This is my last week of school – potentially forever.
I am now 31, and since starting school at age 2, I have only had one year of my life not in an academic institution. And here I am at the end. Yes, I might still go to classes. Yes, you never stop learning. Yes, I never know, maybe I’ll go get a PhD. But it is not the same.
I will no longer be a professional student. For the past five years the majority of my pay check has come from me sitting in the Beit Midrash. Next year my pay check will be from working. I will be going to a hospital. It will be looked at as if I am capable of doing what I am paid to do. That I have the knowledge to do this job. That I no longer need to be a student.
I also think about the people I will hang out with. I’ve always had school friends. Friends that I can easily talk about academic or philosophical thoughts, and they know exactly where I am coming from. A group of people who are in tune where my head might be going, without having to explain what I am talking about. A group of people that I spend most of my day with. I’ve had co-workers before, but there is something different with fellow classmates or students, that I am having a hard time describing. There is a greater separation. There is a greater idea that you have a world outside work. That you wouldn’t want to hang out with the people you work with 24/7. That you don’t end up sharing as much with one another. It will be interesting who will be my friends next year. Especially because it will be the first time since grad school that I will have friends and colleagues that aren’t Jewish, that don’t have the same cultural experience as me.
What is even scarier is that I will have smicha. I will really be a rabbi. I spent all this time learning, and now it is being declared that I no longer need to be in school full time. I am being given permission to make decisions for others, on my own. I don’t think that I know nothing- I am quite aware that I know a lot. But I will no longer have the excuse that I am still a student if I don’t want to answer something or if I don’t know an answer. There is a greater expectation both by myself and others of what I teach, how I teach and even what I look like. I will be going out on my own, no longer representing (or semi representing) an institution of learning, but rather representing myself and whatever institution I might be working for.
At least for next year, I will not be doing something radical and culture changing. Most don’t (at least not the institution) care that I am an Orthodox female rabbi. They just know that I am employed by the hospital and that I am functioning as a chaplain, and that is it. Even in the Jewish world, sitting with people in the hospital is not a controversial role. I will not be teaching full time, I will not be deciding Jewish law, I will not be doing anything of the things that people see as wrong- except for having a title.
And so here I am, in my last week of school. My projects are all handed in. I don’t have anything else that I need to learn, so I can learn and do what I want during this time. It is a time I never thought would actually happen…but here it is.
Here is to one more week.