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Scrubs, Skis, and a Skirt

As told to Rochel Burstyn by Jessica Triest

Sport enthusiast, truth seeker, backpacker, doctor — Jessica Triest has found a way to merge her many identities in a seamless whole

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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ADVENTURE GIRL My life was always full of fun and adventure and now that I’m frum, I try to find creative ways to still do the things I love, in a way that conforms to halachah

M y shift is about to begin and I stride into the hospital — wearing scrubs and a skirt. Growing up, I’d never thought much about becoming a physician. I hadn’t thought about religion, either. However, here I am, exactly where Hashem put me — hair covered, mother to three beautiful children, while juggling life as an emergency medicine physician in the trauma center of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I’d grown up in a strong, warm, loving family. My mother has a master’s degree in nutrition, but became a stay-at-home mom for my brother and me. My father, a financial advisor, traveled often for business, but whenever he was home, he spent time playing games with us and taking us on trips. My childhood created many happy memories.

My family identified as Conservative, and I went to Hebrew school? and a Reform summer camp. I had a strong sense of Jewish identity. In 11th grade, I went on the March of the Living, spending a week in Poland and then a week in Israel. The tour group was a mix of teenagers from Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox backgrounds. The entire trip was filled with defining moments for me. The first time I kept Shabbos. The first time I kept kosher.

The sky was bleak as we toured the concentration camps, and around me, kids wept as the horrors were brought to life. While I, too, was filled with emotion, I didn’t cry. In fact, I was overwhelmed with a different reaction: See how you tried to destroy us — but look, we won. We survived and we’re still here!

I’m still close with my family and old friends, whatever their level of observance. Everyone has his or her own relationship with Hashem and it’s not my place to judge

From Poland, we flew to Israel. The contrast was remarkable. While Poland had been gray, wet, and cold, Israel was sunny, light, and gorgeous. It was a beautiful week. Upon our return, I was asked to speak about our experiences and I gave a heartfelt speech declaring how proud I was to be part of the Jewish People. I recognized that I owed it to my ancestors to better understand my heritage and acknowledge where I came from.

The semester I went on the March, I also happened to have been taking a high school World Religions class. I became fascinated by the mystical elements of Buddhism and Hinduism, and was disappointed that Judaism did not appear to have the same mystical teachings. When I asked my father about whether or not Judaism recognized the concept of karma, he said, “I’m not sure, but I know someone you can ask…”

At the time, my father was learning with Rabbi David Shapero of Ohr Somayach Detroit. That’s how I found myself, a teenage girl in jeans with millions of philosophical questions, in a Gemara shiur for middle-aged men. I was sure Rabbi Shapero would blow off my questions as unimportant and insignificant, but not only did he praise my questions, he had fascinating and intellectually challenging answers.

The combination of discovering Judaism had something to offer and my amazing experience on the March of the Living, eventually led me to search for more while in college. After graduating high school, I moved to Ann Arbor to attend the Honors College at the University of Michigan. My best friend had become more observant and was serving as president of the Jewish Resource Center (JRC). She told me about the Lunch ’n Learn program they had started. Free food plus Jewish philosophy? It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 539)

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