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A Series of Intuition Spikes

Working on a master’s toward an education Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, Zack Wiener ’12 thought he’d figured out what he wanted to do with his life. “But I had this sense of disturbance,” he says, and the academic work wasn’t as fulfilling as he’d hoped. 

Far from his previous work in Malaysia—where he’d been a Fulbright teaching assistant—and his family in Baltimore, Wiener turned to “the one way that I knew how to feel connected to things” by attending morning services at a Vancouver synagogue. 

“I had stepped away from religion for a long time,” he says. “It was the way I grew up, but it wasn’t necessarily anything I wanted to do.”

Those synagogue visits eventually became part of Wiener’s fieldwork, into how individuals form religious identities through prayer and religion, and while there under the guise of conducting qualitative research, “I wasn’t going to stand in the room and not pray—that’s not what you do.” The more time he spent at services, the more he felt at home.

There were early clues—what Wiener calls “intuition spikes”—that his relationship to Judaism was changing. While in Malaysia, Wiener and his roommate traveled 18 hours by bus to Singapore where, after fasting all day in 95-degree heat, they attended progressive Yom Kippur services. Wiener’s suggestion to attend had been, he thought, for the benefit of his roommate. And yet, “I remember thinking to myself, I didn’t know I wanted this.” 

When he graduated from Swarthmore, Wiener thought the “rich, vibrant, intellectual experience” he valued could only happen in a “hardcore academic program.” Now entering his third year of rabbinical school, Wiener has embarked on a more fulfilling path. 

“I’m pretty joyous,” he says, “to have gotten yanked out of academia by my dumb intuition.”