The Power I Have

In my new role at work, I get more e-mails than I used to.  I get credit card receipts and transfer notices, contracts to sign and parents saying hello with a deep love and concern for their child.  And every so often, I get an added blessing in my inbox, too.

This week’s came from M.  She’s a senior.  I’ve never met her.  Admittedly, I’ve never even heard her name until she wrote to me earlier this week.   She shared she’s been deep in thought after a summer of two lightbulb moments.  The first was a trip to Israel.  The second are the events that transpired in Charlottesville last weekend.  She is seeking Jewish community – so we’re going to get coffee.

Let’s NOT talk about politics, shall we?  Let’s talk about the power we have on the days we feel powerless.

If I was my grandmother, growing up in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany in the 1930s, would I have felt the same sense of Jewish pride that I do today?  It seems to be there is a very fine line between pride & fear, connection & retreat.  We are living through rocky days, days where I make sure my kids can’t hear the news cycle, days where I’m thinking deeply about the Jewish parents getting ready to drop their children off at the University of Virginia next week.  Do you tell your child to stand proudly as a Jew, even if it brings them into a line of fire?  Or do you tell them to stay a little quieter, and hence, maybe just a little safer?  I cannot fathom that I even write this in 2017 – and yet as a parent so desperate to protect her children, I think these questions are real.

I don’t know much, but I do know this:  What a job I am privileged to have, a job that’s on the receiving end of M.’s email; she is the hero of my story.  I cannot control what comes out of the mouths of those in power, but I can take charge of the power I have.  It is this: to help M express her power to feel proud of her Jewish identity, to create laboratories at GW so M and her peers can play around with the malleable shape of one’s Jewish identity, to help M. write her own torah & exert her own powerful Jewish identity in ways that work for her.

What is your power?  And how can you use it to bring positive change, to be a light where darkness creeps in?

 

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On Waking Up at 5:30

kind coffeeI’ve been having a lot of coffee with Sheryl Sandberg lately. Coffee in the car listening to her featured in the ‘On Being’ podcast, coffee when speaking with my dreaming colleague Emily about hearing Sandberg speak at Sixth & I, coffee as I read Dr. Erica Brown’s reflections on Sandberg’s new book. For those of you who only know her from Facebook / Lean In fame, Sandberg recently penned ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy’ with Adam Grant. While speaking with the On Being host, Sandberg reflected on how she never appreciated the significance of birthdays until losing her husband. Although she used to roll her eyes and bemoan growing older, she now welcomes the opportunity to mark being alive. In her words, ‘we either grow older, or we don’t’.

Yesterday was my birthday.

A year ago on my birthday, one of my dearest friends went into labor. At 5:30am, I was with her older daughter, excited that her baby brother was on the way. At 5:30am this year, I heard my own 3 year old in her bed, singing Happy Birthday to me. These are the holy moments of our lives. This is what Sandberg talks about, the deep gratitude in growing older to catch the joy of our ordinary days.

Something else happened yesterday. GW Hillel shared that after seven years, I’ll be taking over as Executive Director when my friend and mentor, Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, heads off to do amazing leadership work with Hillel in South America.

You may think this is a post on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. And you’re probably (partially) right. As a mom and wife, my first question on this job was about the elusive balance of family and work.  Those questions are plentiful, good ones that demand the intention and presence we should all bring to our lives, not just (happily) weary young parents considering career choice.

But this thought is on Sandberg’s Option B. We all have plans, especially the college students who I have cherished over coffee dates for these seven plus years. We dream of the roles we crave, the idealized notions presented to us on our social media feeds. And then students tell me of the things that ‘get in the way’ – the finances, the horrible internship supervisor, the troubled dynamic at home, the gut feeling that even though one path was laid out, it’s not the one they now must walk upon. When the path changes, the great news is that we get the chance to change too.

My work will now change; the cherished coffee dates with students will partially pivot to coffee dates with alums and parents and community members deeply invested in this mission of providing students the tools they need to live vibrant Jewish lives beyond their college years. But the joy of this work, the gratitude I feel in my life – to have a birthday, to wake up this morning to a new day & chapter, to see students through this most holy time in their lives – this remains.

What are you grateful for today, on this ordinary Friday?  And how can the changes in your own life present an opportunity to grow, instead of a chance to hold on to what you’ve always known to be true?

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?