by Elizabeth Phillips Lieberman (Shana BaAretz 5769 & current Alisa Flatow International student)
I remember the sensation of leaving Nishmat five years ago at the conclusion of my year in the Shana Ba’aretz program. I felt strangely at peace looking around the campus for what I reasonably believed would be the last time before college and then a job and whatever else would come. And yet, five years later, I find myself back here.
The twists my life has taken are so numerous that when I try to trace back the individual choices I made which led me to this precise moment, I find myself at a loss. Certain landmarks along the road are deeply entrenched within me: the distinct feeling that I’d discovered an authentic Orthodox community for the first time at Nishmat, the sensation that there was an alternative to cynicism and incredulity, the recognition that the people I met through Nishmat not only made efforts to keep the laws they knew but strove to learn more everyday in order to practice better and to be better.
My year at Nishmat shaped who I am to a large extent but these changes were overwhelming at the time and I needed to sort out the complexity of my relationship with Judaism. For that I needed a new beginning: time away from my parents, my friends and especially my newly discovered rabbis whom I never thought I would see again.
I came back to the United States and attended a university with a very small observant community. I made leaps and bounds in my practice, which I alternated with deep dips back into a secular life. But I also met up with friends from Nishmat who reminded me again and again that who I am is a decision I make every moment of the day. And slowly, over time, I decided that I wanted to live authentically and that meant that I needed to commit once and for all to the life I believed was worth living.
I studied abroad and discovered that getting to know myself wasn’t enough, Jews need a community as well. I came back to the United States from abroad having learned more about myself and my relationship with Judaism than I could have imagined. I graduated and got married and my husband and I decided we wanted one more chance to learn in a full-time setting before we settled down in Chicago. My husband wasn’t sure where he wanted to learn but I knew we needed to be in Jerusalem. I knew I needed to be back at the place where my journey began.
And so I find myself back in the place where I first discovered the viability of Orthodoxy, where I first discovered a community I thirsted for. I am not the same person I was then but the community has welcomed me back with open arms and it feels right to have come home.