It's hard to believe that just one week ago I was anticipating my year in Israel while still in the comfort of my own home in Solon, Ohio. What's even harder to believe is that just one year ago I was studying for my last rounds of ACTs and SATs, finalizing my college resume, and obsessing over perfecting my nine different applications in preparation for what I thought would be my next year in college. Now I'm sitting in my seminary dorm room in Israel laughing at how naive I was.
This past year, my mind has weathered every state imaginable, from soaring high with confidence and assurance to willowing in desolate basements of confusion and doubt. Like most people my age, never before was I forced to think about my future in such a serious way. School, year after year, was always a given, but suddenly I was expected to grow up and take my next steps into my own hands. For the first time I deliberated where I wanted to be, and reflected on how I had gotten to where I was.
After 12 years of a solid Gross Schechter Day School education, I had a strong sense of who I was and what I believed in. Four years in public high school put that to the test, but I ultimately emerged stronger and even more sure of myself because I was forced to overcome trials and questions on a daily basis.
Through my transition from day school to public school my connection to Judaism was tremendously influenced by NCSY, a youth group with chapters all over the country. As my involvement in the organization grew, I was honored to serve on NCSY's Central East Regional Board this past school year. The day I was elected I gained countless more "followers" and friend requests on my social media pages, people I barely knew reached out to me with religious and personal inquiries, and I was expected to lead programs and give insightful speeches on Shabbatons and events (winging d'var Torahs in five minutes would no longer fly). It was the first time I was held to any sort of standard in my Jewish practice because people were not only watching me, but looking up to me; I quickly realized I was representing a name much bigger than my own. My year became an indulgence of extraordinary growth and self discovery. Although I learned and transformed in many meaningful ways, I was still left with serious questions and doubts - how are we expected to keep the Torah that we accepted thousands of years ago in the modern era of 2017? How can I fundamentally disagree with certain Torah laws but still respect God? According to observant Judaism, what is my role as a woman? If I feel of lesser value according to this, why would I want to progress in a religion that doesn't see me as "equal" to my male peers? If I classify as a conservative Jew, why do I even care? I had (and have) an intense need to fill the void.
I have NCSY to thank for encouraging me to explore the option of seminary, somewhere I never pictured myself, but after just one short week here, somewhere I can't imagine not experiencing. From 9:00am to 9:00pm every day I take classes ranging from Halacha (Jewish law), to Gemara (technical skill), to Mussar (Jewish thought and concepts). I designed my own schedule consisting of 17 different classes a week, taught by teachers of all different backgrounds, observance levels and viewpoints. My favorite two classes are ironically the two most opposing classes that the seminary offers, and I take them back to back. "What is a Jew?" Is an idealistic class taught by a Hasidic Rabbi who removes his glasses in class to avoid looking at us female students. I then attend "Am Segula," a class which discusses philosophical issues that Judaism faces in an ever-changing and predominantly secular world. This class is taught by a more liberal Rabbi with very modern and open-minded views.
In addition to spending time in the classroom, I'm also enjoying living in the land of Israel. Learning more about the people, culture and language are opportunities that I'm excited to experience as my year unfolds - but even the simple things like ordering off of a Hebrew menu at a restaurant, or learning to maneuver my way through the shuk on a busy Friday afternoon are just the beginning of exploring a new world which I'm thrilled to be living in for the next year.
I look forward to updating you as I learn and experience more!
More from Sydni
Sydni Burg is a 2017 graduate of Solon High School. She is spending this year studying in Jerusalem in a seminary called Midreshet Moriah. There, she takes religious classes on all topics, books, concepts and laws of Judaism.