Five years ago, a few months after I returned from my gap year in Israel, I sat around a table of adults who were ten years ahead of me in the game of life. As we enjoyed our Shabbat lunch, they asked me – an ambitious yet timid 19-year old – what my plans were for the future. I relayed my hopes to be an English Literature major, work in Jewish education and, ultimately, to live a life that revolves around Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. My musings incited robust guffaws, clicks of the tongue and glances of pity.
“Wait until you get your first dose of the real world,” a well-meaning lunch-mate, already well-steeped in the realities of adult life, explained. “You’ll see how hard it is.After all, I had dreams like that once upon a time, and it didn’t work out for me.”
Nods of approval followed his half-hearted confession. It was clear from the way these people downplayed the importance of their Jewish goals and values, that I wasn’t going to convince them otherwise. They had made their sacrifices and compromises for Judaism, and perhaps, in their eyes, Judaism just didn’t deliver.
Five years later, I am beginning to understand where their attitudes could have come from. Sometimes, life disappoints us. Sometimes, we disappoint ourselves. It’s hard to accept – sometimes to the point of wondering if it is possible to move upward and onward. Even so, I still stick to the words I wrote that Motzei Shabbat, as I tried to fall asleep. The conversation had upset me so much, I had to write it out of my system (out with that teenage angst!). Yet through that frustration, I discovered my personal mantra; a sentence that would guide me through tough times, and continues to do so to this day. While we go through this difficult time as a nation, and as I consider what I can do at this time to affect positive change, I review my commitment to my mantra. Perhaps, by sharing it, it will help others create a mantra of their own, for the hard times, and the happy times:
I am a Jew first, I am a Jew last, and I am a Jew every moment in between.