"Lech Lecha": My Sister’s Journey from Charlotte to Jerusalem
Adina was just a regular seventeen year old. A senior who, quite frankly, had no idea what she was doing. Everything was always changing. Her parents had divorced, and she moved around constantly. Splitting her time between a Midwestern city, a step family, and a world where the laws of Judaism guided every aspect of life, and a southern suburb, a mother and sister, and a world where Christianity permeated her surroundings, she asked herself, “What aspects of my life are truly my own?”
When we were younger, I was always the bold one, the loud one who picked the fights. Adina, my older sister, was the one who scolded me for being mischievous. I never saw her as the courageous one until the fall of her senior year of high school.
Adina decided that she wanted to go to seminary in Jerusalem after graduating high school, both geographically and symbolically far from her Charlotte roots. This was in no way easy. She had a parent who supported her decision and a parent who would have done anything to stop her (and she tried). People held stereotypes about seminary and Orthodoxy. They had ideas about what her future would look like after going to Israel, and those ideas didn’t match the world they knew and expected for her. Her mother fought with her, pleaded with her, bribed her, and begged her to reconsider. “Please!” she cried, and when she wasn’t heard she cried again, but with no words at all.
The topic forced its way into conversation often. It was always there. It hung in the household stiff and heavy and unavoidable, a presence that couldn’t be ignored, a force of dramatic and direct disobedience. My sister did what she felt she had to, what she felt was right, even when it caused the most uncomfortable of conversations, even when alternate routes would have been easier. It would have been easier for her to go to college. For her to put her faith on hold. For her to do what 99 percent of her classmates were doing.
It would have been easier to follow convention, but it would not have been true to her. She was nervous and scared but couldn’t admit it. She couldn’t say she was nervous, and maybe even worried, because then others would convince her to stay on the well-traveled path. But she had to go. Her curiosity and her integrity told her that she had to explore her religious identity, something so personal and internal, yet something the world around her sought to control and at times even suppress: How she should apply Jewish laws to her life, how she should interact with others, how she should dress. The world tried to tell her how to do all things, but the voice in her head said she needed to discover it for herself. The voice in her head wouldn’t quiet. The rhythm of her heart wouldn’t calm. She was unsure and distraught. She felt she had to go. And so she went.
Her actions weren’t bold and courageous in a way that we might typically define these words. Her actions weren’t dramatic or revolutionary. Yet her choice was powerful. It was powerful because it was true to who she is. The norm was a secondary concern. She didn’t throw caution to the wind. She wasn’t uninhibited, she just overcame her inhibitions. Her courage broke through.
My sister defines courage for me by having the strength to be authentic to herself. When I was in middle school, I thought she was uncool. I thought rejecting the status quo was stupid, and for people who were “weirdo outliers”; those who didn’t have the proper understanding or value of social customs.
I’ve realized that my sister’s way is better than mine. Now I think rejecting the status quo is cool, forging your own path is cool, and being courageous is really cool. And yet, to be courageous, and to not feel the need to fit in one box but to move through many boxes is often to be seen as uncool.
I hope to transcend boxes, like my sister chose to then and like she does today, living a religious life on a college campus. She chose to go to secular college after seminary, yet another choice that made her distinct from those around her. Living a religious life at a secular college isn’t easy, and it isn’t always fun. But it’s what she needs to do to stay true to herself.
When we were younger, I was always the bold one, the loud one who picked the fights. Now my sister is the one who leads the way, not by being loud or by picking fights, but by inspiring me to live my life as authentically and passionately as she lives hers.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.