Students Speak


26, from Berkeley, California

My Personal Story...

My story begins in New York, New York. Our family lived in a tiny one-bedroom basement apartment in Greenwich Village, Manhatten. My mother owned a cleaning business called "Nice Jewish Woman with a Broom" and my father was a struggling actor/cabinet maker. Besides having a Jewish mother, the extent of my "Jewishness" consisted of dressing up like a knight on Purim and having to be dragged, literally, to Shul on Shabbas. Being a Jew was part of my identity, but it was a foreign and unwanted part.

When I turned eight, we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, in my second home, I would begin to learn more about Judaism. My mother enrolled us in Wednesday night and Sunday school at the local Conservative synagogue. In the years that followed I would come to learn the aleph bets, basic words, and Hebrew prayer. Occasionally we would meet with Holocaust survivors and learn about our history and heritage. During this time, my appreciation for my ancestors began to grow, but it never eclipsed my pervasive secular up-bringing.

When the time came for my Bar Mitzvah, I was tutored and guided in the process. However, after three months of memorization and prayer-study, I realized that I didn't believe in this "god stuff" and quickly and stubbornly put an end to it. I renounced my spiritual right of passage and luckily my stiff-neck helped me withstand the vehement disapproval of my mother. However, I did not abandon Judaism altogether; I did continue to attend Wednesday night school.

Finally, at fifteen my education culminated in a six week trip to Israel. When I returned from Israel and had completed my religious "obligations" I came to the realization that the answers of life were not to be found in Judaism; I vowed to never to step into Shul again. I adamantly kept my word for the next nine years.

The next chapter in my life would lead me to many rivers, in which many would see me more than once. I became a stoner, a workaholic, an ex-patriot, a cabinet maker, and eventually an intellectual. In the process I graduated from Cal Berkeley with a B.A. in Philosophy, lived in Italy, became fluent in Italian, and became a Restaurant Manager. I had written my own instruction booklet for life, and it had produced the seedling for the American dream. I was more successful, financially, intellectually, socially, and materially than I had ever been. Life was great.

Unfortunately, however, in spite of all the external success, I was miserably unhappy. My job was a drain on my energies and my toys could only distract me from my melancholy for short periods of time. I couldn't understand why when I had achieved all the goals that America says will lead to happiness, I was still left wanting. My frustration led me to a "crash-course" class in Judaism offered by the a local Jewish organization.

The classes I took, however brief, touched upon various topics in Judaism, ranging from Prayer to Bris Mila. They were fascinating and stimulating, but grossly inadequate. My "big" questions, such as "How do you know that there is a G-d?"etc. were rarely answered and once again, I became frustrated. This time, however, a great friend recommended that I attend a three week "Essentials Course" in Jerusalem offered by Aish Ha Torah. So, with the help of generous scholarships from the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco, Aish HaTorah, and my Mother, I was promptly on my way to the Holy Land to get my "big questions" answered.

What I experienced over those three weeks is not easily put into words. The best parable that I can give is that for the first time in my life the few truths that I had discovered were finally given color, form, and a place to be rested. In other words, I began to understand myself, Judaism, and life much more clearly. Although it took me many years to "come back" to my roots, and the thing that I was searching for was sitting right in front of my face the whole time, I do not regret my detour. Life is about searching and search I did.

My Financial Story...

With all of the scholarships I received, the total out of pocket expenses for 3 weeks of tuition, food, housing AND my airfare (from San Francisco to Jerusalem) came to $200! The rest was paid by the following sponsors:

Bureau of Jewish Education San Francisco $1,000 (airfare scholarship)
Aish HaTorah (yeshiva I attended) $750 (free room, board, and tuition)
Jeff Seidel $500 (airfare scholarship)
TOTAL $ RAISED: $2,250 +