19 Tamuz 5779 / Monday, July 22, 2019 | Torah Reading: mattot
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Nurse, Nun and Nachman    

Nurse, Nun and Nachman

Tamar's amazing life journey has taken her from being a nurse and officer in the military, to being a nun in a convent, to ultimately discovering Judaism and Rebbe Nachman...


Imagine that you grew up in a strict German Catholic household and went through 12 years of education by Catholic nuns. After that, you completed three years of nursing school associated with a Catholic medical center. Several years later you are a nun in a convent.
Now try to imagine how you would go from that background to being a Breslev Chassidic woman! 
No ideas? Here is how Hashem did it in my life…
After passing State Board Nursing exams, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. I served as a nurse in ICU/CCU in stateside and overseas bases. In early October, 1973, I was driving off base to go to Sunday Mass at a local parish. My car was marked to indicate that I was an officer, so the guard at the gate stopped me. He told me that our base had been put on Alert because Israel was at war (the Yom Kippur war back in 1973) and we might have to fly out. When the guard said "Israel", an image from my high school religious studies book came to mind - a man riding a camel in the desert.Israel – it's over there in the desert, I thought, not knowing where "there" was. The base was never called up, so I gave Israel no more thought.
While in the Air Force, I was very active in Catholicism as lay person on base as well as in the parish church off base. The desire for a deep religious life grew. I checked out various options as a lay person but eventually decided that only in the convent could I develop a focused religious life.
After four years of active duty, I resigned my commission to join an Order of nuns whose emphasis was prayer and living a life of simplicity. We prayed fixed prayers at fixed hours throughout the day. In addition, we spent an hour every day in private meditation and had weekly conferences with our spiritual advisor. In spite of a prodigious amount of prayer, study, and meditation, I sensed that something was terribly amiss within me.
I craved a spiritual life, but could no longer find it in Xian rites or prayers. Only the Psalms and Old Testament passages spoke to me. In the Church's quest for relevancy during the post-Vatican II era, some dioceses gave limited approval to incorporate non-Xian rituals in the liturgy. The turning point for me at the convent was having a Catholic Mass mixed with Buddhist practices of incense and mantras. "What am I doing here!?"
Shortly before I made the decision to leave the convent, I dreamt that I was walking with another nun down a long narrow sidewalk in front of the motherhouse. I turned to her and said, "I have to leave here because I'm dying". When I awoke, I realized that that was exactly how I felt – my life force was ebbing away. So, after three years in the convent, I left for the same reason that I joined – to develop a religious life. I continued to practice Catholicism, but after about a year, realized that I was beating a dead horse, and left the Church.
While at a Jewish friend's home some time later, a magazine on her coffee table caught my eye. The cover page had bizarre "chicken scratches". My friend told me that those "chicken scratches" were Hebrew letters on a segment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I didn't know that Hebrew existed! Out of curiosity about such an alphabet, I accepted her offer to teach me how to read Hebrew. We started with an Aleph-Beit book used by preschoolers. While learning to read words like Shabbat and bracha, she explained their concepts.
Over time, I began to feel that Judaism might be a path for me, so I took every adult Jewish education class that was offered in the city. The conversion process is a story in itself, but after several years of study and living a Jewish life, I converted. A year later, I made aliyah.
During my first two decades in Israel, I was involved with the Litvish community. Chassidism was very attractive to me but I did not live in any community where I could pursue it. At that point, I considered Breslev Chassidus to be the Chassidus for the mentally ill. I avoided everything connected to Breslev.
Given my antipathy toward Breslev, how did I get to it? On an Israeli Air Force phantom jet!
And I shall carry you on the wings of eagles, and I shall bring you to me (Exodus 19:4). One Friday evening, I was reading the Magazine section of the HaModia newspaper. Turning to the feature interview "Behind Enemy Lines", my eye was drawn to the picture. The graphic layout included a bird's-eye view of the Lebanese coast with an Israeli Air Force phantom jet flying overhead. Because of my Air Force background, my curiosity was piqued. Quickly scanning the interview, I found the "B" word ("Breslev") in the fourth paragraph. Nevertheless, Rav Lazer Brody's military background gave credence to what was written. I figured that someone in Sayeret Matkal - IDF GHQ Special Forces - is not likely to be nuts, and besides, his military tactical approach appealed to me.
I read (and reread)The Garden of Emuna and other books by Rav Arush. I listen to Rav Brody's weekly shiurim and read the articles in the Breslev web magazine. I adapted my experience with meditation to be in line with hitbodedut and go to Rav Brody for spiritual guidance. What many Jews-by-birth find difficult in Breslev teachings came naturally to me because of my religious background. The jigsaw pieces of my life began to fit together.
Over the years I berated myself for having such a convoluted life. By nature, I am conventional. Growing up, I anticipated leading a very normal, Betty-Crocker type of life. HaShem had other plans for me. My Air Force experience got me to Breslev Chassidus. My convent experience prepared me for Breslev teachings of prayer, simplicity, hitbodedut, and following a spiritual guide. HaShem was with me at each step. Nothing in my life was purposeless - both experiences were critical to lead me down the path I needed to go.

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