Only Someone Who Should Be a Rabbi Thinks …

doors open
“They” say when things are right doors fling open.

I am sitting with my new friend C talking about resistance, mine in particular. It is early spring according to the calendar, but the weather gods seem to have missed the message and so I am wrapped in my Eddie Bauer sleeping bag coat sipping hot tea. The sun streams in through large, plate-glass windows while cold air blasts onto us from the vents above.

C sips a milky iced coffee seemingly unfazed by these temperature disparities. I imagine this is what makes her a good (albeit now retired) pastor, and what makes her a good spiritual guide – her presence.

I am questioning my path to the rabbinate. This is nothing new. The resistance has been with me as long as the call, more than 25 years. What is different is this time I have pushed beyond consideration. I completed the application process last spring – writing a series of essays and gathering transcripts and letters of recommendation – was invited for an interview last fall, and days before Thanksgiving, was offered a seat in the fall 2019 class at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

I have put down my deposit, secured a place to live in Philadelphia, and at the school’s suggestion taken on formal study of both Biblical and modern Hebrew.

The money for the deposit. The Biblical Hebrew class that fit neatly into my crowded schedule. The professor who offered to tutor me in modern Hebrew for free. The room in Mt. Airy – my neighborhood of choice – that meets all of my wish-list requirements including “cost effective” and “with good lighting.” All of these things have fallen into place seemingly magically, with little or next to no effort on my part.

It seems clear that the universe has been conspiring to make me a rabbi.

What is not different is my resistance. To what?  I am not certain. The time? Six years. The move? Yet another. The Hebrew? Daunting. The debt? Maybe.

The thought of me as a rabbi first arose when I was 23 or 24 and in the middle of an exciting but painful love affair with a man who was considering the rabbinate himself.

“I would not be a very good rebbitzin,” I mused, (not that he ever asked). “But I would be a hell of a rabbi.”

The words surprised me, but I said and did nothing. More than 15 years would pass before I would hear them again, first like a whisper — a friend recalling the first thing I ever told her about myself was that I wanted to be a rabbi – then growing more loudly, as I reminded my husband of our agreement that it would be “my turn,” once he completed medical school and residency, which he was just about to do.

He struggled to envision us moving from Seattle – where we had just moved to and where he had secured his dream job as a doctor – to Philadelphia – where he did not have a job or any prospects — carrying $200,000 in medical school debt and loans because I might want to be a rabbi.

Truthfully, I did too.

When we divorced less than a year later and it was unquestionably “my turn,” the desire left me entirely. Gone. Until about two years ago when I felt its familiar pull during High Holy Day services, like an impatient child tugging at my sleeve, yet again, “pay attention to me.”

I mention this to our congregation’s rabbinical intern.

“Oh yes,” he says, drawing out his “s” like a snake.

“Oh no,” I reply.

“Why not?”

I mutter something about not wanting to study Hebrew and Aramaic, which sounds mostly ridiculous as it falls out of my mouth, and about not wanting “the life” of a rabbi, to which the intern points out the unconventional congregation of which we are a part. Then I say something which sounds like the truth.

“Who will date me?”

I think I throw up a little bit inside my mouth.

Have I been resisting my heart’s desire because a potential partner might find it unacceptable? It seems possible. And now that I know this, I cannot unknow it.

And so, I begin leaning into this calling that I do not understand and all of its associated fears, taking each step that has made “this time” different. Almost as soon as I begin, I meet a man – Jewish, sober and covered in tattoos.

“This is my guy,” I think.

And for a moment, he is. And then he isn’t. When he ends our brief romance – in about the nicest, mensch-iest way I can imagine – I decide to try out/try on my rabbinical aspirations with him. As he is already “gone,” I have nothing to lose.

“D,” I stammer. “I think I might kind of, sort of, maybe want to be a rabbi.”

“That is amazing,” he says, smiling big, his eyes meeting mine.

I cock my head like a cartoon dog, surprised by his response. I ask if he would feel this way if we were still dating, as introducing your girlfriend “the rabbi” is different than introducing your girlfriend “the lawyer.” At least to my mind.

“Absolutely,” he says.

Tears stream down my cheeks. My shameful fear has turned out to be a bogeyman.

C looks up from her iced coffee.

“God’s got skills,” she says.

I nod.

“You know that saying we have in Alcoholics Anonymous,” she says. “That no normal drinker thinks, ‘Maybe I should go to an AA meeting.’ Only someone who should be in AA thinks about going to AA.’

“I think it’s like that. Only someone who should be a rabbi thinks ‘Maybe I should be a rabbi.’ ”

 

 

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Artist Date 94: Do Something(s)

strongherA month has passed since I returned home from my solo sojourn to Italy.  It feels like forever ago.

Life comes on — quickly, strong, demanding — and I struggle to hold on to the peace and freedom I felt abroad.  The joy in getting lost, not knowing the answer — or sometimes even the question, in being alone.  My face looks pinched — the wrinkle between my eyebrows, smoothed by Umbria, has returned.

The decisions I made, the desires of my heart — to live overseas, to publish a book (or more to the point, to be published) — begin to slip into the category of “all talk.”

I recently read that most people would prefer to fail by not trying than fail by trying.  I get it.  I understand.  I wish I didn’t.

And so I find myself at Pizzeria Sera on a Tuesday night listening to six women tell stories about how and where and when they found confidence — hoping to be inspired, or at the very least, to borrow some — Artist Date 94.  The monthly event, called About Women, is the brainchild of my friend Nikki Nigl.  A force of confidence, not to mention nature, in her own right.

The mere decision to be here bolstered mine some, helping move me forward in the hours before arriving.

Sitting at the computer, doing nothing but waiting for something to happen, I mutter, “Do something.  Anything.”

I write an email and send it off.  (Two somethings.  Write — one.  Send — two.)  A few lines to the sister of a friend of a friend who just returned from Spain, where she taught English for several years.  I ask if she might meet me for coffee and share her experiences — how she got there, what it was like.

I tell myself it is something.  It is enough and move on with my day — meeting with my rabbi a final time before he leaves our congregation.  We talk about his departure, my desires, and deciphering the will and whim of the universe.  Especially when it seems to only speak in whispers.

It feels like a game of telephone and I constantly wonder if I’m hearing it right.

Until I get to the parking lot, into my car and check Facebook.

“Anyone want a job in Portugal NOW?”

The post describes an academic coach position at a school outside of Lisbon.  Scrolling down, I am tagged.  “Lesley Pearl, could it be you?”

My heart swells, leaps.  Not because I believe I will get the job and move to Portugal (although I might), but because the universe seems to be speaking loudly, clearly — the message undeniable,”Yes, Lesley, it is possible.”

Settled at home, I write a response.  It begins, “Yes.”  (Three somethings.)  Shortly thereafter, I am Skype-ing with a teacher at the school in Portugal, the one who extended the possibility, dangled the carrot — gathering more information.  (Four.)

Turns out I’m right on course, so say an advertising executive, a scientist, a minister, a mud wrestler, a mother and a writer — this month’s About Women storytellers.  While the details differ, at the core of each woman’s parable is fear — and the decision to do “it” anyway.  Ask for a raise.  Leave a job.  Leave a husband.  Take an improv class.  Ride a roller-coaster.  Pet a dog.  Live as an outsider.

Each took action when the pain of inaction became too great. Was no longer an option.  Or when “the worst that could happen” seemed less scary than living with “what if” and “I coulda.”  And their confidence blossomed.

“Stop focusing on the heart-pounding, vomit-inducing, brick-shitting aspect of everything and start focusing on the payoff,” Kira Elliot — a personal trainer, mud wrestler and Mary Kay Sales Director — says from the stage.  “Pretend until the point of no return…then reap the rewards.”

Amen.

Post Script.  Three days after the event, I send a resume and cover letter to the school in Lisbon.  I am amazed to see the resistance in myself.  Fear masquerading as logic and practicality.  It feels “heart-pounding, vomit-inducing and brick-shitting.”  I fazê-lo de qualquer maneira.  (That’s Portuguese for “I do it anyway.”)

Artist Date 55: Saving Myself. No Wand or Wings Required.

I’ve been having a hard time getting myself out on weekly Artist Dates.  Ever since I hit that “magic” one-year mark.

Carmel and I.  Extras.  Fans.  And Friends.
Carmel and I. Extras. Fans. And Friends.

Maybe it’s because, as suggested, I didn’t date for a year after my divorce became final.  The passing of 52 Artist Dates meant that that year had passed.  And perhaps on some subconscious level I thought it was time to date others instead of myself.

Even though nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed in my romantic life.  Even though I don’t even have a crush.  And for perhaps the first time in my life, the world still feels full of possibilities.  That is a big change in my romantic life.

Or maybe it’s because maintenance is hard.  Of anything.  Eating well, moving my body and maintaining a healthy weight.  Staying sober.  Meditating.  Artist Dates.

Each serves me, makes me feel better, be better in the world.  It would seem I would only want to perpetuate these patterns.  But somehow it doesn’t work that way.

My brain is a liar.  It tells me “I’ve got this.”  Which, when it does, is the exact moment I need to redouble my efforts.  And I need other people to do that.  To remind me that my brain is, in fact, a liar.  And of what actions I can take anyway.

It’s why I work for Weight Watchers.  Surround myself with sober individuals.  And probably why I only meditate in the morning but not the evening, even though Vedic meditation is a twice-daily practice.  I’ve been doing it alone ever since I left California in 2007.

The Artist Date is a solo process.  No one would know, or probably care, if I did or did not engage in it.  Except me.  By stating my intention and blogging about it, I invite others in, and I stay in the action of it.  Action that always makes me feel better.

So I was grateful when I saw a Facebook post from my friend Lori late Friday night, asking if anyone was available to be background talent for a music video she was filming the following day.  Without thinking, I said “yes” – Artist Date 55.

“Who knows?” I thought.  “Perhaps I will meet Mr. Right…”

skatersBy morning I wasn’t so sure about that.  When I opened Lori’s email with details for the shoot, I found myself feeling incredibly resistant.  So much so, I told her I may have spoken too soon.

I shared my “dilemma” with a friend who reflected back to me that I am a woman who does what she says.  And so I did.

But when I arrived, the first words out of my mouth were, “Do you have enough people?  Because if you do…”  Yes, she said, adding, “If you have somewhere to be, go…”

But I didn’t.

Knowing that, something shifted.  And I decided to stay.

I took a seat on an empty bench where the Windy City Rollers practice and watched the girls go around and around in circles, fading in and out of the fog of the smoke machine – the set for the music video, for a song written by one of the skaters, Xoe.

I joined about a dozen extras as a Windy City Rollers fans.  Our job was to rush the red team after winning the bout.  To jump up and down and high-five the skaters, and each other.  Simple enough…even for a non-sports fan like myself.  But first, we waited.

angelsI watched the big cameras zooming in and out.  Xoe’s stunt double — dressed like a guardian angel with wings, a wand and a sequined dress — “saving her” from herself, and knocking out a couple of the Rollers in the process.  I looked at the snack table and thought it could use a makeover.  That I would replace some of the donuts, Oreos and chips with fresh fruit and vegetables, hummus and low-fat cheese.  But nobody asked me.

A woman I know just a little, but like quite a bit, showed up and she and I talked like old friends for the better part of the afternoon – telling stories about boys, our bodies and travel.

I noticed the high concentration of men on the set – lots of tattoos and wool hats.  But I didn’t “recognize” my mate.

The day ended with a whack upside the head.  Literally.  It was an accident.

During a “pretend” fight scene,I leaned into the fist of a wisp of a girl standing next to me.   She apologized profusely.  I laughed.  It somehow seemed right.  Like I had definitely “connected.”

This morning, I put my hand to my forehead.  It was sore.  A little tender spot reminding me of how much I fight myself.  And of how I can save myself – no wand or wings required.