I always felt passionate about living Judaism in a meaningful way, but following my graduation from the Wexner Heritage Program something shifted deeply within me. There was more to do, more to discover. It seemed that my experience, together with so many others I had until that point, were mere preparation. They had combined to focus me in a new way, toward a new pursuit in my life. The teachings our faculty shared with us during our program felt too wonderful to be kept in binders and handouts along the shelves of my study.
As a practicing attorney, precious little time was left to fulfill my new passion, and a few years after graduating, it seemed that the timing in my life was right. I found myself at my law office at eleven o’clock at night. I was preparing for a hearing the next day, and a myriad of tasks, deadlines and projects loomed ahead. The pace was frantic; I was living the rat race of the litigator. While I loved the adrenaline rush at meeting deadlines and preparing for trials, it was all-consuming. Any Shabbat observance was relegated to a lower rung in our ladder of priorities. Often times, my wife, Rabbi Adrienne Scott, would return home from leading Torah study or Shabbat morning services to find me pacing in the playroom waiting for her to get home so I could run to the office. I hardly saw my family, and after the birth of our second child I saw them even less.
At just the right moment, however, a new position as the Director of Lifelong Learning became available at our congregation. With my Wexner background and experience in teaching, I felt uniquely qualified to pursue this position, and I am grateful to have secured it. The transition from lawyer to Jewish educator was not easy; the decision to leave a potentially lucrative field to pursue a newfound passion that burned in me was the most difficult decision I ever had to make. But looking back on the last two years, it has been so worth it. One of the greatest responsibilities we have as Wexner graduates and Jewish professionals is to transmit our own passions for Judaism, and to ignite that passion in our children, parents and congregants. For far too many Jews, however, being Jewish is simply one aspect of their identity, one that receives hardly any attention.
To help focus my goals further, I am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education through the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) Executive Masters program, a two-year pluralistic program. Upon graduation I will be a certified Reform Jewish Educator (RJE). Similar to the Wexner experience, our cohort of colleagues in the class challenge each other and support each other through two years of online study and in-person intensives.
We recently met for our first intensive experience at HUC-JIR in New York City. Rabbi Stacy Schlein, also in our group, shared a moving quote with us by Rabbi Eric Bram, z”l. It sums up our goal as Jewish leaders to instill passion in Jewish life, beginning with a better understanding of the Torah for our children. He imagines the Torah as a letter written to our children and writes the following:
“The Torah was written by your great-great-grandfather/mother. It is not a book or five books (or six). The Torah is a letter written by someone in your family a long time ago who did not know you by name, but knew you would come along. It was written by someone who loved you and wanted you to be from somewhere; to have some idea of what it is all about; to have some semblance of Faith and Optimism and Struggle and Meaning. The Torah is an inheritance, not a book. When you read Torah, you don’t read it like Tom Sawyer or Archie comics. You read Torah like a fragile, handwritten letter addressed to you (using your Hebrew name on the envelope), which you found in your grandparents’ attic. You read it, not with your eyes, but with your heart. It’s a family treasure that God and Moses and one hundred generations of your family made sure you got.”
Let us all commit ourselves to rediscovering the Jewish treasures in our own lives, and finding impactful ways to share our passion for Judaism with the next generation — even if it means quitting your day job.
David M. Scott, a Wexner Heritage alum (Houston ’06) is currently the Director of Lifelong Learning, Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, Texas. He served on AJC’s board and was an attorney for 13 years and is currently navigating the balance between being a Jewish professional, a rabbinic spouse and a lay leader, and what it means to be the best leader he can be. David can be reached at email@example.com.