Melissa’s Story – Part one: The Girl Everyone Thought Would be a Rabbi….

I grew up in Southern California, at a very small “West Coast Conservative” synagogue – we did not keep Shabbat nor did we have a kosher kitchen.  My brother and I attended public schools and can count the Jews in our 2000+ person high school. I relished the time spent celebrating holidays with my family, and in religious school (as a student, aide, and teacher), Kadima/USY, Hebrew High and later, Hillel and my sorority.  These activities, combined with a strong influence from my mother’s parents, really shaped my Jewish identity.

My maternal grandfather grew up in an Orthodox home in Ohio, and met my grandmother at a Jewish War Veterans event after WWII. They made some compromises on their religious observances as they married, had children and moved first to Florida and later to California. One thing they never compromised on, however, was the importance of their Judaism and passing that on to their children, grand children, and great-grandchildren.  My fondest childhood memory is preparing for the Pesach (Passover) Sedar at their condo every year, cooking with Grandma and learning with Grandpa. They were true pillars in the community and embraced L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.  While many years have passed since their deaths, when I visit my home town I am always introduced as their granddaughter.  This is one of my biggest honors in life.

Our entire family was involved in our synagogue(s), youth groups, and the local Jewish community. The adults served on the synagogue board of directors, and my brother and I each held positions in our USY chapter’s board. I led Shabbat morning services regularly, read Torah on Rosh Hashana annually, and chanted Haftorah a few times a year.  In fact, our family was so involved that when our synagogue had a shtetl wedding (think Fiddler on the Roof) to celebrate a major merger with another small synagogue,  I was selected to represent my synagogue as the Bride and my grandmother (the first sisterhood president) carried a candle to light our way.

With this background, it was no surprise when I went off to college and immediately joined the board of Hillel and became involved in coordinating programming for our “Countrywide Council” – a way of bringing together students from campuses throughout the area for Shabbat Dinners and social events.  In time, I was able to join with a group of other women to found a local Jewish sorority. I graduated in three and a half years with a double major of Sociology and Psychology & Social Behavior and headed off to my first choice program for a Masters in Social Work – though the thought of applying to Rabbinical School afterwards had been firmly planted in my mind.  Hillel quickly became my home away from home (2000 miles away) and that is when I met my fellow blogger Jessica and many other wonderful people. Through Hillel, and the community it provided, I found my passion for increasing my knowledge and observance fueled like never before.

Sunday, I will share more insights on this fire, and how I made the transition from being the girl everyone thought would be a Rabbi, to being a future Rebbetzin!

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