious places and in the non-obvious places. Nothing.
Then she suggested checking the one place they couldn’t possibly be, the place I dismissed outright, the place that made no sense.
Of course. You know the rest.
Less than a year later, I enrolled in rabbinical school.