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My encounter with Intro to Judaism—why it wasn’t just an easy A

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06/23/2010

This past quarter, I decided to take a religion class—well, I didn’t decide so much as I have to take a religion course before I graduate—and I was presented with two options.

I could take Introduction to Buddhism…or Introduction to Judaism.

Tough choice. If I took the former, I’d be learning all about a different culture entirely. Sure it would be a challenge—but it would be interesting, I wouldn’t be bored, and I wouldn’t feel guilty about wasting my parents’ tuition money. However, if I took the latter, I would be guaranteed to ace the class, right? I mean, I went through the whole Hebrew school ordeal and graduated at the end of seventh grade, I was bat mitzvahed, and while I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Jewish history I certainly know my fair share of the stories. I wouldn’t even have to really try; it’s an easy A!

It’s not difficult to guess the choice I made. Obviously, Intro to Judaism beat out Buddhism. If you were a college student, you would have chosen the same way I did. I was loaded down with other difficult courses, and taking one easy course wasn’t going to hurt anybody, right?

So there I am, headed off to my first class of Intro to Judaism. I sit down with some people I know, and as we wait for the lecture to begin we all laugh and joke about how unfair it is that I’m taking this class while they—none of them Jewish—are going to struggle to learn and retain the information.

“You already know everything there is to know!” one friend laments.

“You don’t even have to GO to class, you could just come for the midterm and final!” adds another.

I laughed them off, but secretly agreed that this would be a breeze. Then lecture started.

And I was wrong.

I sat through that first lecture in shock. Where was this information coming from? It had to be true, since the professor who was teaching the course was Jewish. But why didn’t they teach us all this history in Hebrew school (it would only have improved my time spent there)? There were groups of people I had never heard of, periods of time that were completely new to me, and all the stories that had been ingrained into my mind my entire life weren’t being referenced…what was going on?

I quickly learned that this class was NOT going to be the easy A I had previously thought it would. It was as if I was learning an entirely new culture’s history altogether…why didn’t I just take Intro to Buddhism, where I at least had an excuse to be completely lost in the content of the class? But I had made my decision to take Intro to Judaism, and I couldn’t admit defeat after just one lecture. And hey, maybe it would get easier! Maybe after a few lectures we’d get into familiar territory and all would be well!

I guess I should let you know now that I’m a wishful thinker…sometimes to the point that I’ll convince and delude myself into thinking everything will turn out okay despite the hardships ahead of me. Sure this makes me a perpetually happy person, but it can cause some serious issues. Sometimes, the best course of action in life is to assess the possible outcomes of a decision and if the outcome is undesirable, then cut your ties and RUN. This is one of those times.

Too bad I didn’t follow that little nugget of wisdom. It would have saved me a lot of time and grief.

The next few weeks of class did not get any better. All these names and dates and events started to blur together in my mind. Who was Zoroaster? Who were the Amora? And what was theodicy? I was completely lost in my own religion, where I used to think I was the safest.

Not only was the content difficult, but also the worst part was the fact that everyone assumed I was having the most relaxing time taking that class. While studying as hard and as diligently as I possibly could for the midterm and final, everyone would come over to my table where I had set up camp to empathize about the hardships of studying with me—until they found out what I was working on. When I told them I was studying for Intro to Judaism, I received variations of this same question:

“Why?!?”

I tried explaining to my friends, over and over, how this class was all about obscure parts of Jewish history that I hadn’t learned before, but my justifications fell on deaf ears.

I think that was the first time I had ever been judged for STUDYING in my life.

Needless to say, I studied enough to get a grade in the class with which I was happy, but the journey to get there was not the smooth and carefree one on which I had been banking. On the bright side, I learned a lot more about my own religion’s history, and I feel a better sense of accomplishment knowing I didn’t just coast my way through a class. My parents can rest a little easier too, knowing their tuition payments are going to good use.

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