From Black and White to Grey

Interviewed By: Chelsea Shar, Mayanot Women's Program Alumni 2015

One of the hardest things in life is being truly open and authentic with oneself. Most of us will fail to admit this to ourselves let alone to anyone else. We constantly hide behind shields, defense mechanisms, quirks, humor, anger-management issues etc etc etc. Some of us even hide behind psychologists thinking we know who we are; thinking we are being open with ourselves. But the truth is we are all just playing the game; some trying their best to follow the rules, others to break them.

Mayanot is one of those special places where you get to redefine the game completely. Mayanot, in some way or other, forces you to be open and authentic with yourself – whether this clarity is experienced immediately while studying at Mayanot or subsequently in the self-reflection aftermath. Not only was I honored to experience this redefinition personally, but during my 5 months at Mayanot I was privileged enough to witness it in others. And I would like to share with you one story in particular of a woman who came in seeing only black and white, mostly black, and left seeing grey.

This woman, who shall remain anonymous, is one of the most determined and ambitious people you will ever meet. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies and Business Administration and an LLM in International Human Rights Law. She speaks 4 languages fluently (English, German, French and Hebrew); is a complete intellectual, always searching for and absorbing as much information as possible; and is a champion of an athlete.

Before Mayanot her goal in life was always to reach the top of the Mountain as quickly and directly as possible. She would not veer off the path until she reached her destination. Life was black and white – there could be only one answer, one truth, one perspective. Like every other woman who has stepped foot into Mayanot, she entered with all her attitudes and preconceived notions of life. Life, religion, G-d, Judaism were already defined and delineated. So why come to Mayanot? Well to see what it’s all about. However, truthfully, Mayanot was just a way to examine whether ‘what it’s all about’ fitted into those preconceived notions and attitudes.

At the outset she questioned everything. But she questioned before she even listened (listening and hearing are different things entirely) and so her questioning was founded on ulterior motives. After about a month she realized this approach was not working. With the advice of a friend at Mayanot she learnt that her vessel was too full. All her previously defined and delineated notions were too preconceived, leaving no space for more, new and different information to enter. And so she emptied her vessel, which allowed her to listen, not just to hear. Still at Mayanot, this amazing woman still questions, but now her questions and her questioning comes from a different place.

She realized that life, religion, G-d, Judaism is not black and white. We proclaim in the ‘Shema’ everyday, “G-d is one and G-d’s unity is definite”. This woman realized, like most others that come through the incredibly transformative doors of Mayanot, although G-d is one, and G-d’s unity is definite, everything else is grey.