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Only last week, I was sitting on my trans-Atlantic flight coming home from Israel for semester break. In an attempt to make the flight go by faster, I tried to answer the many questions of a Baptist minister from North Carolina, named Bob, who was interested in learning about Judaism. But I soon wearied of the conversation and began to ponder my present situation and the preceding four and a half years. The further one looks back at my academic history, the stranger it seems.

My personal experiences in these institutions have made me much wiser and have led to dramatic changes in my religious outlook. Ultimately, I now realize it is only personal experience that can build a real lasting philosophy. As a result of my experiences,I view myself as a student who has managed to personally reenact the entire development of the nineteenth century Jewish Enlightenment in some five years, and gone from a perspective of staunch supporter of Orthodox Judaism, to a deeper appreciation of intellectual and rational thought. My experiences have proved that only education and personal experience can enable the discovery of one's individual identity.

I was drawn to the Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study out of religious idealism, only to become completely disillusioned three years later, due to the narrow mindedness, hypocrisy, and religious inconsistencies of the rabbis in this school. I came to realize that the religious practices do not necessarily overlap with spirituality, which I view as the only legitimate goal in religion, the Human Condition applies to us all and rabbis or other clergy are not necessarily holier than the rest of us, and that belief, not rote, superficial behavior is the true issue for me. Granted I have been studying the religion since kindergarten in Maimonides Day School, but only when I actually experienced Orthodox Judaism in its extreme that my philosophies changed.

As a result, I was led to a personal interpretation of all that I have been taught in my youth. I decided that to develop one's own religious expression, the individual mind must sharpened to its fullest potential. It was my experience that built the foundations, but it was only my disciplined intellectual and academic search that permitted a full disclosure of my new religious interpretation. Indeed; in Nineteenth century, it was an educational "enlightenment" that preceded any form of religious reform. The goal of each of my decisions became constructed around the goal of fostering this non- dogmatic intellectual stimulation.

When leaving high school a year early for Yeshiva University, I was faced with an academic environment as different as Milwaukee is to New York. I now had freedom, a broad selection of university courses of academic quality, and a somewhat wider variety of peers. I was suddenly in a situation suddenly where I could comfortably develop my own interpretations of Judaism.

In an attempt to complete this search for meaning within my religion, I chose to study in Jerusalem. An atmosphere where I am living next door to Israelis as well as Palestinians has proven to be an ideal opportunity to develop these thoughts. conversations with American and Israeli Jews from every background and with every different point of view imaginable proved to be highly stimulating. Perhaps more importantly, for the fist time I was in a position to study the religion from its historical roots; which led me to personal readings a Jewish history, especially of the Second temple period. Undoubtedly my intense critical thinking about Judaism during this time was sparked by the very opportunity to witness the physical testimony of four thousand years of history had a tremendous impact on me . Through my academic studies, culminating this year in Israel, I have successfully shaken off the biases that I had been taught since my childhood and find my personal "enlightenment."

Despite the fact that I now have ruled out my former religious philosophy, which I now view as blind obedience, I still maintain a very high regard for Judaism, the need for spirituality, and religion in general. Only now, I maintain that this spirituality must be discovered individually.

The truth is, that after all the dust settles, I am actually no better off. I still do not have a better solution and still, nor do I have the slightest idea of how to discover this personal spirituality that I speak of. But hey, nobody said this would be easy!

"So what were you telling me about Moses Mendelsohn and the Enlightenment?" asked Bob, waking me up from my reverie.

I grinned and began writing this essay.

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