I Changed My Life Path and Returned to Israel
This time last year, I was 22 and finishing up my post-college entry-level job at CBS News. I had my near future planned out and was well on my way to becoming a TV news producer. I was going to get married around 27 (the man didn’t exist) and live out the fast-paced, no-sleep city life, and probably move out to the suburbs once the dream husband and I had kids.
The reason I was finishing the job was due to a nagging thought I’d had since college, asking if I was fulfilling my potential. Around the time I chose to quit, I came across an article in The Atlantic titled, “Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy,” and read this:
“Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.”
Something clicked for me. I had to take action to find meaning.
Just a few years earlier, I sat in my first Maimonides class at Rutgers University. I grew up in a strongly Jewish, but not a religious household. We had Friday night dinners and attended shul regularly. I read from the Torah at my bat mitzvah and spent summers at Jewish camp. I wouldn’t dream of eating pork.
What was lacking was the sense that Hashem was real and the idea that we can converse with our Creator.
I began the process of learning Torah and understanding that there was a depth to Judaism and to life that felt full and right. Throughout this process, I became aware that students sometimes took time off to attend yeshiva or seminary in Israel, to further this process of learning.
I decided to take an extremely calculated risk and graduate early in order to spend three months in Israel. This move was “calculated” because I already had a job at CBS News upon my return.
I spent those three months at Neve Yerushalayim, where learning Torah was my “9 to 5.” Not only was the Torah deeper than I ever went before, but so were the friendships. Upon my return to New York, my full-day Torah learning turned into the night shift at CBS News, which was thrilling and fulfilling in its own way.
But I had changed.
I wondered how I couldn’t spend more time on my religion and myself. I thought about the investment I had put into my career, and wondered what my personal resume would look like — my treatment of others, my deeds, my self-talk, my confidence, and inner strength. These are things you can’t get a degree in, but they are also the eternal aspects of life that no one will ever force you to work on.
I quit my job and returned to Israel. The day I told my boss, I was shaking. It was a mix of nerves about what her reaction might be, but more than that, nerves about whether I had just singlehandedly sabotaged my own career.
Thankfully, my parents were extremely understanding and supportive, and the money I had saved living at home would support my desire to stay in Israel for the year.
For about 10 more months, I focused my studies on my Judaism, traveled to Europe with a friend from seminary, and became close with families and teachers in my little Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.
I cooked for Shabbat and holidays, babysat, took meditation seminars, staffed a two-week college trip to Israel, hiked, swam and learned a ton about myself. And about two months ago, I became a madricha (student counselor) for a group of post-NCSY (National Council of Synagogue Youth) 18-year-old girls here for their gap year program.
NCSY is an Orthodox Jewish youth group that inspires teenagers to be passionate about their Judaism. I’m extremely passionate about helping fulfill their mission.
Being a madricha has been the most challenging, yet fulfilling job I’ve ever had. I get the privilege of spending this entire year with 20 18-year-old young women, helping them along their individual journeys toward Torah learning and self-actualization.
In the two-and-a-half months that I’ve been in this job, I’ve learned that I can push myself socially and emotionally further than I ever thought possible. I can have conversations that lead to insight and inspires change. But more than that, I’ve learned that the meat of the growth happens outside of the classroom.
It happens in the moments that a girl is sitting on my bed and crying, and I am tasked with listening and loving. I need to ensure she feels heard and accepted. This isn’t a job with a description that in any which way describes what I actually do.
The position itself is about helping young women reach a point of confidence and strength within themselves. There’s no one way to do that because every girl resonates with a different type of care, conversation, and love.
I am not the same girl who jumped on that plane a year ago, unsure of what would happen. In my journal entry from November 7, 2016, I wrote “I think the next year of my life is going to be exciting AND life-altering. The growth that I am going to do, the people who will come into my life, the learning, the reading, the guidance, the spirituality, everything has SO much potential for ME to reach MY potential.”
When I wrote that, I wasn’t able to imagine just how true that would soon become. Not only am I stretching myself every single day, but I am learning how to become ever more outer-directed.
I’m an introvert, but I’ve learned that sometimes spending time with a friend, listening and offering a kind word, is more important than the alone time I had been planning on. I’ve learned that it’s sometimes worth a long bus ride to spend time with a friend who needs help cooking.
A thought I had recently was that the more selfless one is, the more Hashem provides opportunities for them to be selfless. The more I work to overcome my ego and realize that I am both but the dust of the Earth and a creation of Hashem, the more I am able to be there for His other creations, all of whom are existing in their own narratives.
The clichéd, but then again not-so-clichéd messaged I’d like to end with is this one: It’s scary to leave home and not know what the future holds. But if you have a pure goal that is based on true self-actualization and the willingness and ability to fill one’s own cup in order to spill over into the lives of others, it’s worth it to jump off and allow Him to catch you.
Sabrina Szteinbaum is currently living inspired in the holy city of Jerusalem. Born and bred in small town, New Jersey, she found her love of Torah Judaism in college and strives to walk in its ways and be a light for herself and those around her. She graduated Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & Media Studies, worked at CBS News and is now a madricha for NCSY’s gap year program in Israel.