The Messes Not Worth Cleaning Up

img_2176There are many Jewish roles to play in a home – the maker of kiddush, the lighter of Shabbat candles, the pincher of hamantaschen corners.  And then there’s a role held in my childhood home by my mother, now also held by me: the de-waxer of menorahs.

If you hold this role in your house, you know it’s fraught with decisions – to pre-treat or not, to preemptively buy good candles, to freeze it off or pour hot water instead?  We spend eight days layering light, building upon the miraculous.  When it’s all over, we’re left with what I always find to be a tough spot in the year.  The night still comes early, spring is nowhere in sight, quiet time is over and plugging away re-begins.  Darkness is upon us and the menorah needs cleaning.

But I’m not always sure why?

Yes, I can hear type A friends across the globe insisting a clean-up is paramount to a new year and a new holiday celebration.  Yet when cleaning my own menorah last night, I was struck by the beauty in the mess.  There were colors and cracks, unexpected blending where light had merged with light.  There was a reminder of my daughter being old enough to light her own candles this year, my son wide-eyed as the light had appeared.  This was our first Chanukah in our new home, a reminder of a nest we’re building, twig by twig.

Our culture likes the story of a fresh start – new year, new semester, new classes, new resolutions!  But especially in this new season of uncertainty in our country, the drips of our memory can be powerful and perhaps should not be so quickly erased.  A memory of beauty and hope may help propel us forward.  An unexpected connection from one past experience to another could be the spark of an idea we need to make a vital change.

What’s worth cleaning up in your own world – and what’s worth letting be?

Get In Your Box

boxI’m in love with a gal named K.  We met at CI, and started a refreshing conversation that felt light and joyous and open-ended.  She is confident and poised and asking great questions about being alone, joining community, finding her way.

We grabbed coffee this week and I somehow felt I was the one who got more out of it than she did.  From divorce and parenting to disability and sororities, our conversation meandered through college life.  And then she said, “I never used to GO to Shabbat.”

Go?  Go where?

I’m familiar with this terminology and have been for my entire professional life.  And yet it throws me off every time.

Adena’s Jewish Theory, The Charge of my Work: Every Jew is born, and sitting in the delivery room is a box, the BEST gift you’ll ever be given.  And yet, some never open the box.  Others only open the box a few years later, pulling out unappealing pieces of this multi-faceted gift (read lame Hebrew School classes or boring High Holiday services).  The present sits unopened, untapped.  Millions of dollars of diamonds, none of which ever get to shine in the light.  My job is to help students open their own boxes, examine the contents, find the pieces that feel relevant so they can use the contents of their boxes for the rest of their lives.

In my own box is Shabbat.  It’s not somewhere to GO, it’s a feeling to have.  It’s the end of a busy week, the slow down and checking out of work, the checking in to family and my soul.

In K’s box?  Tzedakah and the gift of Tashlich – the beautiful chance to cleanse yourself and start again.  The blessings of family and generations – recipes passed from Grandma to Mom to K.  The charge to help others, as we were once strangers in a strange land.

What’s in your box?  And if you haven’t opened it lately, how can I help?

It’s You I Want to Talk to.

Walking_by_(4709414878)Another June comes and presents me the opportunity to meet the incoming class of freshmen on campus.  For me, it’s a mix of hope of what can be and empathy for the looks I see from those who aren’t quite sure how this freshman year thing will pan out.  (I was you.  I get it.)  Working on a college campus is perhaps the oddest combination of predictability and unpredictability.  Everything is the same each year and nothing is the same.

Yoni and I sit beside each other at Open Houses and BBQs and Org Fairs, watching the world go by.  We love the enthusiasm and funny conversations that often greet us.  The predictable is packaged in parents wanting to know about High Holidays, in students wanting to make sure they can grab Shabbat dinner.  A mom wanted me to know this year how handsome her son was.  Another complained how uncommunicative her son was, merely 5 minutes after he had held the most eloquent conversation with me.  These families are blessings, excited to jump in and be a part of building something great.

But then there is the mom or dad or student who throws a bit of side eye.  They hurry past, worried we may bite, with their bouncing curls, their New York look, and our gut knows – this is a Jew.  They don’t want us to catch them, to say hi, to push a conversation they do not want to have.  Perhaps they feel they don’t belong.

But guess what, they do.

You – the one who hurried by – YOU are the one I want to talk to.  You have a seat at the table just like your Shabbat dinner-asking friend.  Your curls are mine, your questions are mine.  Where do I belong?  Do I know enough?  Do my parents’ choices and mine need to be the same?  I get it, I’m with you, let’s do coffee.

Hope to see you in September, student rushing by.

 

 

Coffee with Myself

coffee selfieThis quiet, dreaming summer of mine is getting ready to give way to the burst of energy that is the start of a new school year.  In this spirit, my family and I headed out of town last weekend to my parents’ house, in the hopes of capturing a moment in time before it all keeps rolling forward.

Worn out by her grandparents’ endless entertaining, I met a rare moment on Sunday when I awoke before my 2 year old daughter.  I snuck out of my room, husband slumbering, and as is my usual autopilot direction, I headed to the coffee maker.  Cup in hand, my instinct was to turn something on – a phone waiting with emails, a TV filled with images.  But the phone was in the bedroom and Sunday morning TV at 6:30 doesn’t offer great promise for engagement.

So I sat with my coffee and myself.

Silence is hard to come by in this world, whether because of our technological tethers or the friends and family we surround ourselves with.  I know for myself that at times, I’m scared of what might creep in – whether the uncertainties of the future or the hard knowledge that I have a difficult time being with myself after devoting myself so wholly to the happy distractions of others.

On the cusp of the new school year & the new Jewish year, in the thick of the holy month of Elul, I ask myself as much as I ask of you: Are you making time for silence?  Are you willing to confront what comes when the distractions are stripped away and you have to focus on who you are in this moment, and who you are aiming to be?

Faith & 21 Year Olds

ameI can’t get the people of Charleston, South Carolina out of my head.  I keep thinking of faith.  And I keep thinking of 21 year olds.

Nine souls filled with peace strived to give goodness to the world and gain strength on Wednesday night.  Faith dictated their choices.  They could have stayed home and watched TV.  A man likely heard their pleas, their reflections, their grappling, and he was ‘almost’ moved enough to not end their lives.

He is 21 years old, a time ripe with promise for some, with fear of what’s to come for others.  The world was his for the taking, for the good and for the bad.  Instead of taking on the world for the good, he took the worlds of others.

There are so many layers of community and faith, of optimism and sorrow, on mental health and parenting and intuition and how we treat others when we think they are ‘off’ or misguided.  I don’t have answers, just many many questions.  I could espouse moral platitudes about paying attention to those around you, about remaining faithful in darkness, about how our country CAN DO BETTER.  I’m not wise enough and none seem adequate to stand up to the sadness of this moment.

What light can you bring to the world, this Shabbat, in honor of Clementa, Sharonda, Cynthia, Tywanza, Susie, Myra and Ethel and Daniel and Depayne, nine people of faith?

The Bright Future

brightI’ve always struggled with Yom HaShoah events on campus.  Without a doubt, we MUST remember and make the Holocaust an important part of the Jewish (and global) curriculum.  But each year in the spring, whether for a speaker or to read names on Kogan Plaza, students come out of the woodwork to our remembrance event and then I never see them again.  They (RIGHTFULLY) prioritize remembering a horrible past.  But what about their bright Jewish futures?

These past few weeks, following a number of swastika incidents on campus, I think my Yom HaShoah struggle may need tweaking.

After the most recent incident, I planned to hold my regular uGeW meeting.  We were scheduled to talk about hot topics, none of which involved anti-semitism.  Yet as any good educator must be willing to do, it was obvious to me that I needed to throw our lesson plan out the window and give space for 8 incredible students to process what was happening on campus.  The room was tense, the conversation heated.  It became apparent to me that swastikas and Holocaust remembrance are, and must continue to be, doorways to the future as much as to the past.  My students asked of each other questions on choices and consequences, on how to honor the past and represent themselves proudly into the future.  Questions of self-awareness entered the conversation, as did those around reputation and ego and how we perceive our peers.  So many layers, so much good conversation, all infusing their worldviews and sense of Jewish selves.  Could a Jewish educator want anything more than that?

What do moments of Jewish sadness allow you to question regarding your own Jewish future?  What thoughts and questions have been on your mind regarding the recent events on campus?

The Choices You Don’t Make

book2There’s a certain something that happens when you have coffee with a former student.  The blessing of my work is often in what happens after I leave the “official” picture, when a college student becomes an emerging adult, when ideas batted around in dorms and classrooms become fully-formed moving pieces in someone’s life.  I felt that way this morning, when catching up with J. as he breezed through town.

J. likely never made the social media #OnlyAtGW posts when in college.  Instead of working on the Hill or aiming to take over the SA, he spent his years on campus sometimes wondering why he chose to come to college here in the first place.  He got his hands dirty in gardens on campus, and promptly following graduation, he got out of town.  I’ve always been struck by the aura of spirituality and goodness that radiates around him, in a subtle but definitive way.

In telling me of his journeys since college, I asked how his parents had been receiving the news of his choices.  He will never be the Jewish doctor or lawyer of many mothers’ dreams.  Explaining that it took them a while to come around to his career path, J. ended by saying that things are good.  His mother, in pursuit of understanding her beloved son and his choices, recently asked him, ‘What book can I read?’

Was there ever a better question asked by a mother?

We all circle around each other, understandably judging the decisions of others in order to place our own life choices.  As a young parent, I haven’t yet experienced what it means to have my daughter make different choices than I had anticipated for her.  J.’s mom could have asked in her question: Why did you leave the path I built for you?  Instead, her question said: How can I understand your chosen path?

How can you bring joy or take action to support the decisions of others – instead of bringing resentment that their choices might have been different than others?