By Sheina Raskin
They say go with the norm. Socially, religiously, politically or even emotionally. Whether this flow is positive, negative or neutral, it’s comfortable to do what is being done in ones social circles. Society dictates, in a sense, various standards for how we should act, think and feel to which we subconsciously abide by.
The norm is to go to seminary. It is accepted by the religious Jewish community that after 13 years of school, a girl should spend a year of learning in an inspiring context. The right grades, background, references and connections are imperative in the selection process so that a close to perfect, chassidish, learned and mature girl can be completed.
Girls come from different homes, schools and environments which influence the way they interact, learn, behave and think. There seems to be a prerequisite for a year of success, believed by those that run our schools. That is, that success is defined by a selection of a group relatively on the same level academically and religiously.
Consequently I began to view the system as a factory, an generic developmental process to reach a state of community approval. Hundreds of different beings enter in the hope that they leave a better version of themselves, however this change is limited to what the system desires of them in context to the group.
As is known, Chabad seminaries, especially in Israel are very limited in number and size, and represent extremes of the spectrum. I wanted to make my experience real and meaningful, to have all the time, effort and money to be worthwhile for myself and my parents.
Although I couldn’t find any place that I felt confident would be the right place for me, I was too afraid to leave the system. I therefore settled for what was guaranteed exceptional seminary experiences. I felt the least I could do to remain strong to my individuality was to myself personal goals. In order to give myself a chance to grow in the areas I felt needed.
I wanted to live Torah, to experience cultures within Judaism, appreciate Chabad, live our Jewish history, be academically stimulated, to have a clearer sense of self, and be able to motivated and able to learn on my own.
As an Australian I did half a year of 2 seminaries in both Australia and Israel. Most of the girls I was surrounded with flourished, learnt a lot and had incredible experiences.Unfortunately though I found the system routine and superficial without a sense of instillment. Torah and other subjects like in high school was a class, not a reality. Whilst I learnt more then I have ever in my life,
After a year of seminary, half in 2 very different institutions I felt I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to. I gained from the diversity of the groups and made real friends for life. The experiences I had we’re mostly positive with memories I will always cherish. When it came to learning, due to lack of interest and respect classes were not so productive. I managed though to do alot of self learning and persistence to apply what I learnt. I became disheartened when these personal victories where ignored and not appreciated while my personal struggles where viewed as defying authority. I came into the seminary system fresh, motivated and focused, I left disappointed and even more confused.
I made a decision, took a step towards personal growth and a step away from the system. After a year of seminary yet with another few months in the program I was in, I chose a path that I believe in essence is the purpose of seminary. Independence, maturity, introspection and living what is being learned. I joined a Sherut Leumi as a full time volunteer in Sharei Tzedek Medical Centre, and put my ahavat Yisrael and ahavat eretz Yisrael in action.
I loved it. After every single day I felt accomplished, proud of who I am, that I was constantly learning and making a difference.I brushed up on my Hebrew as I worked side by side inspiring patients, families, doctors and nurses. I joined Mayanot Women’s Program for classes where the focus is real life and practical putting what I was learning into action. What I found when treated with respect as an individual and having a real life responsibilities are the two imperative factors in growth and success
For most it’s accepted to go with the flow.
For others it’s important to be the flow.
Don’t go to seminary because everyone is going, be your own “seminary”. Become your own factory of success, set goals and achieve them; become the outcome you want the outcome to be. After 13 years of school you should be able to be honest and mature enough with yourself to make choices that influence your future. If you have the desire to connect to your roots, to learn and to be inspired you deserve the experience. Whether its in a structured learning institution, a year of shluchos/ volunteering or first year of collage don’t be afraid to take the path that will be the best for your personal road to growth.
Hopefully with enough knowledge, awareness, and urging, new seminaries will open that cater to individuals. Firstly I recommend well established seminaries to assess the way they run their institutions. When the focus is on the student rather the system there can only be true and long lasting affects. Communities too, should consider before judging if and what seminary a girl goes as a solid assumption of what/who the girl is. Finally, to those in distress in their decision making, don’t let your desire to with go with the flow limit your ability to succeed.