It was either astronaut or rabbi. As a fifth grade student, the homework assignment was to prepare a drawing about what we would like to be when we grew up, and I handed in two very different drawings. One of me as an astronaut and the other of me as a rabbi. My parents have always been very involved in the Jewish community in every different community in which they have lived, helping to lead services, serving on the board, teaching religious school, so my becoming a rabbi wasn’t really such an odd choice. But the path to the rabbinate was not direct, as I considered other possibilities. By the time I went to college, I was more interested in biology and business than Judaic studies. While working in the business world, attending services, actively learning in my congregation, singing in the choir, serving on the board, I realized that I wanted to be a rabbi rather than a product manager. I applied to rabbinical school and have never regretted the decision.
The most meaningful moments are the times when something that I taught or preached changes how people act in the world, indicating that they have not only learned but integrated it into their lives. I gave a sermon on Joseph and forgiveness and in the discussion time after the sermon, one of the congregants apologized publically to someone they had wronged. I taught a class about Shabbat and students told me that they had chosen to observe Shabbat differently. After I gave a High Holy Day sermon about how important it is for adults to engage in Jewish learning, some of my congregants made it a priority to take more classes.
The legacy I would like to leave is students who are passionate about their Jewish practice, their Jewish learning, their Jewish community. Whether they become Jewish professionals or committed Jews, the best legacy would be my students out in the world changing it for the better and transmitting that passion for Judaism to other people and to the next generation.
While I am sure that being an astronaut would have been amazing, I am glad that I became a rabbi.
Rabbi Batsheva Appel is the rabbi educator of the Kurn Religious School at Temple Emanu-El.