Archive for April 2013

I always feel unqualified to write about national tragedies from the perspective of someone who’s only seen it on the news (though I pray I’ll never have to experience one myself).  Why would my thoughts matter to anyone when I can just turn off the news and return to everyday life, but there are so many suffering unimaginably from these events, who will never be able to forget this day for the rest of their lives?    
But all humanity is connected, and when one group suffers, so do we all.  So these are just some thoughts I need to let out, in light of this week.  Maybe someone reading this will be comforted that we’re all having the same experience here.  Reading and writing can be equally cathartic.  There is healing in the act of storytelling.    

First of all, it’s so surreal to know that the entire world is praying for Boston, this city I have called home for almost two years.  And that the site of this bombing, a disaster heard around the world, was not some foreign country or even another region of America — it was a corner on a beautiful street that I know and love, where just a few weeks ago I strolled with my family when they visited, and where I was even planning to venture out this weekend.  This is the first time I have been so close to the epicenter of a disaster.      

Every generation has its “where were you when?…” national tragedy that becomes a defining event.  For our parents it was JFK’s assassination.  For my generation, there have been too many to count, and far too many in the past year alone.  Aurora, Newtown, and now this. 
Where was I then?  Monday I was in journalism class, and we were all distracted on the Internet.  The sports fans among us were tracking the marathon.  Then there was news of an explosion, and I remember the exact moment when it clicked in my mind, “Oh G-d, this isn’t some small accident, this a major event, the whole world is hearing about it right now, I need to call Mom and Dad and tell them I’m all right.”  And of course my mom was sitting in her car listening to CNN, according to my brother.  Even from 800 miles away, I could hear her praying for my safety.  Calling my dad every five minutes with updates, waiting by the phone to hear my voice.  That’s what it is to be part of a family like mine.     
And the rest is a blur.  I remember waiting to hear from my roommate, a volunteer EMT (who wasn’t at the marathon), if the four other EMTs there were all right.  There was a block of time when they couldn’t be reached.  I’m sure if G-d had a hotline, all the phone lines would have been clogged with the number of incoming prayers that afternoon.    
I will always remember how the Brandeis community came together as one, putting aside all the stress and commitments of the coming week.  I will remember 20 of us, some close friends, others just seeking togetherness, watching the news together, speechless and hugging in Hillel Lounge.  I will remember how one friend took it upon himself to hold his own peace vigil that night, and the community came together for one hosted by the chaplaincy the next day. 
I will remember the people who became lights in the darkness on yet another dark day: the runners who finished the marathon and promptly went to give blood for the victims.  Tragedy is a paradox.  It happens because of the worst of humanity, but its aftermath brings out the best in us too.       

Now I have never been more thankful that:

-This campus is tucked away safely in the suburbs
-Texting, email, and social media do serve a useful purpose: they are efficient to communicate with family and friends when you’ve been instructed not to clog the telephone lines
-Old friends who I haven’t even seen in a long time still cared enough to check on me and make sure I was safe that day
I think there are several stages of grief that hit all of America when a mass tragedy happens.  
There is the shock and disbelief that it could happen (especially there), the anger towards society (and the loss of faith in humanity), the outpouring of empathy and desire to do whatever is possible to help the victims, and eventually, the forgetting.  If we haven’t been personally affected, we move on, until the cycle begins again a few months later.  At least this year, that is the case.      
“There are no answers, but it does not mean we can stop asking the questions.”  These were the closing words at the Holocaust memorial vigil last week, and they are especially true now.  We must ask why this happened, and try to prevent another event.  And we must come back stronger from this.  The perpetrators may have claimed that day, but we will not let them take the spirit of this wonderful city.  Boston will rise again.    

Posted on: April 18, 2013

So I wrote this post before the tragedy on Monday, and decided it still needs to be posted because more than ever, we need to see beauty and hope.
This was the collaborative art project that we did at BaRuCH’s Tefillah B’Teva (outdoor nature-centered prayer) retreat this past weekend.  6 of us were given a piece of cardboard and told to fill in the outlined spaces with combinations of paint, tissue paper, and beads to look like the sunrise, sunset, or dusk.  This was my individual piece:


But we were not told what it was for, until everyone was finished and the two wonderful coordinators put the pieces together to create this: 



A hamsa, made in six parts.

As someone who is still exploring and questioning and sometimes doubting who I am, I see this as a metaphor for life.  You never know exactly what your role will be among your friends, classmates, and peers, and in the larger mosaic of society.  You can only create and decorate your piece with the passions, talents, and resources that YOU, and only you, were given.  And sometimes you will be surprised by exactly how and where it fits in.  You never know in what ways you have touched people’s lives, and become their missing pieces.  Whatever it is, your life has a purpose.  Just remember that.
(Credit to Emma and Mea who coordinated this event: I cannot thank you enough for inspiring us all through art and reflection this weekend.)

Making Your Piece Count

So this is a poem about a funny (and ironic) realization I had, about someone who’s become very important in my life.  Maybe you know who, but if you don’t, just ask me.  Anyway.  Here’s the poem.
I Don’t Remember

I don’t remember the day we met

I know I should, but it was just like any other day
That no one knew would be the first of so many between us
That first stitch in the tapestry
that would keep us warm through the coldest days
You said it once yourself,
That we only find that item we are looking for
after we’ve let our guard down and stopped looking
It will just turn up
And you are that item I never knew I never had
Until I found it
Or it found me
Maybe both
It all took me by surprise
And maybe that’s why I don’t remember
Even though I should
It’s all very confusing, you know
Memory is a cracked cup
It only holds onto half of what it should
Since then, I remember it all

Walking secure and warm under your umbrella

And passing through the places I know you’ll be

It’s the days we’ve weathered together

And the look on your face when you see me unexpectedly

The present is enough for me

So many times I can never forget
Except for, maybe, the day we met
But who needs a past when there’s a future
This blog is back, back, back, tell a friend, friend, friend!
To be fair, it never really left — it just ended up buried at the bottom of my virtual stack of essays, applications, articles for The Hoot, a few Divrei Torah for BaRuCH (The Brandeis Reform Chavurah!), and of course, some poetry.  I’ll admit that I’ve been cheating on this blog with some Twitter and Tumblr.  But WordPress, it’s always been you, and I hope this time we can make it work.  So here I am.
It’s been a very important and life-changing few months for me.  I was accepted to study abroad in LONDON next spring!  So this time next year, I’ll be surrounded by this scenery:
And somehow a committee looked past my awkwardness and liked me enough to award me a major SCHOLARSHIP for a Brandeis female studying the humanities in Europe!
You know when you convince yourself that you have no chance of winning, and suddenly it happens, and you want to scream because it feels like a million sparks of excitement igniting inside you?  That’s what happened to me.
And even sooner, I’ll be in ISRAEL with thirty other Brandeis students on Birthright!
So the pieces are falling into place for my near future.  Even though I’m still trying to secure my internship plans, deal with people who think you don’t even exist in a professional capacity if you’re not a senior with superhuman qualifications, and keep my self-esteem from rising and dropping like the stock market with every successful interview or rejection I get.  It’s a long and arduous process, that’s for sure.  If you have the chance to do it all ahead of time, don’t procrastinate like I did.  If I
had a time machine (preferably a blue box that’s bigger on the inside), the first place I would go is back to January before all the application deadlines.  Yes, I’d go to boring old January 2013, before I even see the Victorian era or any time in the future.  Such is the life of a college student.  Mine is a cautionary tale.
And for the future of this blog, I’d like to do a lot more creative writing (poetry and prose), and maybe I’ll start a separate forum for mini Jewish commentaries, because I really do enjoy writing spiritual material for BaRuCH.  (Maybe I should take on Education Coordinator as my next board position?)
So that’s all for now.  I think I’ll end with the reprise of my Bat Mitzvah speech, given at services this past weekend and adapted for a Friday night service in college:
Shabbat shalom l’kulam!

Shemini, this week’s portion, is an important and thought provoking one.  It tells the dramatic story of Nadav and Avihu’s demise, and lays down the rules of kashrut, a key part of Judaism as we know it. 
But the major question of this portion is, how can ordinary people make themselves holy?  How can we feel the presence of G-d in our everyday lives?  
Is the answer simply following G-d’s commandments, the way you’d follow a recipe?  That’s definitely a part of it. When Aaron and his sons Nadav and Avihu make an animal sacrifice in the way they were commanded to, G-d appears to them, and all the people fall on their faces in disbelief. 
But simply following the commandments is not enough.  We see that when Nadav and Avihu make their own sacrifices to G-d, and His fire consumes them.  Even though they WERE following the commandments, they were so narrowly focused on following the rules that they cut themselves off from the community.  They forgot the intent and meaning of their actions.          
This divine event represents a much bigger theme- that COMMUNITY AND TOGETHERNESS are the keys to making ourselves holy.  There’s a reason why we pray, celebrate our holidays, and life cycle events in groups.  Not to say that individual prayer isn’t meaningful, it is, but the idea of praying with other people and sharing that common experience is beautiful.    
Sometimes it’s not even formal prayer that makes us holy.  In our busy lives, some of us find that meaning in doing community service projects, or the simple mitzvah of helping a friend.  If it’s done with the INTENT of making someone’s life better, or making the world a better place, then it is the first step to holiness.   It is CONNECTION that makes us holy- connection between each other, within our larger community, and connection with G-d.  Shabbat Shalom.