I’m feeling nostalgic, and not only because I just celebrated another birthday. Earlier this week, when I realized the Mets were poised to sweep the Cubs, I did something I haven’t done in eight years. I revisited this personal narrative, a snapshot taken at the beginning of my writer’s life, to see if it still rang true.
It was fall of 2007, when NPR was still airing “This I Believe” essays on the radio. I visited the submissions web page and decided to take a risk. I’d never shared the contents of my writer’s notebook on line; to be honest, I rarely read over my journals or revised my own work. I gave my students writing prompts regularly, guided them in peer review and demanded rigorous revisions before grading a final draft. But I didn’t subject my own writing to this process.
The guidelines included a strict word-limit. I remember asking a trusted friend to read and remove fifty words from my first draft. Rereading the piece today, I resist the urge to make improvements, to release the present me from the confines that bound the former me.
Looking back, I appreciate how much the future me is present in this piece. So much of it still true now—and it’s timely again—as the Mets head to the World Series and as I prepare to celebrate milestones and to face challenges with my faith in the soul of the underdog renewed.
I believe in the soul of the underdog. The one who has to struggle for the victory, who learns that the challenges she overcomes to achieve it make it all the sweeter. I believe in this soul’s journey because it has been my journey.
My earliest Jewish memory consists of a Passover Seder in my grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment. The year was 1970, and our religious ceremony was interrupted periodically by radio broadcasts of the Mets game. For more than 15 years, my Jewish identity would be inextricably bound to rooting for the underdog. If the boys could win it in ’69 then why not again in my childhood? If a young girl could learn to read flawlessly from the Torah, why couldn’t she become a rabbi in her adulthood?
The year I applied to rabbinical school the Mets won the World Series again. I spent the next 15 years building the foundation of my rabbinate on overcome challenges – working harder to reach the next goal. I learned to speak Hebrew; mastered Aramaic in order to decipher the intracacies of the Talmud; honed my liturgy skills for weekdays, Sabbaths, festivals and high holidays; donned tefilin, prayer attire previously reserved for men. I traversed 3,000 miles for an internship, endured an earthquake in California and a war in the Middle East, acquired mentors and found a soul mate. I achieved rabbinical ordination and began my career in earnest, always striving. 1969. 1986. 1993. Victory years for the underdog.
During the last 15 years, I ministered to isolated communities without rabbis in Alabama and Georgia, read the words of the prophet Isaiah from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and joined women of other faiths in social action projects in Atlanta. I dyed my hair fuchsia and walked 120 miles to raise awareness and more than $9,000 for Breast Cancer research. Even my dog is an underdog – a rescued, overweight Lab with arthritic knees. These 15 years have been richly rewarding. I have been unbelievably fortunate to enjoy good health and the joys of motherhood. And I have come to recognize that setbacks have provided my greatest opportunities for growth.
Who knows where my journey will take me in the next 15 years? Wherever I am, I know that I will still be rooting for the underdog. This spring I’ll be wearing blue and red, and cheering for my adopted home team, The Braves. A baseball cap sits on the same head that sports tefilin when I pray for the soul of one who faces challenges directly, anticipating the thrill of the journey, awaiting the sweet taste of victory. 1969. 1986. 1993. 2008. I believe in celebrating the milestones that renew my faith in the strength of the soul of the underdog. This I believe.