“What’s it like the second time?”
I heard this question on repeat throughout the week as the young women at Snorkel and Study asked about my previous experience. I assume most young women ask because they want to anticipate the change they will experience after the program. A year ago I came to Snorkel and Study not expecting to change very much at all. I wanted to learn more about my heritage and mitzvot. With my lifestyle as a busy pre-medical university student I did not expect to be able to change my lifestyle whatsoever. I was busy, stressed, and on a challenging path that, I assumed, would not yield a more balanced life in the near future. I never imagined that the program would plant a seed in my soul that would change my perspective on life completely.
I loved the idea of shabbat in theory. Learning about shabbat in the program was amazing and I admired the families of the instructors with their many children sitting at the shabbat table every week. I appreciated it from a distance, knowing that it could never be for someone with my lifestyle. I assumed shabbat was for those with different life trajectories and different ambitions. Nevertheless I had a great time making challah, lighting candles, and connecting with the world around me. As an Israeli with embarrassingly low Hebrew skills, that night was the first night I understood the words to the shabbat songs as my madricha, Peri, explained every line and dragged her fingers along every word so I could follow. The words were so beautiful, describing shabbat as a bride. How could I hear this song my whole life and not know what it was about? I was moved to tears by the beauty of the song.
After dinner Peri and I discussed the question of what makes a meaningful life. She mentioned that shabbat was an integral part of her weekly routine. I told her I could not take a break from my studies for shabbat and even if I did I would be immensely bothered by the looming piles of work waiting for me after shabbat was finished. We agreed that keeping shabbat should be an act that comes from the soul rather than something forced. We spent the rest of the night conversing about fascinating topics. We have kept in touch and I hope to continue our friendship for many years to come.
The program came to a close and I went back to university life with a changed perspective on life and an open mind. Instead of waking up in a state of panic about the day’s upcoming test I would start my day with gratitude (Modeh Ani) and wishes to be able to physically change the world in a positive way using my two hands (Netilat Yadaim). My education was transitioning from in-the-classroom to internships and a greater focus on medical research. With more contact with professionals in my field I would often interview successful individuals about the steps they take to have such great achievement and balance in their lives.
Through the coffee meetings and endless questions the answer was overwhelmingly, “Shabbat.” I was stunned. How can they be better than their peers if they work one day less? I dismissed this with the idea that they must all be geniuses and this was the true source of their success. I did not feel like a genius. I felt more like a tired and stressed student than anything else. A few months later I decided to give Shabbat a try, unconvinced by the answers I received but open minded enough to try it once. I ended up trying it a few more times and today I no longer study on shabbat. My relationships with friends and family are stronger and my grades have never been higher. I am more connected to the world around me, significantly more balanced and at peace.
As I unpacked my belongings in my room overlooking the Marina in my second time at Snorkel and Study, my roommate was explaining to me that she could never do shabbat, “It’s just not practical for me as a student in the sciences.” I smiled and told her I understand her completely. Coming back a second time allowed me to share my story with her and to encourage her to keep an open mind to different perspectives.
I often explain to others that the program planted a seed in my soul. My tree was growing roots underneath the surface and growth was only visible a while after the program. Only many months later did I begin to fully appreciate how valuable shabbat truly was in my life. Every individual will have different ideas they connect to but the important aspect is that one is always reaching upwards in their growth toward kindness, knowledge, Jewish unity, and Hashem.
When everything comes full circle, there comes a point where you know it is for a greater purpose. My life was changed by Snorkel and Study so I may be able to share my story with young adults in situations that are similar to my own. I am grateful that I was able to be the voice that encouraged others to take on a wider perspective of the world and of their own lives. Seeing the “bigger picture” makes you a more empathetic and wiser person and these are traits that enhance any life situation. I hope to continue spreading this message to others in my journey to becoming a physician.
The inevitable truth is that our years on this earth are numbered but I am certain that the light we share with others about Judaism will burn bright endlessly for generations to come.