Hello future classmates, colleagues, and friends. If you’re interested in applying to HUC-JIR to be a rabbi, educator, or cantor, but something is holding you back, please keep reading. I’ve been in Israel now 4 months. My first year is already a third of the way over and it’s hard to believe that it’s gone by so fast! Now that I have some down time from classes, settling into Israel, and the High Holy Days, I’m able to reflect for a few minutes on my journey and what held me back for so long.
Since I was a young child going to Sunday School, I’ve been fascinated by Judaism and intrigued about the idea of becoming a rabbi. I minored in Jewish Studies in college and worked at Jewish nonprofits after graduating college. I continued to be interested in the rabbinate, but never applied. Why? Hebrew.
I struggle with learning languages. I’m good at many things, but learning a foreign language is not one of them. I stumbled through four years of Spanish in high school and barely made it through a year of Hebrew in college. I knew I needed the equivalent of two years of college-level Hebrew to begin HUC-JIR and I knew I didn’t have it. Every time I thought about becoming a rabbi the issue of Hebrew came up, I lost my confidence, and I put the idea away for another day.
Time went by and ten years after graduating , it was clear that my interest in rabbinical school wasn’t going away and my Hebrew was only getting worse. So I buckled down, found a tutor, and applied. It wasn’t pretty, but I finally did well enough to start the Year-In-Israel program, which is where I am now.
Pre-Ulpan was AMAZING. For students who are struggling with their Hebrew, HUC-JIR organizes an intensive pre-Ulpan in June, a month before orientation begins. Every student in that class had struggled with learning Hebrew. We’d had bad teachers, bad experiences, and bad attitudes, but we were blessed with literally, THE most amazing Hebrew teacher in the world. I can’t tell you how often a grammatical rule or conjugation or concept would click would click for one of us and would be shocked: Wait- it was that easy? It suddenly seemed so simple and we learned so much.
I’m not emphasizing this because there is one amazing Hebrew teacher at HUC-JIR; rather, I’m sharing this because of HUC-JIR’s commitment to help its students. Our teacher stayed after class every day to go over any questions we had; the school helped me find a Hebrew tutor; and together we made sure I got the support I needed. I look back now and it seems silly that my struggles with Hebrew held me back for so long. It seems so obvious now that if a school accepts you into a program, they’ll want to see you succeed there too. So if you are thinking about your next steps, but something is holding you back, don’t let that prevent you from embarking on the journey.
Daniel Schaefer is a first year student in the Rabbinic program, and is currently studying in the Year in Israel program on the Jerusalem campus.