These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

How Judaism Influenced My Love of Medicine

Posted on April 8, 2019 by Jason Gusdorf

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I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri in a reform Jewish household. My seminal Jewish experiences were my Bar Mitzvah and Jewish Summer camp, which I attended for 7 years. OSRUI was formative in my identity and I have a deep love for the institution, the friends I made, and the time I spent there. As I moved away to college and stopped attending summer camp, I became more involved in my university’s Jewish life, bringing the reform Jewish music that I learned to love to Georgetown’s Shabbat services. While at Georgetown for his undergraduate degree, he led weekly Kabbalat Shabbat services and started a Torah study program. He also worked for 2 years as a musician-in-residence, playing guitar music for cancer patients. Judaism has always been a fundamental part of my identity and I feel very lucky to have had my upbringing and experiences.

In my senior year of college, I randomly and unintentionally accompanied my friends to hear Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks speak at a local synagogue. His breadth of knowledge of Jewish texts and the meaning he elucidated from them opened my eyes to the intellectual power and deep wisdom of the Torah, the magnificent inheritance that we Jews have as our birthright – A birthright that I never knew was mine. I never knew it could be a source of wisdom deeper, truer, and more human than all the philosophy I studied in college.

As I moved on to apply to medical school, I purposefully built time into my schedule to move to Israel in the spring of 2018 to immerse myself in Jewish text study. Though I had begun to study Jewish texts on my own, I knew I would need great teachers and a world in which I could immerse myself. I found myself learning for the first time wisdom that shook my soul with every class I attended. I also finally learned the difference between Mishna and Gemara (how is it possible I spent so many years of my life without knowing that?!!) and studying them both; Learning how to read the Torah and see its secrets; Studying Halakha and midrash; keeping the Mitzvot; falling in love with Carlebach Kabbalah Shabbats.

In the summer of 2018, when my semester was over and I had returned to St. Louis to begin preparations for medical school, I felt in my bones that my time at Pardes was incomplete. I deferred entrance to Georgetown medical school by a year and returned as a fellow. I found both decisions, to come to Pardes and to return to Pardes, as two of the best decisions I have ever made.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler of Lithuania teaches that for most of our lives, our free choice is not tested. We go along in our paths without having decisive moments that create our future. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in a moment where our choice will impact how the rest of our life unfolds. He calls these points “bechirah” points. Robert Frost might call them “the road not taken” moments. I believe the decision to come, and then to return to Pardes, was a bechirah moment for myself. I am grateful to the universe for guiding me to make right choice that has lead me to this moment. I am grateful to my friends and teachers at Pardes for helping to open my eyes and heart. I am grateful to myself for making the right decision. And I am grateful to the Creator for making such a beautiful world.