Sunday, March 20, 2016

But They Didn't: How the Purim Story Inspires Me To Be Resilient

This week, we celebrate Purim, a holiday celebrating the fact that we didn't die... again. As a brief summary of the Purim story, there's a king of Persia who needs a wife, he has a competition that is won by a Jewish woman named Esther. Haman, the king's advisor makes a plan to kill the Jews because Mordecai, Esther's uncle, won't bow down to him. Esther ends up saving the day by telling the king that she is Jewish and Haman and his family die on the day that was chosen to kill the Jews.

I have some issues with the fact that we are told that we have to be joyous on Purim. I will be joyous when I want to be joyous, thank you very much. I also think it's important to be okay not being joyous on Purim. The obligations put on us by our religion do not need to regulate our emotions.  At the same time, we are forced to remember the bad every time that we celebrate the good which is the downside of being a part of a community of people who have been threatened by many nations. That being said, Purim has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember.

 At the end of the day, the main point that I take away from this story is the fact that we survived. We survived when they tried to kill us. This sentence applies to so much of the history of the Jews, and as I push through stressful weeks and wade through my own issues, I have to remind myself that I too will survive. And you will survive. We will survive by holding one another up and cheering one another on. There will be good waiting just past the bad. And if it seems like there is only bad, just know that you will survive.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Puzzle of People and Places: Thinking about Influence

I've been thinking a lot about influence lately. Partly because of this vlogbrothers video in which John describes the fact that he has been emulating this commentator who he and Hank used to listen to when they were kids. This got me thinking about the people who influence me, not in the huge ways like my whole personality, which has obviously been strongly influenced by my parents and everyone else in my life, but the smaller things. Another reason I was thinking about this was due to something that I did at services last night. My rabbi makes a certain gesture when she says "please rise" for various prayers, and about halfway through the service last night, I realized that I do this too. That got me thinking about all of the other little things that I have picked up from people around me.

The fact that I hate talking about the Second Great Awakening and am as politically liberal as I am is due to my AP US History teacher in High School. The way that I give relationship advice is strongly influenced by John Green's Question Tuesday videos. The way I say "well" and "know" as well as the way I do my Latin homework today are due to my Latin teacher in high school. The way I comfort people is shaped by all of my camp counselors. The fact that I know how to explain why I believe in God is because of my senior year Philosophy teacher who challenged me on every point that I made. The way I lead services, both in the planning and the execution is strongly influenced by the cantor who was at my synagogue from when I was in 7th grade to my senior year of high school.

Nobody is one sole individual, and I think that we have to come to terms with that. We are combinations of the people and places that make us who we are. I know how to dress for the rain because I went to camp for ten years. Too often, we don't think to thank those who influenced us in the small ways, but we should. So thank you to all of these people. And thank you to all of you who are influencing your friends, students, mentors, and peers every single day.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Blessing of Shabbat: How I Learned to Relax

"As much as the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people."

I am not someone who relaxes. Any of my friends can tell you that I am always moving. But I want to relax. And that's where Shabbat comes in. I always loved Shabbat at camp as a kid. We would spend hours getting ready and then go to services and dinner as a community. But when i was home, Shabbat was never a huge part of my life. Sure, we went to Saturday morning services occasionally, and once and a while I would be participating in a Friday night service, so I would go, but it was not a weekly part of my life.

Since coming to school, Shabbat has become a huge part of my life. Shabbat has become a social time to pray, sing, and spend time with friends.  Some weeks, I spend hours planning Friday night services in preparation. I clean my room every Friday morning, and I spend time putting makeup on. I turn off my notifications on my phone and block all social media on my computer. I make a conscious decision to transition into Shabbat mode.

And my Shabbats have become fun as well. My minyan is a family. We support each other during hard weeks, and we celebrate each other during good ones. We laugh, we sing, and most importantly, we are unconditionally there for one another, no matter what. At the end of the day, I could not be more thankful for them. Three of my other best friends lead a different minyan and walking into Shabbat dinner and knowing that they will be waiting to hug me makes me feel like I belong in a way that I haven't felt before. We talk, we joke, and we celebrate the fact that we made it through another week. My Saturdays have changed too. instead of sitting in my room watching TV all day, I eat lunch with my friends, either during our Mishnah class or not. We have inside jokes and predictable seats at the table. We have intellectual conversations and ridiculous ones. We end Shabbat together as well, sitting in a circle, telling everyone what our high and low points of the week are. It's truly the best way to end a week.

Together is the only way I can describe the feeling that I gain from Shabbat at school. You would think that disconnecting from social media and my phone would isolate me, but in reality, the opposite has happened. I have better conversations because nobody is staring down at their phone. I fell surrounded by love. And finally, I get to relax. For one scheduled day every week, I give myself permission to relax. And for the gift of Shabbat, I could not be more grateful.