Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Existential Crises and Gravitational Pulls

A good friend of mine (henceforth known as L) is partially failing out of the sort of prestigious, snobby, Ivy-league university that would never have accepted me after I royally screwed up the SATs. This kid had direction and a plan and one hell of a future, not to mention a perfect SAT score. That was then. Now I’m standing on the sidelines, watching in horror as everything she worked for comes to a screeching halt.

She marvels at how easy it is so very easy to mess up your life. One flick of the wrist to a card at the bottom of the pyramid and the entire structure comes a-flyin’ down. Although she consciously realizes that what’s happening is her own doing, she continues to sabotage her future because of that cheerful and marvelous touch of logic: I’m going to fail anyways! Why bother studying?

What are you doing?! I text back. Self-fulfilling prophecies everywhere rear their ugly heads. When did this downward spiral start?

As is the custom of many yeshiva students, L spent a year studying abroad in Israel after high school. For many people, the year in Israel is one of exponential growth in maturity and Jewish pride. It is when some of us find the path they will follow for life. But others, like L, become overwhelmed by its power of spirit. This was L’s first time in the Holy Land and it ultimately caused her to reevaluate her life and priorities, in both positive and negative ways. With a new, burning desire to make aliyah, L decided she wants to move to Israel right after college.

No, she absolutely needs to move to Israel.

This revelation has caused L to call her entire existence and ultimate reason for living into question. With past goals left by the wayside and a foggy future, there is now a psychological boulder of sorts in L’s way, rendering her incapable of moving forward. She can’t seem to push the boulder out of her path.

The lack of a solid goal has left her floundering. Studying for exams is impossible for L because it would mean accepting that tomorrow will indeed arrive; studying would be the preparation for that future. L cannot see where she is going (and doesn’t have any explicit desire to get there), so she has no motivation to deal with where she is now.

This is just one example of how powerful Israel can be. The gravitational pull of the land to the soul can herald a reason for being and working, or cause a once solid human being to have an existential crisis. I can only hope that L pulls herself together so she can face tomorrow, hazy as it may be, with confidence and preparation. Even though the details are indistinct and muddled, I hope that Israel itself as a general goal will be enough for L to focus on for the present.

This is by no means a criticism of Israel, or of the year spent there after high school. Like I said, it is where many find who they are and gain the confidence to pursue their goals. The problem comes where young students mistake their year in Israel for life in the Holy Land in general. They don’t realize that during this year, they’re in school, with a schedule prepared for them. Their parents are paying for their meals and living expenses. A safe, established institution is taking them on trips to some of the most amazing places in the country, if not the world. But the future, no matter where you live, is not like that. Life on your own is hard, whether you’re in the US or in Israel. The spiritual awesomeness and feeling of being where you belong is incredible and mentally sustaining, but it will not pay your bills. I can only hope that L remembers this fact sooner than later.

As for me, it is entire possible that I will be privileged to spend a solid month in the Holy Land come winter. Because no matter the choices that some of us do (or don’t) make, the country really is that fabulous. Let’s blow this popsicle stand!


  1. On the other hand, the Israeli economy is in much better shape than America's. There are worse ideas about what to do in this kind of situation.


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