Alissa Burstein

Have you ever met an Israeli prostitute with a doctorate?

A version of this post appeared at the beginning of the week but it was suggested that I convey the same message, from a different angle. The challenge was fun, and here is the result in place of the original post:

I am a prostitute with a doctorate. And that’s fine.

By way of reminder, according to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, a prostitute is defined as “A person who misuses their talents or behaves unworthily for personal or financial gain.”

I made Aliya in my twenties —  the most important and best decision I have ever made — immediately after finishing a masters degree in psychology from a very prestigious US university. However, I quickly learned, that field in Israel was (and probably still is) a guild. Try to break in and you will encounter obstacle after obstacle. But I listened to the powers that be, like a good girl, and did my “hashlamot”—extra coursework locally to qualify for my license. I learned a lot and, yes, got that license. But guess what? In the meanwhile I seemed to have fallen into a routine of working. I can’t say I loved what I did at that point, but since I had to pay the bills, I quickly got used to the idea of prostituting myself at office jobs instead of pursuing what I thought would be my career. The cost-benefit of switching just didn’t seem to make sense at that point. Also, with little kids popping into my life every few years, sick days, maternity leaves, parent-teacher meetings, yada yada yada—it didn’t seem like I’d be up for employee of the year award. Sure, others have persisted and succeeded, but I did not. Mea culpa.

That was some two decades ago. Years passed and life happened. Most of the kids have grown up, but to be honest, I kind of got used to my routine. Sure, I was idling at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – tending to our basic needs such as getting food on the table and paying the essential bills. But I was comfortable and never really pursued what he terms “self actualization,” the higher level of human needs. I was stuck. In the micro, my life was fine, I had no complaints or grudges to bear and nothing was lacking, but in the macro, I knew something had to be done. Something was missing.

So a few years ago I got my PhD, in education. I finally fulfilled a dream I had been harboring since my pre-Aliya days. Self actualization here we come. But guess what? The bills weren’t going away, if anything, they were growing, so again I found myself fearing taking any risks. Yet my job neither grew with my broadened horizons nor offered me substantial room for professional growth.  What to do? Correct, you are beginning to catch on—I am still prostituting myself.  Mistake me not, I love the people I work with and I love the cause I work for, but the bottom line is that in terms of my career, I have not progressed very far. I know others have had their cake and have eaten it too, but I just never did. Micro is fine. Macro, failure.

Which brings me to the present. I am feeling a bit insecure lately at my current workplace, the “home” where I have spent most daylight hours for the past 12 years. But unfortunately I may need to move on. Will I now have the opportunity to pursue my career, share with the world all I have acquired from my higher education and experience, this time unencumbered by little children and the insecurities of youth? Will I now be able to work on the macro? I can only hope so. However, even at this stage I still cannot take chances, so if need be I will again prostitute myself. With a smile.

I will do anything (legal!) that I am qualified to do, which means that I am again prepared to forgo my education and professional training, to prostitute myself. But, with more freedom of motion now, the doctorate under my belt, professional finesse and a good taste in my mouth from years of wonderful colleagues and positive work experiences – both in academia as well as the private sector – I should hope to have more options at my fingertips. However, the bottom line is, as I remind my children, what counts is the process, not only the product.  It’s not always that bad. The day to day micro is as important as the macro.

And, I console myself believing that the truth is,  I am probably not the only academic prostitute out there.

Postscript: I think I have just proven, to myself especially, that any scenario can be seen, analyzed, and explained from various perspectives. Try it too. You may like it.

About the Author
Alissa Burstein is a mother, wife and cat lover living in the center of Israel. With a PhD in education, she currently works at the Bar-Ilan University Azrieli Faculty of Medicine in an administrative capacity. Yoga and good coffee (and cats!) keep her somewhat sane.
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