That’s how it feels to be in yeshiva, happy to be studying Judaism, but growing increasingly angry at the fact that I have no time for anything else. A year ago I left home to travel, and not tied to anything or anyplace, in particular, I was able to find a love and opportunity in journalism that otherwise would not have been possible.
And now here I am, tied down to a place of my own choosing, unable to do the thing I love.
Studying Jewish tradition is an all-day endeavor and one that involves near-maximum brain power as we yeshiva-niks carve a path through old Hebrew, Aramaic, English, and the contextual/philosophical implications of what we read. Going through the Amidah line by line, and reading commentary on the prayer from the 13th century, opens up a new understanding of what it means to have a relationship with God through prayer. Grappling with the logic of the Talmud creates a new way of understanding the world we live in.
And diving into this Jewish world means my brain is mush by the end of the day, struggling through the haze of near-constant human interaction to try and work on new stories. I feel like I can no longer write entire pieces, only short, stumpy, incoherent paragraphs. Information doesn’t make any sense when I try to edit and compile it, as I have the literary patterns of the Talmud underlying anything I now try to say.
This is also while feeling one-dimensional due to communicating in English all the time. At this point, I get most of my contact with Russian from Facebook. An entire part of me is frozen while another part is exponentially growing.
Unable to stay updated on the world, promises to editors go down the drain while a story gets suspended from publication at Times of Israel because it’s not timely enough. Not just frozen. I feel like I’m moving backward, losing much of what I’ve worked towards for a year.
And what goes on outside the walls of the yeshiva? Oh, just a possible war with Gaza, narrowly avoided, that might now cause the current Israeli government to collapse, and elections to be held. It feels like millions of miles away, as I get texts from my dad and aunt asking if I’m safe in Jerusalem, and if it’s time to come home to Minnesota.
Home to Minnesota? Far away from all the interesting places to go, and the interesting stories to write about? Well, I can’t get to them even from Jerusalem, so what difference would it really make?
This is a crippling cynicism. Family wisdom understands that you can only get an education, and be productive with your life, in the context of an official institution, officially studying an official subject.
Last year I abandoned that wisdom and felt accomplished and proud of my work. This year I chose that wisdom, and now feel wasted, as even my attention on yeshiva is languishing as I become more and more miserable thinking about the work I can’t do, the things I can’t write, the motivation I don’t have, and the ability to make a difference that is now outside of reach.
What a bitter irony.
Does this mean I hate yeshiva? No, I love learning about Judaism and being in a place with interesting people and fantastic teachers.
But the feeling of being stuck might be too much for me to handle. Journalism is the act of reporting on the happenings of the world, and I am watching the happenings of the world go on far, far away from me. It’s like looking at Thanksgiving dinner, and being glued to the doorway of the living room, never able to reach, touch, or eat anything on the table.
But the smells, oh the delicious smell of that Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t go away. After a month and a half of being in that situation, how would you feel?
Well, a writer has to write about something, so might as well write about this. A passing phase, or will I end up feeling that I’ve destroyed a year of my life, moved nowhere, and done nothing?
We’ll see. I guess this is the danger of making decisions about life when young. The pressure is always, always on.