Like many rabbis I am asked on a pretty regular basis what made me decide to go into the rabbinate as a career. I was not raised particularly religious and until my mid-20’s I had planned on a career in clinical psychology. And like most rabbis I have a number of different versions of the “why I decided to go rabbinical school story,” but when asked about the moment or experience that really served as the tipping point, I always look back to the Livnot summer program I took part in through Hillel in the summer of 2007. While I had become more observant in college and Jewish life was very much the center of my college experience at University of Pennsylvania. I still planned to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology when I took a job as the Jewish Campus Service Corp Fellow at Yale Hillel.
The Livnot trip fell between my first and second years at Hillel and I would credit Livnot with two main things, both which are huge for me:
1) Arriving at Hillel, I loved Judaism in terms of the community and learning and specifically Shabbat observance, but I was not particularly tapped into a relationship with God and awe and spirituality. The Livnot trip was the start of my experience of living a life of radical amazement. The hike led my Micha’el up Har Yishai stands out, along with our Shabbatot, as moments where I felt more alive and appreciative than I had ever experienced in my life. This was coupled by the role modeling of our staff, and especially Sarah Herzog who I felt lived in awe of the world. Sarah met every comment someone made, every experience, ever view with a “wow” and it was so genuine I could not help but be inspired to also see the incredibleness of each moment. I have tried to live my life in a way that expresses this awe and gratitude every day since, and while I don’t always succeed, I was transformed spiritually through Livnot.
2) Before Livnot I did not realize that I was a Jewish educator who could actually pursue a career in the rabbinate, I thought my lack of day school education or yeshiva year put me too far behind, but I loved Hillel work and I was already starting to doubt my PhD plans because the idea of working in a non-Jewish field did not feel right. I can pin point the moment this started to change, it was the first Shabbat of Livnot, we were in the old city for dinner, and I gave the dvar torah. It was the first drash I had even given from just a few notes, no research, no typed out speech, just some insights I had gathered about models of leadership as I read over the parsha as my roommates and I prepared for Shabbat. I remember standing up there, in front of my colleagues, fellow Jewish professionals, and feeling “I can do this, this could be my life.” A few months later I decided to apply to rabbinical school. Eight and a half years later I am a Hillel rabbi working to create the transformative moments that I experienced on Livnot for my students on a regular basis and feeling grateful every day for my work!
-Rabbi Megan Goldman