Here’s the deal. I realized during my conversion journey that I wanted to be a rabbi. It seemed completely audacious to even think of such a thing since I was not even a Jew yet and had only a few months of Jewish knowledge under my belt. The thought never left me and nine months after my conversion, I finally shared my feelings with a local fourth-year rabbinic student who attends my synagogue. She told me to give it more time, and invited me to audit one of her classes. Another nine months later, I audited her Talmud class and when it was over the rabbi teaching the class told me I belonged in it.
A month later I sat down with that rabbi to talk seriously about applying to rabbinic school, and a couple of months after that I sat down with the head of the school (Hebrew Seminary in north-suburban Skokie) who made it clear that he thought I belonged in rabbinic school, too. That was four months ago. Since then, both the Talmud teacher and the head of the program have reached out to me (directly and through friends) to nudge me along.
Four somewhat conflicting things have haunted me since this school and I started courting each other:
- I can’t shake the feeling that I just haven’t lived Jewishly long enough for me to be moving forward with this;
- I can’t silence the inner voice that keeps telling me that this is something I *must* do;
- I wish I had a yeshiva background or some other form of young-adult Jewish education; and
- Dammit, my entire life has been in a kind of doldrums-y holding pattern for the past four months since the head of the school handed me an application packet and I filed it away on a low shelf of my desk.
On Thursday, that last bullet point very unexpectedly started screaming in my ear. I went with it, set everything aside, pulled out the application materials, filled them out, and spent the next two days writing what turned out to be a six-page personal statement. Although I was surprised to be doing it, I felt a lot of peace and clarity that I hadn’t felt for months.
On Saturday night after sundown, after a big argument with Ryan over whether the school (or really, the synagogue where it’s housed) had a mail slot, he drove me the five miles over there (yes, I live five miles from my prospective rabbinic program) and I pushed the application through, until I heard it drop to the floor on the other side.
And the we went home and all I wanted was fried food covered in cheese, alcohol, and a steady stream of Disney park ride videos to shake the feeling that writing a personal statement for a rabbinic school was a lot like doing emotional surgery on myself with a blunt scalpel and without anesthesia.
I’ve either just done the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life, or five and a half years from now I’ll be Rabbi Doyle. What will be is in God’s hands, and more important right now is for me to find full employment (hello house expenses, hello old student loan, hello back taxes) and make sure my head doesn’t explode until Ryan and I get to Walt Disney World on Memorial Day weekend to continue his 40th birthday bi-coastal year of Disney.
I have no idea how I’ll afford to go if I get in. I need to get over the feeling that I’m in way over my head. I need to concentrate on the feeling that I’ll make a great rabbi. Because I will. And I need to kick my own butt into studying my Hebrew every day from now until however this turns out.
I know there are rabbinical students and rabbis out there for whom sending in their application was matter-of-fact easy. There must be rabbinic students out there whose decision to move forward was as fraught as mine has been. I always say struggle means you’re doing Jewish right, though, so maybe my anxiety is a good sign.
I’ve heard more than a few times from well-meaning people who care about me, and I’ve read more than a few times in articles and blog posts about considering the rabbinate, that it might be better to consider other ways to serve the Jewish people. After all, rabbinic school is expensive, the workload is challenging, and finding a job these days is hard. And really, the world doesn’t need another rabbi. I have only one thing to say in response.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.