Sunday, April 23, 2006

Reflections and Dreams

I've made up my mind as to where I'll be going to school.

So let's just say: See you in New York next year!

This past week, I spent a Shabbos at the University of Chicago. It was a beautiful Shabbos, and there were and are many ways in which I would grow as a Jew if I had decided to attend that school. The question is not whether I would stay religious if I went there- that is essentially a given.

The question became- or perhaps it always was- who is Chana? And what is important to her?

And I realized that challenging and honing one part of my mind would not be enough for me. I am a whole person, and as a whole person I need my Judaics. Rather, I need to be challenged Judaically. I can supplement my English studies; I cannot supplement my Judaica.

Which was hard. Because it meant letting go of a dream.

It meant looking at this dream-Chana, the dream-Chana who has the ability to dazzle the world, attend a famous and prestigious grad school, hobnob with intellectuals and future Nobel Laureates, looking at her and saying- No.

Not, "No, I will never do this." Not, "No, my life is ruined, I will never fulfill my dreams." Not even, "No, I cannot be as great as I wished to be."

Because I believe I can still fulfill this dream if I choose to do so. I can be the exception. I shall not be the typical or stereotypical "Stern girl." I will simply fulfill my dream differently.

It meant saying no to one dream, and replacing it with a different one.

Do I want the University of Chicago? Yes, I do. I love their academics, I love their people, I love their facilities, their amenities, their libraries. I want everything there. I want my dream-Chana. But the only way I could go there is if I weren't Chana.

The truth is- if I weren't Jewish I would go there in a heartbeat. Easiest decision ever made.

But what I realized is that not only am I Jewish, but I have the ability to give over Judaism. I felt like there was so much I could contribute to the Hillel there, if I chose to attend, and there was also a lot I would gain simply from being a part of that environment; eating Shabbos dinner with people of all different affiliations. But as I was thinking this, I couldn't help but realize, My God, if I can give this now, what could I give if I knew more? If I can be the teacher-the enthusiast- the individualist- now, then who could I be?

I felt it would be a crime to sacrifice that part of myself- the part that has the aptitude for Chumash and Tanakh. It would be...a waste. And it would leave me only half-fulfilled.

Because I could be...oh, I can be!...brilliant, when it comes to English. My education at U of C would have been brilliant. I would have been tested, challenged, prodded, forced to reevaluate my ideas and opinions- I would have been amidst my peers and equals, and I would have thrived.

But at what expense?

Last night was painful. I was mourning my dream. I let it drift away from me, flying up towards the sky, perhaps to stand before God. I saw myself as I could be...and I realized it could not be.

Perhaps the worst part is that I have made this decision myself. My parents had nothing to do with it. They said nothing. It was and is completely up to me. They were both completely shocked; they had assumed I would go to U of C. Everything I had stated pointed toward that conclusion.

We shall see. I'm going to Stern. I'm going to develop both parts of my mind. And I'm going to do my damndest to be brilliant, but it shall come about in a different way.

    כב וְרָאִיתִי, כִּי אֵין טוֹב מֵאֲשֶׁר יִשְׂמַח הָאָדָם בְּמַעֲשָׂיו--כִּי-הוּא, חֶלְקוֹ: כִּי מִי יְבִיאֶנּוּ לִרְאוֹת, בְּמֶה שֶׁיִּהְיֶה אַחֲרָיו.
    22 Wherefore I perceived that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion; for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

    Ecclesiastes 3:22


Jewish Atheist said...

Best of luck, Chana. :-) I know you can thrive wherever you go. Making decisions is hard because you can never travel both paths, but, on the other hand, there always seem to be more choices in the future than you ever thought possible.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm not sure what to say. Since I've never been one to let go of dreams that have actually knocked on my door. Or wait, maybe I have...

Best of luck!

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana: Much much hatzlacha -- and don't forget how lucky you are to have been given such a "difficult" decision in the first place!

I'm sure you'll be a fantastic academic scholar at Stern, make yourself (and all of us ;-) very proud -- and you'll be very content with the "Jewish" side of your decision as well.

Toby Katz said...

Chana, mazal tov on your scholarship and mazal tov on making the decision you made. It was hard but IMO you made the right decision, and have the potential to be a credit to Klal Yisrael.

And there is still graduate school....

dbs said...



Fulfill your dreams and dazzle the world.

It may just take a bit more effort:

אִם-קֵהָה הַבַּרְזֶל, וְהוּא לֹא-פָנִים קִלְקַל, וַחֲיָלִים, יְגַבֵּר; וְיִתְרוֹן הַכְשֵׁיר, חָכְמָה.

Kohelet 10:10

And perhaps the fact that this decision was made by independently by you was the best part.

Anonymous said...

Good for you. I'm sure your decision will turn out to be the right one.

By the way, I linked to your White Rose in my latest post. I apologize for doing so without asking permission.

Sarah Likes Green said...

A difficult decision but a good one. Don't think of it as giving up your dream... just as a different version of a dream and you will make the most of the path that you have chosen. And there's always a post-grad and places to go after Stern :)

Hazlacha Raba :)

Lab Rab said...

Good luck Chana. It's decisions like this that define who we are. I made a similar decision 8 years ago and haven't looked back; I wish for you that you enjoy YU as much as I did.

Ezzie said...

Much like LabRab, I made a similar decision a few years ago [and am working on another, bigger one as we speak]. Best of luck - and well thought out. You're continually impressive. :)

Anonymous said...

"Last night was painful. I was mourning my dream. I let it drift away from me, flying up towards the sky, perhaps to stand before God."

Geez, no need to be so dramatic. So you chose the crappy school over the good school in order to be around frum people. Not the end of the world.

Tobie said...

On behalf of U of C, I say "aw, shucks."

On behalf of somebody who cares about your development as a person, I say that I'm glad that you made this decision the way you did, glad that you have come to a conclusion that will express yourself the best way possible, glad that you didn't settle, and so on and so forth.

Don't think of it as burying the dream Chana, but as creating a new dream Chana. Every second, every decision.

Best of luck

Irina Tsukerman said...

Best of luck! Listen, if you ever need any help or anything while you're here (in NYC), feel free to call me anytime! In fact, if you just need a friend or anything, I'll be around! : ) I'm not a Stern student, but NYC is a wonderful place, and you won't find academic challenges lacking!

Anonymous said...

You will surely do well wherever you venuture; I do think it is a bit arrogant to believe oneself to be so superior to others- Stern is a fine school and I know that all those a bit older than you would surely agree that there is no one road to success and certainly no guarantees in life- Good luck for sure and ease up on putting down Stern- I bet you'll learn more than you can now imagine.

Larry Lennhoff said...

1) The amazing thing of this time of your life is the sheer potential in the number and variety of unopened doors available. Part of growing up is passing through some of them. One the one hand it means there are others you never pass through. On the other hand by passing through them you take some of the potentialities and make them actual.

2) My wife wants to get on the list for having you out to NJ for a Shabbat once you get settled. I'm guessing that means sophmore year. :>)

Anonymous said...

To the first anonymous- it was a big decision for me, and what you think of as drama was actually how I felt. Your way of putting it is also wrong- it wasn't that simple a decision.

To the second anonymous- Think it's arrogant all you like. I was never the one to claim to be humble. *smile* Moreover, the term "superior" need not be employed. The term "well-read" might suit, however.

Larry- Thank you so much! I'd very much like to accept. :)

Lee said...

Hi Chana! I've sort of been a fly on the wall for a while, but I just wanted to let you know this: About a year ago, back in the days when I actually kept a journal, I wrote a heart-rending entry about a dream of mine that I let go of. The funny part was for me that I didn't even know if I wanted that dream, which was to be a Judaic Studies teacher, inspiring my students to be the best they can. After months of wondering whether I should do it, I finally came to the decision that it wasn't for me. I cried like you wouldn't believe. It just pained me to let it go. Fast forward about a year, and where am I now. Teaching Judaic studies, (hopefully) inspiring my students...the point is that we never know what our future will bring. Dreams may or may not be fulfilled, but remember, life will surprise you. I guarantee it. Good luck in Stern; I think you'll do wonderfully!

Chana said...

Dearest Semgirl,

I'm curious to know what you mean by the slutty girls of Stern. Do you know any of them who you find to be promiscuous? Are these rumors? What have you seen? Thanks...


Thank you. Perhaps I can still have my dream.

miriamp said...

Are you sure you're only 17? Anyway, I hope you'll be pleased with your choices in life... and if you're not, then remember that you aren't really the driver after all.

But from here it sounds like you made the right decision for you, and none of the rest of us should presume to second-guess you. Your reasoning is well-thought out, and your writing is beautiful.

Best of luck in college and beyond.

Eshet Chayil said...

Chana, no matter where you go you'll find these types of girls. But I wouldn't worry too much. I know litvishe girls who have gone to stern and turned out just fine. It's kind of like bais yaakov. You have different ranges of girls there. Nothing to worry about if you have a good head on your shoulders.

Anonymous said...

I tried to stay quiet but I can't. Sorry.

Semgirl: Your comment is off on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin.

Let's start here. I find it very humerous that you of all girls, supposedly so open minded because of your years "suffering" in Lakewood, would find it so easy to judge AN ENTIRE SCHOOL like that. Not to mention that you yourself have openly admitted to a certain level of promiscuity of your own on your very own blog.

So coming from you, your comment should be taken with an absolute grain of salt anyway. A very, very miniscule one at that.

Now that we have established that you are in no position to judge anyway, your comment was so off base that it was ludicrous. Do you honestly believe that Stern College For Women is made up of hundreds of slutty girls with nothing more in their heads than chasing YU guys? Do you honestly believe that? I know thousands of student WHO ACTUALLY WENT THERE who would disagree with you. Like, oh I don't know, my sister - Who probably possesses levels of true eirlichkiet and frumkeit that you will never know.

And to say that going to U of C, with its handful of Jewish people and Hillel House is a better place to be than entrenched under the umbrella of Yeshiva University - well, your ignorance speaks for itself.

I could go on. Really I could. But I won't. I'm afraid of being deleted by the Admin.

Josh said...

Hmm, seems like some strong opinions. Fortunately, only one that matters, and she seems at peace with her decision. Chana - choosing a college, like anything, requires a personal assessment. There's no one school that's right for everybody. Do people go to Stern and become not frum? Yes. Do people go to UofC and become frum? Yes. Does that mean that those are unquestionable formulas? Hardly. You did your research, and you know the one elemental factor that is important more than we ever will - yourself. Good luck next year, and I'll be happy to share my knowledge of Stern (and UofC if you still want it)!

Josh said...

Elster - I think you read more into SG's comments than was meant. Her point is that people fall into a trap of the Yetzer Hora when they are surrounded by Frum people - they think they don't have to choose their friends carefully, since everybody is frum. But we all know that frum has many different levels. Somebody can go to Stern, and think that whatever girls there do is frum and acceptable. But sadly, this isn't 100% the case. Whereas a student at a secular college knows that 99% of the school doesn't share the same values as a frum person, and therefore automatically hesitates before joining her peers. So it's not a question of absolutes, but a question of relative strength. Some people have the inner power to go against the grain of 99% of a school, and come out with a much stronger view of self-identity. Sadly, however, this is the vast minority. The same is true in the first scenario. That is why each individual needs to consider which will be a greater test for herself. The important thing is that she is aware of all the factors when making her decision.

SG - Notwithstanding the above, I believe you are letting your personal prejudices jade your view. You are correct that all Stern students don't represent the frummest of standards, even in the Modern Orthodox world. But the frum world is not intrinsically corrupt, and one need not abandon the frum community to discover oneself.

Anonymous said...

Josh - Respectfully disagree -Sg made a very silly overgeneralization about "slutty" Stern girls - not only wrong - but on some level frighteningly self serving. I stand by every word of what i wrote.

blueenclave said...

"Do not say, When I have time, I will study, because you may not have time". This is what it comes down to. I worked so hard this semester trying to be not even brilliant, but competent, that I studied intermittently. I said to myself when it was all over, "It is better to be in a situation where you can fail, and you have to try, than to be in a situation where you cannot fail." In fact, I may give Wash.U. another try next semester, because they are giving a class in data mining by one of the bioinformatics people. If you are learning Torah you may be able to sail over the English classes where you are not challenged.

blueenclave said...

Data mining has real uses. It's not all spying, you know :)