Uncertain Certain Joy

sukkah-Aaron MI don’t like uncertainty. I doubt that anyone does.

Lately, though, I’ve been swimming in it. In early July, I had the incredible opportunity to study for two weeks with the Jewish Renewal movement. I immersed in community life; met smart, dedicated, and interesting people; and took classes on holy relationships, Hasidic stories, and medieval philosophy. I was there to learn, but also to evaluate…and be evaluated.

Earlier in the year, I’d applied for acceptance into the ALEPH Rabbinic Ordination program. These two weeks would tell me whether this program was right for me—and it would tell ALEPH leadership whether I was a good fit for their program.

Over the course of the two weeks, I felt more and more certain that this was, indeed, the right path for me, and the right time. I knew financial aid in the form of scholarships was limited. I decided that, if accepted, I would take out student loans in order to pursue this path.

In mid-July, I got accepted into the ALEPH Rabbinic Ordination Program. Amazing! Right away I set about figuring out all the practical next steps—everything from signing paperwork to registering for classes to figuring out funding.

And…that’s where I hit a wall. The program is not accredited. That means I can’t apply for federal aid in the form of grants or loans. So, private loans, then. Nope. So far, I can’t find any private lenders that offer long-term loans for unaccredited educational programs.

Somehow, I’d traveled far enough down this path that I could feel and taste it—and only then did I see that it might not be possible for me.

Still, I was determined to try. I put together this GoFundMe page. Maybe an angel would appear, one who believes in a dynamic future for the Jewish people; one who thinks social & environmental justice work (tikkun olam) is an essential part of a lived Judaism; and one who wants to encourage new Jewish leaders with the extra money they just happen to have sitting around. Surely those people are out there, right? I had to try.

So far, twenty five people have donated amounts ranging from $11 to $252. These beautiful souls have helped me pay for my first semester in the program, which is currently underway. I am so grateful for each one of their gifts, and for the learning it is supporting!

But I also now see the reality, which is that unless and until I have a higher income, I won’t be able to continue this path of study. My goal right now is to at least finish this first year, but as of this moment, even that is uncertain.

So here I am: trying to hold onto hope, but unable to see how the path unfolds from here.

Have I mentioned how much I don’t like uncertainty?

I am writing this on the morning before Sukkot begins. Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Notwithstanding the ancient and weird practice of waving the lulav and etrog (admit it: it’s weird!), I love being outside with friends and family in the sukkah. This time of year in Texas, we usually start to get a break from the oppressive heat of the summer, so it’s finally nice to be outside.

I love, too, some of the ideas of Sukkot. During this holiday, we dwell in temporary shelters, open to the elements—just as the Israelites did on their sojourn through the wilderness. Just as we do, ultimately, in our sojourn through life. Really, nothing is certain. Our every moment is open to the elements, precarious and precious.

During this holiday, we are commanded to be happy. Even though I’m not sure exactly how to make myself be happy at any given moment, I love this commandment. The idea?—fully embrace the fragility and uncertainty of life, while saying “Yes!” to life, the world, and God in joy and gratitude.

Another thing: Sukkot moves us out of the synagogue, where we’ve been a lot lately for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and brings us out into the world. Judaism on the move!

This year, I have the privilege of traveling during the first part of the Sukkot holiday to some places I’ve never visited: Laredo and Cotulla, Texas. While there, I hope to learn some about these communities through the eyes of people who live there, with a particular focus on learning about some of the challenges that these communities face—including poverty, immigration, and environmental health. While I’ll miss hearing Hallel prayers and some of that weird lulav and etrog waving, I look forward to the opportunity to take my Judaism out into the world.

I don’t know what the future holds. Whether I’ll be able to keep going in the ALEPH program or not. Whether there’s a different program of study that I might should pursue for now, and come back to rabbinic studies at a later date. Whether I’ll need to take a break from formal study for a while and focus just on raising my boys.

As frustrating as not-knowing is for me, I see that really, so long as we are alive and in good health, all of those options are good ones—because every day is a simple, amazing gift.

Maybe that’s the heart of the Sukkot lesson: to fully live and move out in the world with simple, everyday, uncertain, grateful joy.

Chag sameach! Happy holidays.


Above photo used courtesy of Aaron M via Flickr Creative Commons.

3 thoughts on “Uncertain Certain Joy

  1. Pingback: Leaving ALEPH | yaira robinson

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