National healthcare reform drew us to Washington DC like a modern-day gold rush. My wife, a progressive and brilliant benefits expert, was invited to join a not-for-profit national think tank in DC at a critical time for healthcare reform. Unfortunately, some would say, she was married to a self-employed attorney, with no portable clients, and was the mother of two teenaged daughters whose friends were usually more important to them than their parents’ careers. To compound matters, the real estate market in Connecticut was uncooperative, but finally allowed a rental even though a sale was prayed for.
So with one daughter entering college (James Madison University, coincidentally in Virginia where we landed), another entering the tenth grade, and three dogs in tow, we moved into a rented house that only my wife had seen before the lease was signed. Before the unpacking of the house began, the move to college ensued. Not an ideal way to kick-off the college career of our first born. But the gold rush was sometimes messy. Instead of eight hours away in Connecticut, James Madison was now a gloriously manageable 2 hours or less, in each direction, as well as bearing the unforeseen bonus of in-state tuition after we established residency.
In anticipation of our move, I had been slowly winding down my law practice. Although I had been licensed since 1990, I had been in my own firm since 2000, operating a small criminal defense firm outside New York City. The practice was well-entrenched and solvent. Leaving it behind would not be enjoyable, although attacking new challenges would be.
“Do something you love,” was the advice I received on an almost-daily basis. “Are you going to continue practicing?” I enjoyed practicing law, for the most-part. Despite the statistics put forth by the ABA regarding career dissatisfaction, I actually found a certain amount of fulfillment in my work. Helping others at their time of need, when they were most vulnerable, truly intrigued and motivated me. But after many years of defending violent criminals, hearing their sordid tales of murders and rapes, and creating plausible defenses for them, I was receptive to a new chapter. I was, after all, a vibrant 48.
As an undergraduate in Upstate New York (Plattsburgh), I dreamt of becoming the next Oscar Madison, sustaining my body with ballpark food and my soul with late-inning comebacks. After chasing that dream for many years as a younger man, I learned that late nights, away games, and locker rooms were not exactly my calling. So what were my passions now?
A young (he was then) and charismatic rabbi joined our fractured congregation in Connecticut about 15 years and began rebuilding it. In the process, he renewed a long-dormant voice inside me. A teacher and leader in the truest sense of those words, he stoked a passion for Judaism and Israel that intensifies unabatedly. Leaving him, and his family behind, perhaps the topic of a future essay, would prove to be one of the most difficult elements of this journey.
So armed with a burning passion for all-things Israeli, I attempted to tap into the Washington DC not-for-profit world. I began about 13 months ago. I am not day-school educated. I did not attend a yeshiva or speak fluent Hebrew. I do not come from a well-known shul. Rather, I am a public-school kid. Hebrew school three painful days a week for five years. Recently (15 years ago) in love with my own Judaism and Israel. So how do I go about proving my bona fides? My commitment? I suppose I will just have to keep panning for gold, and be patient. Because as I have often been told, to be a Jew, is to be an optimist.