Yeah, you actually like that name now. Crazy right? Spent the past 12 school years running from it, but you finally grew to like it. Now hold on for this one… you also go by Dafna now! I know what you’re thinking; IST (Israel Study Tour) really did a number on you, huh? Yes, yes it did. But in the absolute best way ever. It’s where the second chapter of your life truly begins.
Just so you can be sure this is really 27 year old you writing to 17 year old you, go check the black box in the closet. It’ll have your journal, the one with that list of the guys you like, that you put together with your friends. (Which will now be moving, because the world is reading this) And if that’s not enough, you literally just had your homeroom teacher play the song, Letter to Me by Brad Paisley. Believe me now?
Since we‘ve got that covered, let’s ease into this with some really exciting news; You will graduate high school, and not just by scraping by. You really do it! And since I know you’re not sure where you’re going, I wanted to tell you to breathe because… wait for it…
You end up in New York! I couldn’t believe it either, but believe it honey. You’re going to take a large bite out of the Big Apple and it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever seen or experienced. It’ll be everything you never knew you always needed, and then some!
The way you get there is a little unorthodox (you’re punny 10 years from now); you’re going to feel a desire to delve deeper into your Judaism. Follow that, trust that. You will apply to seminary on a whim and get accepted, that’s the blessing that will give you New York. Brace yourself, it’s a lot to take in. You don’t do anything halfway, you’ll put your whole heart into this like you always do. Yes, they’ll call you a “Flaming BT” (Baal Teshuva, someone Jewish who becomes orthodox) and you’ll be too much for some people, but that’s okay. Go tell them to find less. Stay true to your heart, it won’t lead you astray.
Now, to give you a heads up; you will melt in Brooklyn. You don’t know what they are yet, but adding a shell to everything is not nearly as stylish as it may seem in the moment, and it will make you sweat. A lot. New York is humid. You’re going to want to rethink a few fashion choices, pair down a few layers, oh and (you’ll learn what this means) you do not need to wear 60 denier stockings and be miserable. You do not need to wear only black, white, navy, or gray because you convince yourself it’s more modest. You don’t have to try and prove yourself as hard as I know you will. You’re going to get a little lost at times, but that’s okay. You find your way back to being purely and uniquely you. I’m sure none of this makes much sense, but it will.
This next part is crucial for you to hear, please, just trust me on this…Leave school early on December 13, 2013. If there is any day to cut out early, it’s that one. It will be the most important decision you make in your young life. Everything I wrote above stems from this date and what you decide to do. Okay?
To gently shift away from that though, here’s some big news; you get tattoos!!! Exciting, right?! Dad will take you to get your first and largest one as a gift next year. My biggest advice with all the tattoos (you get three, kind of) is to be sure of what you’re getting and to relax. Yeah, it does feel kind of uncomfortable, but that feeling passes pretty quickly. Soon you’ll want a lot of them, they’re pretty addictive. Have restraint dear child, I beg of you.
One fun thing about coming into the chassidic world, oh yeah you fall into the Chabad Lubavitch fold, Mom and dad will think you’re in a cult, just roll with it and reassure them. It passes after a few years. But the fun part about having tattoos in this community is getting to tell the kids that you didn’t listen to your parents and you drew on yourself with Sharpie. Sadly, that Sharpie never came off and now you’re stuck with the drawing and writing. Gets ‘um every time!
You’re welcome, in advance.
Yeah, you’re going to have some ups and downs. That’s a given no matter what though. Ultimately this journey and path will be the best decision you ever make. Seminary will be where you meet some of your best friends and make some of the best memories. You gain a thick skin which actually only heightens your quick wit and humor, and you get to spend the rest of your life talking about, “That time I lived in NY” and, “When I was in seminary we…” I’m pretty sure some people roll their eyes at it, but pay them no mind. Those who love you will still listen.
Here’s where things get a little tricky... When you turn 21 in 2017, it’s going to seem like the coolest thing. Trust me, it’s fun and you’ll definitely have a blast! The greatest is when you go one summer and spend a week or so in Phoenix with your best friend. You have the time of your life, living life how G-d intended for you to; Sun, pool, ice cold beer, grilling up kosher brats, and going out at night to have fun. Even in 120°F, you love every sun-drunk moment.
The importance behind this story, as amazing as walking down memory lane is, a month or so after you return home you’ll start not feeling well. The memories from that summer will help you through, it’ll also become the running joke that this is the summer that ruined your liver. It’s not, we didn’t have that much fun, you kept it smart.
Circling back to not feeling well– This is going to be a rough ride. I don’t say this to scare you, but to prepare you.You think you’ve seen some shit now? It was all child’s play up to this point. I’m going to ask you to hang in there, even when you don’t feel like you want to. This will test your patience, faith, and just about anything you can think of. Here, I think by telling you what the diagnoses are, maybe you can gently bring it to the doctors as something to look at and you’ll receive the diagnosis and care a lot sooner, which will cut all that hardship by about half. Bring up Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension and congestive heart failure.
This sounds scary (it is) and the prognosis they give you will literally paralyze you there for a little bit. I’m here to tell you that you’re writing this letter after the “alloted time” they’d predicted. 1-5 years? Please, girl, you are crushing this! You’re entering year six and not looking back. Yeah, the other conditions that arise feel like a heavy load, med organizing day is a pain, doctors appointments are a lot, and not feeling good is really wearing. You’ll say, “I’m okay” and “It is what it is” probably a million times over, but it’s a small price to pay for being alive. Thank G-d, which you do every day (even in the moments you may not feel so grateful), and know that you’re cared for by so many people and even more so by a loving G-d. You’ll make it through this, kicking and screaming, but you will!
When I started this letter to you, I didn’t exactly know what to tell you. There’s this delicate line you walk when preparing yourself for what’s to come. What will be too much information? Will it freak you out or will it be constructive and help you going forward? Are there certain things that I’m better off letting you discover yourself? I don’t know that there’s an actual formula to any of this, but I do know that we have survived 100% of the life we’ve lived so far.
So, sweet 17 year old me, rest easy in knowing that you end up a strong and respected woman.While life may have its fair share of heartaches and struggles, it also has an abundance of laughs and good times. You’ll fall in love with the places you travel to, you’ll find the true essence of yourself at a rodeo in Cody, Wyoming and it will open up your world to be a Chassidic Cowgirl. When they tell you that you’re on borrowed time, turn on Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying and start packing 120 years worth of living into whatever time you’ve got. You take care of yourself and the things that you can and let G-d handle the rest. He’s the one that’s in control and as cheesy as it sounds, let go and let G-d, is a pretty good mantra to live by. So, sweet 17 year old me, rest easy and know that you end up a strong and respected woman, who is taking the world by storm.
I’ll be seeing you,
Alex of 2022
P.S. Your prom dress turns out to be incredible, quit your stressing and get to living, now!
I am more convinced than ever that you will continue to thrive ,and strive for the things that matter to you ! Personally, I’m hoping a book is on your radar….such a gifted writer you are ! Thanks you for sharing and letting others grow from your journey !! Such love always