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?

Getting Out of My Prayer Box

boxMy best professor in social work school broke down the dichotomy between vertical and horizontal spirituality.  In the vertical, we look to the heavens and wait for an AHA moment to come down upon us.  In the horizontal, the person across from us shares a connection.  We understand each other on a vital level, and we feel the holy sits between us.  My best coffee dates are the ones infused with horizontal spirituality.  But do I really know how to provide space for the vertical with my students?

I’ve always had a theory that Jews aren’t good at praying & I’m guessing we have good company in some other faith communities.  I hear it all the time from GW students, not in what is affirmed but in what is denied.

“I hate Rosh Hashanah services.  I don’t know what THEY are saying.”

“I don’t go to services on Shabbat because I’m not good at Hebrew.”

In my mind, hating services and not learning a language feel quite disconnected from the real idea of PRAYING.  The Judaism I grew up with handed prayer boxes over to its’ youth; in the box was stale liturgy and frontal speeches that spoke to the head more than the heart.  I’ve seen with college students that you either become a seeker and hope to find meaning in the box, stay in the box and say prayers out of obligation, or you throw the box out altogether because it feels so far removed from anything remotely meaningful.  What would it mean to get out of the box but still aim to pray?

I bumped into my friend George from the MSSC in Kogan Plaza last week.  He invited me to Morning Glory, a new initiative he’s launching with a simple concept: let’s get together and pray, every Monday morning, with no faith-based agenda other than to look towards a being higher than ourselves.  So on a snowy morning yesterday, I went.  I stood with 6 people, only 2 of which I know.  For no more than 10 minutes, we held hands, we asked for what we needed from above, we closed our eyes, and when I opened them, I felt tears in my eyes and saw the same tears in the woman next to me.  Why do I go to synagogue every week yet rarely have such a profound spiritual experience?  Why does the Jewish community do so many things well but still hasn’t quite figured out how to REALLY, TRULY, DEEPLY pray?

How can you make prayer a regular part of your life, getting outside of your own personal prayer box?

(And I’d LOVE to see you at the next Morning Glory, every Monday at 9am – MSSC, 2nd Floor!)