This is a guest post from Brian Nelson, born and raised in Minneapolis, who has just started his year in Jerusalem at Hebrew Union College, the Reform Rabbinical School. Check out his blog.
Shalom from Jerusalem!
Our lives start out with us trying to define who we are. Often this is something that takes a large portion of our lives to figure out. This was incredibly true for me as I didn’t quite figure out who I am and what I wanted to do with my life until I was 21. So who am I?
My name is Brian Nelson and I have spent my entire life living near or in Minneapolis until last week when I packed up 130 pounds of luggage and moved to Jerusalem.
I spent the majority of my college career at the University of Minnesota studying to become a high school social studies teacher. I had these grand plans to teach and continue to work towards many different degrees as a secular school teacher, then guidance counselor and possibly even to become an administrator. I had spent a long time in high school and college not incredibly involved in the Jewish community. All of that changed the first summer that I worked at Camp TEKO on the North Arm of Lake Minnetonka.
During that summer, I realized that there was a key component missing in my life, Judaism.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would reinsert Judaism into my life and came to the easy conclusion that the only way I could satisfy the hole in my soul was to work and teach in the Jewish community. The solution to my little problem was very easily answered by looking towards the rabbinate. After a careful evaluation of my options, I found my home and comfort zone in the Reform Movement. After a few slight adjustments to my final year at the University of Minnesota, I was able to set myself up to apply to the Reform Movement’s Seminary, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion.
I have worked in various congregations around the Twin Cities in a variety of capacities from camp counselor and religious school teacher to advisor of various youth groups. All of the work I had put towards this goal came together this past Pesach when I received a letter from HUC-JIR informing me that I was accepted into the college and would be starting school in Jerusalem in July.
After a few harried months of scrambling to get my affairs in order, I packed my bags and my Minnesota Nice sensibilities and landed in Israel on Sunday the 4th of July.
I have a quaint Jerusalem apartment about a 20-minute walk from campus that I am sharing with a fellow Ski-U-Mah alumna and have spent this last week in Jerusalem trying to find my way around the city and meeting the other students as we are all converging on the city. We are all incredibly excited to get this first year of study under way and that starts this week as we have orientation this week and our Hebrew intensive Ulpan starting on the 18th of July.
During this first week I have run into some things that are very strange to my Midwest sensibility. The first thing that I confronted was a very Israeli way of ordering food at a shop. You see, I spent time looking at the menu and the rest of the people I was eating with went ahead of me while I struggled with reading the Hebrew on the board. What I didn’t realize was that the three other Israelis would just cut in front of me to place their order. Apparently waiting in line is a nonexistent concept. However, you had better be prepared to wait for the waiter to be ready for you and you may need to wait five to ten minutes for them to put together your falafel.
I was also unprepared for the hills. Jerusalem is a very hilly place and I have decided that if our people wandered for forty years in the wilderness, I can handle a forty-minute walk to get somewhere. What I failed to account for was the fact that with the uneven sidewalks and hills, what should be a 15-minute walk turns into 25 minutes and so on.
On the whole, this first week has been fantastic. One thing that has been beyond comparison was a realization that has come up numerous times. Before I arrived in Jerusalem there were always moments when I wanted to turn conversations towards something spiritual or intense. With all of the students that I have been meeting, I have never felt so accepted and so free to share just about anything. That includes the random moments of insight or observations about a situation.
As I wrote at the beginning of this blog post, it often takes a large part of our lives to figure out exactly who we are. It seems that I have figured out who I am and where I fit in.
Throughout my experiences here in Israel, and maybe even the four years I will spend studying at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, you can follow along as I explore what it means to be a 20-something reform Jew from Minneapolis. I hope to give you insight about what it means to study to become a rabbi in the Reform Movement.
Shalom from Yerushalayim.